For decades now, I've worked on occasion to help organize unions. Many times, when I approach workers to discuss the union, we are initially strangers to each other. Too often we have very little in common.
They've heard bad things about unions, or had bad experiences with unions in the past. I am wondering why they don't want to fight for a pay raise. We may be different races, or have far different social and political interests, I'm urban and they're rural, and if they are religious at all, that's another difference between them and me.
I am always honestly curious about the details of their job. But sometimes it takes a while for folks to warm up and talk to a near-stranger about anything.
Usually, I'm approaching non-union construction workers. These are mostly white men. Generally, but not always, they are politically reactionary, they own guns and love to hunt and fish, they don't always honor women, and are uncomfortable around minorities.
Usually I try some small talk to warm things up; where do they live, are they married, got any kids, how long have they been an ironworker, and so on. Sometimes, even though we both may be drinking at a bar, no matter what I say, I'm getting one-word answers; yes or no to every query.
By then, I'll often feign interest in professional sports, just to draw them out a little on common ground, along the lines of "Geez, can you believe the way the Giants have collapsed this year?" But I'm not that interested or knowlegable, so if we don't warm up to each other after a couple of minutes of sports talk, I'm in trouble.
Some folks on Daily Kos may have seen me commenting on Climate Change and energy diaries. I've researched power plants for decades, but I don't oppose every pipeline or gas-fired or nuclear power plant, so I got a lot of vitriol back from other Kos commenters about my opinions.
That got tiresome, and for the last few months, I've felt a lot more welcome diarying and commenting at Backyard Science. That drove me to become learn much more about the natural world and the critters in it.
Still, I felt a little guilty, as if I'd abandoned the revolution somehow, by not participating in the heated discussions over Kos diaries, but instead sticking to the not-so-revolutionary Backyard Science topics.
So last week I approached a construction worker. I knew he knew the details on a crooked construction contractor who had been cheating his workers out of wages for years. Though we were sipping whiskey, the worker and I just were not hitting it off.
He was very conservative and an evangelical, despite the whiskey drinking, and not that thrilled about having a black president. We started talking about his many guns. That just revealed some of my ignorance about firearms, but he mentioned how many doves he had shot that season.
Well, I had gotten tired of slinging BS about stuff I didn't know much about, so I said,"We've got doves and killdeer at the golf course where I work Saturday mornings. I've been keeping track of the killdeer out there for years. I see them pair off every spring. I watch for their new nests and whether they're getting preyed on. I count how many are there every spring and fall."
He turned to me with a funny look.
"Killdeer? You keep track of Killdeer?" A long pause.
"The killdeer dig a nest on the edge of my driveway every spring," he said finally.
"Do they use the broken wing trick to get you away from their nest?" I responded.
"Yeh," he smiled,"So you walk the other way, but you still can't find their dang nest until you're almost standing on it."
"And there's always 4 eggs in that crappy little scraped out nest," I said.
"And all four eggs always hatch," he said.
"And the young'ns are running around the same day they hatch," I said.
"And there ain't nothing cuter that those little killdeer babies running around," He grinned.
"And sometimes momma killdeer gathers all the babies under her wings," I said.
There we were, bonding, against the odds. And it was all due to the knowledge I've gathered for the killdeer diaries I'd written for the Daily Bucket of the Backyard Science Group, not because of my grasp of Marxist economic theory.
We stayed friendly. The following week, I shepherded him into the State Attorney General's office to present his documented evidence about the wage thefts.
I don't know if we spurred a prosecution. God knows we turned over enough evidence. But you have gotta keep trying.