The Case of the Disappearing Organizer…

I was inspired to write the following post in preparing for the event on  May 9th event, Organizers and Changemakers, not Martyrs, which I co-organized with the Action Mill and Organizing 2.0. More details and tools are available here.

I remember distinctly when I was a community organizer in my twenties.  I was working for an amazing organization, organizing with Puerto Rican and Dominican women for affordable childcare, higher minimum wages, and against draconian welfare cuts.  I still love deeply and support this organization as a donor.

I used to drive from my home to work and back everyday, about two hours round-trip. It was in the early days of cell phones and I had a huge Nokia. On my way back and forth in my burgundy Volvo station-wagon, I would make turn-out calls for one-to-one meetings, group events. This was on top of working fourteen-hour days that I would use my driving time as call time. I had a dream once that my car went over a cliff and that my instinct was to reach for my cell phone and call my meetings AS I WAS FALLING to tell them I would be late.

I would also cry sometimes when I drove to work. I was in my early twenties and I would cry on my to work. My thought process at the time was- I hope I stop crying soon, because I have to start making phone calls. Is this hard for you to believe?

My level of self-awareness was not so high in many parts of my life but particularly around listening to my own needs, taking care of myself, and giving myself a bit of love. I got sick a lot, I got mad a lot, and I was not clear on the connection between it all. When I left that job, I said to myself- ok, something didn’t work here. I said to myself- I never want to work that hard again, without knowing why I am doing it.

Looking back on all of this many years later, it’s fascinating to see my thought process. I knew that I was over-working, but my solution was that if I cared more, than it would be OK. Or if I understood my motivation better, it would be OK. Probably as you read this you have other insights into why I did what I did (and sometimes still do). I meet up with versions of myself all the time. Ambitious, driven organizers in their twenties. They seem so clear about their work and their motivation.

But there is one major difference. Many of them have turned away from politics. Their social justice work is happening through their community garden, their radical doula collective, through arts and culture,  and through somatics– just to name a few. I value all these things (and full-disclosure and am in training to be a somatic coach) — AND I mourn a bit for the radicals, the queers, the lovers who would throw themselves wholeheartedly into political campaigns. Clearly this is still happening- I’ve met some of these people as well and they are so awesome. But- in growing numbers, I’m also seeing a many young people (particularly young, radical people) move away from campaigns, from organizing jobs from the work that fueled me. Why? When I ask, they talk about wanting to have balance in their lives, about prioritizing community and family, about wanting time to create.

And this is real.
And at the same time I mourn a bit for the movement moments of the past when we gave ourselves wholeheartedly to the cause. I want other people to know the exhilaration of organizing 200, 300, 500, 1000+ person actions. Of watching communities and leaders move into their own power.

Can this happen with balance?  Yes.                                                                                Have I seen it?   At times- and I want to see it more and more.  There are many individuals and groups that are working to make this happen (like Universal Partnership, Generative Somatics, Social Justice Leadership,) and many practices learned and shared over kitchen tables, long walks and various forms of social media.  I’d love to hear about other places and ways this is happening.

Sustainable Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which my own patterns hold me back. The fear I have, the shame, the need to protect myself. All of the practices I have been doing, as a yoga teacher, a coach-in-training, and in my personal life have been leading me towards a new effort of practicing relaxed, being present and open in all parts of my life.  As I learn to move away from compulsion and towards regular structures that are different and help me live my life in a different way- my shape is changing.

From this...

From this…to this...to this…

Over the past month, I’ve been trying two new practices around email– leanmail- a system for managing email created by the Action Mill and five sentences  – a system of limiting email replies to five sentences or less.
I’ve noticed a few things from both of these practices. The level of compulsion I have to check my email is LARGE (and feels like it is in charge). By containing this desire to (mostly) two blocks of email effort a day- it helps me to reply in a more timely fashion, create a list of emails I need to send, obsess less while waiting for specific replies. By limiting my emails to short replies, I realize how much I tend to use email to blah blah and not have the real conversations I need to by phone or in person.

It also gives me uninterrupted blocks of time to be working on other projects. Whereas in the past I would have been taking breaks every hour or hour (or to be honest more frequently then that,) I now have many large blocks throughout the day to work on projects, think bigger and create new space and ideas for myself.

