Occupational Insurrection: An Interview With Nate Jones

Ben Dangl: Could you first please tell us a little about yourself?

Nate Jones: My name is Nathan Compton Jones, although I’d prefer you call me Nate, and I grew up in a very odd situation and seemingly have sought out odd situations ever since. My parents, being ultra right-wing, always wanted me to question the government and look out for the communists, but I was always more attentive to details than they would have liked for me to be.

As I got older, I realized that many of the tenets to which they claimed not only were complete fallacies, but were actually harming them by way of getting them to reduce and/or eliminate the natural tendency to attempt to protect and better one’s own position. For instance, despite the obvious fact that no matter how hard he worked (as a welder), my step dad Dennis’ employer(s) were always looking to get more and more out of him, without providing any sort of extra compensation. My step dad was one helluva worker, and he always taught me that as long as I worked hard, my employer(s) would always take excellent care of me; now he knows this is not the case, but he had to learn it the hard way.

By the time I was in my 3rd year of college (2000), I had forsworn that line of thinking because I could not see any logic to it. I began dabbling in radical leftist materials that emphasized the working class mentality and point of view. As I got further along, I began to even eschew that and embraced the philosophy of political and social anarchy thanks to a myriad of authors, but also simply due to my own life experiences. I began helping to organize groups such as the Arkansas Anti-War Coalition, and when I moved here to Atlanta, I helped to start Atlanta Anarchists and got involved with various local causes ranging from battling anti-immigrant sentiment in Atlanta and actions in conjunction with Atlanta Palestine Solidarity. Our group, Atlanta Anarchists, while usually disjointed and incredibly loose knit, attempts to make efforts to integrate ourselves into the activist community and the Atlanta community at large.

All along the way, I worked a regular job. Usually, I was working in the ever-so pristine and unblemished world of television, although I did do the occasional convenience store gig, restaurant worker, and I even worked in a call center for short period of time. The ability to balance this dichotomy can take its toll on a person, and certainly, I was no exception to the rule. I continued to watch what seemingly constituted all of my co-workers believe the same fallacies that had duped my parents. Also, at this time, I was (and still am) very hopeful and optimistic about the possibilities of utilizing the mechanisms of the workplace in order to raise consciousness, but I continually got the same old answer.

"That is bad, but what can I do about it?"

Constantly hearing this set the wheels in motion for me. I started putting together the basic tenets of occupational insurrection because I had stumbled upon the real problem separating the average worker from social change. Too often, we in the activist community succumb to the idea that the average American worker does not care about the trials and tribulations of the Earth; that isn’t true though, and we should know it, because while we spout that out of one side of our mouth (being so negative, the side it comes out of must be the right…), the other side talks about the massive amount of propaganda that people are subjected to within the U.S. without ever connecting the two. The truth is not that folks do not care, it’s the fact that the propaganda model as described my Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman is just as effective as they and we believe it to be. We decry it, but then have done startlingly little to combat its effects, instead usually trying to blame the victims of said model.

BD: What are the basics of occupational insurrection?

NJ: The basics are quite simple, and can be practiced anywhere. They’re not really that different from your standard basics for social change, except for the fact that they are to be utilized in places that are generally hostile to the acceleration of social change, and they’re designed to "convert" (I hate that term but have yet to concoct another one) people who we would normally not reach with our usual tactics.

1. First off, be nice. This sounds very clichéd, but the actual truth is that many of us can come across as patronizing and condescending, and I do not extricate myself from this group, as I can be as patronizing as anyone about this. How many times have we all found ourselves shaking our heads and wondering why the guy/girl in the cubicle/on the line/at the register next to us doesn’t get it? Then how many times have we gotten into a yell-fight with the guy or girl that solves nothing and leaves us looking as (if not more) silly than the person who was just advocating the use of nuclear weapons on Iraq? The truth is that as satisfying as those yell-fights can be, they are more often used as a way to portray the folks with social concerns in the real world as unbalanced mental cases. I am not saying that everything can be settled with a little niceness; I am not a corporate-imagined hippy by any means. Rather, I find that the quiet one-on-one conversations with people about the world get them going, but before I can even get to that stage, I am nice. By nice, I mean I just go through the same routine anyone would who was trying to make a friend. Ask some questions about their life and family. Ask about their hobbies. Ask about their interests. Share yours. The first thing that every activist within mainstream circles should understand is that if one does not care about the everyday travails of corporate/school/social life of a person, then that person will have absolutely no time for the activist and his/her concerns. It’s the subtle difference between helping a person and preaching at a person. Even if you start to go on in the process, and the person you are yapping with never "gets it" or what have you, at the very least, you make a new friend. These friends you make in this way who do not agree (and may never do so) are just as important in their own way, as they will enable activists to get different opinions directly from the people who, idealistically, the activist is working to help in the first place. These friends will speak frankly with people on the left about their apprehensions about the radical left, and this will enable activists to get valuable information sans the corporate media filters that claim to be speaking for the so-called "common man".

