An intimate perch: blending the personal into the story of a social movement

I set out to write the kind of book I was hungry for when I started out as a social change organizer fifty years ago – a book that would offer an intimate perch from which to explore a social movement.

I decided to jump right in, starting Chapter 1 on the freezing cold December morning in 1972 when ten women office workers – including me – fanned out across downtown Boston to hand out the first issue of the 9 to 5 newsletter.

As the story began to take shape, I found myself more and more enthralled.  Using old letters, diaries, leaflets, and clippings, I relived the joy – and the exhaustion – of working in a tiny office for 12 hours a day.  The thrill of taking on the corporate titans and winning millions of dollars in back pay and raises.  The details of how we built our nationwide multiracial organization and our woman-led union step by step, inspired Jane Fonda’s hit comedy and Dolly Parton’s song – and made countless bosses get their own coffee.

I made sure to share my doubts, my frustrations, the times when I wanted to crawl into a hole, as well as the hard-won “how-to’s” of organizing.  I worked hard to avoid what Ursula Le Guin, the late science fiction writer, called the “Expository Lump or the Infodump.”  Writers, Le Guin said, must find ways to bury those “lumps” of background information, turning each one into “a functional, forward-moving element of the story.”

It was a little hard to know when to stop. Because although we 9 to 5’ers achieved a lot, we didn’t win it all.  Many more victories remain to be won – and that means many more stories remain to be written.

(This piece appeared as a guest post on the blog of Chloe Yelena Miller, Writing and Writing Teacher.)