In 2012 I opened a new and radically different chapter of my life.
This year I left the Service Employees International Union after 22 years as an organizer, elected leader, and ultimately the union’s youngest international executive vice-president. Based on agreement with the union’s new president, I left national office, took a part-time consulting gig, and moved with my lovely wife Leslie, and our faithful but neurotic dog Milo, to become…executive ranch hand let’s say, on a historic little place on the Arroyo Gallina (“chicken gulch”), in a beautiful corner of rural Santa Fe county, New Mexico.
The contrasting lifestyles could not be more different. I used to get on a plane 3-4 times a week, as much as I have now flown in the last 6 months. I no longer struggle to remember what city or time zone I wake up in, why I am there, or what exactly I am supposed to do wherever it is I am. The brutal attacks on the labor movement, responsible for so much of our nation’s prosperity, are no longer in my face every day. Nor are the soul-sucking power struggles at the top of a big, national organization.
I am proud and fortunate to leave SEIU having achieved transformative victories: helping thousands of workers to organize and win full-time jobs, health insurance, and family-supporting wages; leading the union’s efforts in the south and southwest; helping to flip my former home state (the swing state of Colorado); and, perhaps most gratifying, inspiring ordinary people to become extraordinary leaders for social change.
Now, after this long and satisfying run, I am on a journey of plummeting downward mobility, in terms of status, power, income—and skyrocketing upward mobility in terms of quality of life and sustainability. I do work with my hands: chopping wood, tiling a counter, playing with dangerous things like saws and electricity; it’s work that shows instant results. Leslie and I visit the farmers market and our local co-op and cook three meals a day infused with local flavor: chile, beans, honey, juniper from outside our door. We are greening up our ranch with geothermal, solar and water-saving technology.
And we are thinking about our future, about building a life around what we do best and love most outside of organizing: bringing people together; preparing great food, cocktails, coffee; forcing relaxation on the most stubborn of victims. We are creating a retreat for people that enjoy the same things we do: cycling, hiking, eating, drinking, thinking, doing, changing the world.
We hope our little ranch on Arroyo Gallina will come to embody this vision, and become a rustic oasis in the desert for an ever-growing community: a place for both important conversations and for well-deserved relaxation. It has been a year of incredible change for us so far, but still only the beginning. This blog will be the field notes of our journey, complete with photos, lessons learned, and of course our favorite recipes. Stay tuned…
posted by Mitch Ackerman