2. Next, take the time to get to know the person’s concerns within the workplace. Everyone within mainstream institutions seems to have some type of complaint about the system; even folks who are at the top have these complaints. (Although their complaints are usually about how they cannot get enough out of the workers, while the workers complaints are centered around how much the upper echelon is trying to get out of them) The reason to get colleagues to open up about the aspects of their occupation that they do not enjoy is simple and twofold. First, continuing the line of thinking from above, for occupational insurrection to succeed, activists will have to convince the everyday person that the activist truly has their interests at heart. And again, as an activist, this should be the actual case. The best way to do this is attempt to battle against the elements of the workplace that people find the most repugnant and useless. This is not to say "form a union" or what have you. Rather, this is about finding ways at the workplace to challenge the status quo with (likely at first to be "for") co-workers that will enable them to help without threatening their livelihood. Chances are, as activists, we have a lot less to lose than fellow colleagues because of lifestyle differences. On the other hand, people outside of the younger activist circles tend to have issues like childrearing, mortgages, child support, etc. to deal with, and they are not likely to be able to do radical things like start unions-at least not yet. However, these folks usually have a lot of pent-up animosity and acrimony against the status quo of their workplace, and al it usually takes is some catalyst to get them going to start making small demands within their own frame of living. I’ll provide examples of a few later in the interview, but suffice to say the latent power within the average workplace/school/social group due to their feelings of exasperation is almost limitless. Second, the more that an activist can talk to a fellow worker about the paradigm in which they work, the more the activist can draw the colleague’s attention to the fact that many of the same tactics utilized to foster obedience and oppress workers are rather similar to tactics utilized by governments, political parties, corporations in general, and other such parties on a macro societal level. This will be the best opportunity one ever has to do so because of the aforementioned restraints upon the average worker. The person who works in the cubicle next to you or is on the assembly line a few notches down again, has a whole spectrum of life that does not lend itself to attending meetings at 8 pm after work (that’s when they are helping kids with the homework), attending teach-ins, (after a long day, the last thing they want to do is have to work some more, even intellectually), or going to the Saturday morning rally (precious rest time or time allotted for children’s activities). However, at work, which as is well-established few want to actually be there anyhow, there’s a great shot to get some information across about the world because of the easy drawn parallels between the way the boss acts and the way the President acts. Here we find that they have not only strong opinions about what is right and wrong about the world. Here people will listen, and here, one can get them to care. That’s the next part.

3. CARE! CARE! CARE! Easily said, and to some, it would go without saying, but within this context, caring is possibly the most important aspect of the ordeal. Usually, we find that folks care immensely about their immediate surroundings. They do not want to get fired. They’d like the price of gas to be lower. They want their kids to not get hit with bricks that fall from the back of trucks. The issue is attempting to get folks to care about things that they do not perceive as affecting their daily routine. Once upon a time, a co-worker of mine claimed that the constant robbery undertaken by corporations within the confines of the military-industrial complex had no bearing on his life whatsoever. I unfortunately got into a yell-fight about that one; now I wish I had listened more. This was a prime opportunity to connect the malfeasance undertaken by said corporations to his everyday life. Alas, I was weak that day. But I digress. People within the workplace often care immensely about these scenarios, and they care immensely about the transgressions that impact them in the day-to-day flow of the workplace. They begin to care more about the travails of Pakistan or the economic typhoon that is a free trade agreement once connections to their immediate surroundings are made apparent to a crystalline level. They begin to care even more once it becomes apparent to them that certain choices they make cause levels of human rights to plunge, and it increases even greater as one exposes folks to the fact that many of the same issues that affect their everyday work/church/school life in a negative manner are oddly reminiscent of the same issues that preclude world leaders from actually taking the people of the world into account. Comparing the President of the US to your boss sounds inane, until you think about the fact that they are both giving unilateral orders that egregiously decimate the level of spirit, morale, and economic stability within a sphere of influence; it just so happens that the U.S. President’s sphere is much larger than your boss’s. People get it though, and that leads them to compare victims of US economic and military policy (inside and outside of the border) favorably to themselves. As people identify more and more with a people, this leads to caring. This caring can lead to a co-worker getting more involved in the constant struggle for social rights outside the workplace, to a worker more focused on battling the system at their place of business, or even just a person who has a slightly heightened measure of consciousness. That will definitely vary from worker to worker. But getting a certain measure of caring is a must, and in all honesty, is not as hard as both the mainstream and alternative media would have one believe.

