This Labor Day weekend, I decided to return to a book that once changed my thinking about political organizing when I was in college. “Cold Anger” follows a successful social justice organizing campaign from activists Saul Alinsky, Ed Chambers, and Ernie Cortes, and the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), which helped organize the working class in never-before-seen ways across Texas, Illinois, California, and New York.
A major component of IAF’s success stemmed from its approach which encouraged community members to figure out what makes them angry and turn it into something constructive. Anger, according to the organizers (and new-age psychologists), is closely entangled with energy. When you tap into something that really riles you up—a memory of personal wrongdoing or injustice endured—it can break through anxiety, awaken compassion for other human beings, and fuel constructive political action. In short, angry energy is critical for helping yourself, your family, and your neighbors.
But these IAF organizers were not looking for some reckless inferno. They were looking for a kind of cool, tempered anger rooted in relationships, loss, and grief. One that “probes for truth and challenges the injustices of life,” according to author Mary Beth Rogers.
It’s natural to be uncomfortable with anger, and most people suppress or deny it—often leading to outbursts in inappropriate, even unethical, vengeful places. To help with this discomfort, IAF organizers would meet with individuals one-on-one, helping them come to terms with their anger, connect it to the suffering of their friends and neighbors, cool it down, and turn it into a powerful tool for change. One IAF organizer, Catholic Sister Christine Stephens, said she often smothered her anger in her professional life, yet felt catharsis when she was able to finally release it in the context of organizing.
THE COMMENTS SECTION
Creators, in particular, are afraid to use and express their anger. Creators have faced hate campaigns and lost brand deals for speaking out about socioeconomic issues. Notoriously, Sephora worker turned beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira once faced intense scrutiny and an exodus of followers for heatedly saying her job was just as hard as her former 9-to-5. One creator told Passionfruit in the wake of the controversy that “how hard influencers work shouldn’t be a public discussion” due to the relative ease of the job compared to say, manual labor.
While it’s certainly true content creators aren’t facing the same type of disenfranchisement as blue-collar workers, most content creators are wage, contract, or gig workers. Almost every creative person trying to make a living has faced burnout, has struggled to get healthcare, has tried hopelessly to get platforms and companies to listen to them, has been exploited by an egomaniac boss or executive, has worked long and unreasonable hours, has struggled to feed their family under a system with massive wealth disparity and few labor protections.
That said, often creators associate expressing anger with controversial, publicly scrutinized viral rants. Though we do love a good rant at times, tapping into anger doesn’t have to go down that way. It can be professional, cooled down, strategic anger, arising in in-person gatherings, private creator Discord servers, or emerging creator guild meetings. It can demand respect and be expressed to business leaders and politicians.
And, when publicized, anger can be professionally communicated—whether it is writers, influencers, actors, and VFX artists taking to the picket line, employees protesting exploitative YouTube empires, Redditors shutting down the platform to protest price hikes, industry voices questioning a new creator economy guild, or pro gamers threatening walkouts.
Sure, as “Cold Anger” describes, the IAF’s demonstrations were outrageous, aggressive, and disruptive enough to make a change. But they were also cold, calculated, and never malicious. In one instance of protest, hundreds of community members from the West Side of San Antonio, Texas, went into a downtown department store to try on everything in sight and buy nothing. In another, protestors went into a downtown Frost Bank to exchange hundreds of dollars into pennies, and then back into dollars again. The result? The disruptions captured the attention of city elites and convinced them to increase the budget for much-needed West Side developments by $100 million.
When I was in college, learning about these hilarious protests gave me hope. I was mad about a lot of things (particularly how my loved ones and I were treated by teachers, bosses, and poorly behaved colleagues). I tried stuffing down my anger, but it spilled all over the place. Reading this book helped me understand how to better fuel my anger into something productive.
As this hot labor summer transitions into a cool labor fall, I highly encourage you all to tap into what makes you angry. Make it cold, make it strong, and don’t let anyone stand in your way.
Celebrate (Creator) Labor Day!
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