Introducing: Precarity Chicago

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #6 in June 2008]

The old ways of radical organizing are dead. We can no longer rally around the banners of Marxism, anarchism, socialism, or the hundreds of off-shoots that have splintered because of petty disputes or personal differences. We live in a society that has become fractured and assaults us with images of war, poverty, and disease while also cowing us into apathy with celebrity gossip, flashy commercials, and a so-called democracy that treats the electoral process as a sporting event. In short, we are living in precarious times.

According to Maribel Casas-Cortes and Sebastian Cobarrubias, precarity is “the labor conditions that arose after the transition from life-long, stable jobs common in industrial capitalist and welfare-state economies, to temporary, insecure, low-paying jobs emerging with the globalization of the service and financial economy.” To put it another way, precarity is the understanding that capital has changed in such a way that we can no longer take for granted a secure position in life. We constantly live in fear of how we’re going to pay our rent or mortgage, eat food that won’t hurt us, get an education, find a job (or jobs!) that can support us, and still be able to enjoy our time outside of the workplace.

Organizing through the lens of precarity is useful because it serves as a way to directly confront this shift from a strategic perspective. While not serving as a catch-all theoretical explanation of capitalism or other divisions in our society, it can effectively link struggles against capital and the divisions it creates or exploits. The organizing strategy behind precarity : chicago is to engage political, economic, and social problems at the everyday level while aiding in already existing organizing.

The idea of precarity : chicago was born out of two frustrations. The first was with the general state of society and its organization. How many of us work more than one job or view the time outside of the official workplace as when we are truly alive? How many of us fear the mail coming or an electronic alert hitting our phone or inbox? How many of us who are politically active hear “Well, I’m not very political.” when talking to people supposedly outside of our movements?

The second frustration engages that organizing aspect. precarity : chicago was organized out of the belief that the current state of the radical and progressive left is in disarray. Great work is being done by many people but the overall structure is fractured. The ability for individuals and groups to not only organize but collaborate with each other has become stilted due to an ineffective communicative structure in our community that results in frustrated activists, limited resources that we all fight over, and a negative perception by the general populace about our message.

We aim to inject a fresh perspective into local Chicago activism while at the same time supporting and expanding the already amazing work of thousands of people and hundreds of groups and organizations. precarity : chicago aims to do this through educational forums, art shows, social autonomous zones, research projects and publication, and direct and honest communication with existing individuals and organizations.

If you are interested to learn more about
precarity : chicago and our upcoming projects,
contact us at or visit us at

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