4. They care. Now what? That all depends on the person. Again, let’s reiterate that this is a strategy/mindset geared toward people who most likely will not have tons of time to dedicate to it. So what can you ask of these folks? We ask them to confront, confound, and contain the viral nature of right-wing propaganda, which, in my opinion, is really the most successful tool the right-wingers have, therefore making it ostensibly the most insidious and dangerous front for us to fight upon. We have all had a job where there was one loud guy who listened to talk radio everyday and was not all that interested in being all that quiet about it. In fact, I am pretty sure it is legally mandated that a guy like that has to work everywhere. (Joking aside, I probably just gave GW his next big plan!) That guy has more to do with the decay of moral fortitude than we would give him credit for. Sure, the guy gets written off by a lot of people, albeit silently. I know he’s a moron. You know he’s a moron. We don’t say or do anything for a variety of reasons. He seems harmless, but the fact is that we’re only thinking of ourselves when we think this. Recall again, the fact that many a person does not have the time or inclination to learn about politics and/or society. Well, as we are sitting there, shaking our heads and wondering who could believe that tripe, guess who is? Well, it’s the person who has no time who does. Why? Because they have no time! See what I am saying here? Because of the vacuum of information, all people usually hear is either the mass media or extreme right-wingers repeating things in break room and over assembly lines. Because other folks do not step up with some kind of a counter…any kind of a counter, what the right-winger says is accepted as some sort of halcyon truth. This is the step where most folks will leave off, however. Folks have some issues doing more because of the aforementioned reasons, so this is about all one can expect out of those folks. Don’t discount this however: one can never be certain which small act or statement can lead to greater things, and the fact that the elevation of consciousness of people within the workplace can lead to them raising the level of consciousness of their children, families, neighbors, etc. is not an unworthy goal in and of itself.

5. Some folks will care so much that they cannot wait to get busy changing the world. These people will be depending on you for lots now, so I want to reiterate patience here. One thing that has happened to me is that I have noticed how some people will need constant guidance and reassurance about their paths. Some of these people will call so often that you’ll consider replacing your phone with a direct red Bat phone directly to their house. These people will also want to do more than just care, and more than just tell right-wingers off.

6. Know the rules of the institution where you work. That seems like a given as well, but the truth is that this is the first, and often times only, defense against retributive strikes from co-workers and/or management who will not agree with the stances you and your cohorts will be taking. Read the rule. Then read them again. Loopholes are something we decry when corporations utilize them to get over on the public, but that isn’t to say that you cannot use them to get over on your own corporate bosses within the workplace. When the powers that be attempt to use the rules against you, try and use the rules against them as well. Refuse to read anything into any rule; only obey the letter of them, rather than the spirit. Many corporations are not very interested in being sued, and if they violate the rules against you, that is exactly what could happen to them, so they tend to follow their own rules pretty well in these cases, although not always.

7. The people who you have spoken with who desire more than just raising consciousness will want to do more, obviously. They will be hungry for change, and they will most likely be rather hungry for the kind of food that can only be made by challenging the status quo within the workplace. YUMMY! But for real, people will desire to get at that their managers and capitalists, who they now know have been oppressing them in a myriad of ways and patterns. So the chances are that the folks will want some direct action. Again, we are operating within the parameters of people who do not want to get fired, so their direct action to make changes inside of the workplace is too little to be useful, correct? WRONG! This is an easy mistake to make, but the truth is that people in all sorts of industries are constantly rallying against the establishment. The truth is that most workers (especially low-wage workers) are engaging in various activities that constantly undermine that efficacy of the workplace and the managers who run it. They do so via theft (because they get paid so little), self-slowdowns, and even just not doing work and saying it is done. The problem with this in and of itself is that when individuals act in such a manner as individuals, they are merely engaging in self-gratification that can make no change on an overall level. On the other hand, if these activities are coordinated, they can make a dent in the hegemonic authoritarian atmosphere of the workplace. As more and more dents are made, more and more folks who had been "just caring" usually start to help out in their own forms and fashions. The greatest part about this form of direct action is that generally, these little rebellious streaks cannot be traced back to their implementers. That’s why folks already engage in similar activities on their own.

8. At this point, hopefully the people who have gone beyond the caring are really getting excited about changing the world now outside of the workplace. Now it’s up to you to learn. Folks who you were teaching socioeconomic truths to are now going to be getting out there themselves, learning new stuff, and passing it back to you for your thoughts. This is the point where a good Occupational Insurrectionist should back off, and allow the group to go how it goes, and enjoy the fruits of their work.

BD: How did you initially develop this strategy for social change?

NJ: The idea was to give folks who do not think they can contribute anything – and arguably cannot from a "traditional radical" point of view – something to contribute. Because I am a radical who attempts to not only cloister himself within the safe confines of the radical wings of society, I have heard the paeans of people who desire change, but they are locked into a survival mode of types due to the quasi-capitalist society we live within.

In all actuality, the how is just good old fashioned trial and error. I would be a liar and a thief of your time were I to attempt to tell you that everything in here works on everybody, or that every little thing I ever tried turned out great. In fact, I have probably alienated just as many folks as I have brought into the radical leftist wings of society. The reasons for that are complex, but I know that one of the things I have to watch out for is getting too loud. Literally. I just have this booming voice that I seemingly have no control over once I begin chatting about a subject I have a modicum of excitement about, and this can be detrimental and off-putting to some people.

But were I to narrow it down to one thing that helped the most it was listening. I think that too many of us, especially me when I first became an anarchist, get to be too busy spouting off whatever narrative at people instead of attempting to find out what the primary concerns are of the folks I was purporting to be trying to save. Listening is what the average worker wants more of from everyone, whether it’s a lefty radical anarchist like me, their managers, their co-workers, the big boss, ad infinitum…

BD: Could you give us a couple of examples of where you have applied Occupational Insurrection techniques in the workplace?

NJ: There are a few. There are a group of people where I currently work who were being badgered about the use of timers. Management wanted us to use the timers during programming segments so we would know when the breaks were ending. The idiocy of this was the fact that there are literally 8 clocks counting the segment down right in front of where one would be monitoring, so the timer thing was superfluous. Management started turning up the heat and writing people up – the most dastardly thing that can happen to someone in corporate America. People fear write-ups the way Spanish Inquisitors feared Pagans. A lot of folks started getting angry. I suggested that they do something about it. So we started just throwing the timers away or taking the batteries out of them. After 2 months, management finally noticed. Eventually, we had a big meeting about the timers, and the managers said they were "there for us", but the write-ups stopped.

I later found out that the managers had had a 7-hour long meeting about the timers. That’s good in and of itself for Occupational Insurrection as well, because any time we can keep managers and owners from dealing in the same old oppressive mechanisms of maintaining the status quo is time we have kept these devious minds from concocting reasons to get at the workers even more or inventing new paradigms with which to do so.

Another thing that has happened is the resistance to internal propaganda about "having to do something". Quite often here, new rules will be implemented based on baseless rationale, usually just because a manager wants to brag to his/her superior that they implemented something new, because for purposes of advancement within the corporate sphere, stagnation is the same thing as regression. But I digress. This propaganda is usually doled out via memos, emails, and meetings. What I have noticed here is that individual shifts now unilaterally decide what edicts they will and will not follow based on what they desire for their ease. The managers generally complain, but they find there’s little they can do with 80-90 percent of a shift is engaging in a task the same way. The really remarkable thing though, is the change in folks’ attitudes. People go from almost enjoying the corporate world to reviling it. They go from believing every last word that every last middleman sells to them to not believing a word of it. That’s the part that is most satisfying, because that defiance of the proclamations of authority can carry over into the other spheres of life quite easily.

BD: What are some of the long terms goals of Occupational Insurrection?

NJ: I’d like to think that these small steps could one day lead to something akin to the Argentine Horizontalidad phenomenon, which is easily one of the most inspiring things to occur during my lifetime. It’s interesting to note how that whole wave of workers’ self-emancipation was preceded by the complete collapse of the entire financial system of Argentina, and when we look at the various financial crises here and the constant lowering of the value of the dollar, we may see some similar economic conditions here, which could possibly lead us down a similar path. I’m no prognosticating economist though, so I’ll leave those predictions to others.

Ultimately though, economic collapse as a catalyst or not, the long term goal is to create an attitudinal springboard for radicalism within workplaces. This springboard will hopefully inspire and enable people to start creating their own cadres of resistance within their own workplaces, and as more and more workplaces come under this attitude, I think we will see more of a change in society at large. The ultimate goal of this would be to eventually have at least a de facto self-managed workplace or shift.

BD: What recommendations do you have for others who would like to apply Occupational Insurrection where they work or live?

NJ: Learn to be patient. Get a scope of the attitude climate before you even take the very first step, because the chances are that you can save yourself a great deal of wasted time and energy by learning how to tailor your first few attempts to insert political dialogue on the needs of the region in which you are. For instance, if Nestle is opening a plant in your area and is getting huge tax breaks on it that might be a good way to bring up the unfairness of said tax breaks and how the city has probably sold out social services for jobs.

Get ready for fierce resistance as well, and be ready for some people to be too dependent on you, at least at first. Be patient, and try and encourage them to engage in activities on their own as well by building up their own various positive traits and abilities. Get ready for a lot of new friends and a lot of fun as well! I’d happily help anyway I could, and I can be reached at atlanarchy@gmail.com.