Especially when I’m traveling, the desire and habit to check my inbox at any transition point, getting on an off a train, plane, arriving in a location, when I end a meeting- feels almost over-whelming. Re-teaching myself to look up, notice the trees blooming in Seattle or New York, make eye-contact and connect with the people around me has been a bigger reward then getting the latest buzzfeed list off of facebook (even if it does feel particularly relevant to my life. I can always check it later. And now I’m working on facebook time-blocks too. :)

This Thursday, I’m co-hosting an event  in New York with the Action Mill and Organizing 2.0 Organizers and Change-makers- Not Martyrs, which will explore these and other questions more deeply.  I hope you will join us and keep this conversation going online and in our lives.

Organzing NY Report-back

Organizing NY was held over March 22-24th in Manhattan.  Over 450 people attended a variety of workshops on a wide variety of topics including online organizing, grassroots fundraising, campaigning, advocacy and civic engagement.  Some report-backs are already online including one on making videos that reflect the work in the field.   One participant reflected:

2013, will be my third election cycle and up until Organize New York, I had no idea why I was knocking on the doors I was knocking on, asking for the signatures I did or attending  the  labor meetings I was sent to.
Organize New York, brought me into the war room, and demanded I got involved in the thinking behind the campaign, a space women and minorities rarely occupy and I can take this information into my day to day work.  Thank you again and I look forward to continuing this conversation.

Mutale Nkonde, Founder of the Young Professional & Politically     Engaged Facebook page, lead organizer of the Millennial Mayoral Forum. 

One of my ongoing goals is to recruit, support and build the field of organizing across sectors, particularly in low-income communities, communities of color, and other directly impacted communities.  While Organizing NY wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it did bring together people from different areas of organizing who don’t ordinarily talk to each other, to learn, share, and build relationships for years to come.  Already there is talk of a fundraisers of color happy hour, and other rumblings of great connections and efforts coming out of the weekend.  Thanks to all who were a part of making it happen, particularly Charles Lenchner, Amy Miller and Elana Levin from Organizing 2.0, Maurice Mitchell, Sunshine Ludder and Sonya Reynolds from the NY Civic Engagement Table, Mike Boland from Working Families, and our good friends at Citizen Action of NY, who are gearing up for their amazing skills and analysis conference in Albany this June 29-3oth- Justice Works.

Organizing NY — workshops, skillshares, and so much more-

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I’ve been working to help make Organizing NY– a three-day conference with over 50 workshops on grassroots fundraising, advocacy, organizing, campaigning and online organizing– a reality for the past four months. This conference is bringing together and is inspired by the Brecht Forum’s Money and the Movement training weekend, Organizing 2.0 and GIFT’s Money for our Movements conference.

We have an amazing line-up of workshops (full list here) and presenters including Mark Winston Griffith, Julie Miles, Yasmeen Perez, Marjorie Fine- and many more. We’re lucky to have Kenzo Shibata as our speaker on Saturday- who created and ran the digital media strategy for the Chicago Teachers Union strike. They’ll be a special training from Wellstone Action sharing their great tools on running campaigns and winning. And Sunday is a full day of community-run workshops.

If you want to learn more for your group or organization to make it stronger and more effective- I hope I’ll see you at Organizing NY next weekend.

Here are the details:
Organizing New York takes place March 22-24 at the United Federation of Teachers, 52 Broadway. Register here.
A listing of approved sessions appears below, though it is subject to change.
We’ll have childcare and translation the entire time. The venue is wheel-chair accessible.

Want to help? Please forward this note to others who you think might want to come.

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Advocacy, Campaigns and Civic Engagement

  • 501c3 and 501c4: How They Work and What Is the Difference
  • Campaigning in Low Turnout Elections (Both Online and Offline)
  • How to Scare Companies and Influence People Online.
  • Developing Effective Communications Strategy
  • Getting National Activists to Focus and Engage in Local Campaigns
  • How the NY State Legislature Works
  • How to Use Policy To Build Progressive Power
  • NYC Government Power and How It Works: Public Advocate, Council, Speaker, Mayor, etc.
  • Online Ads: When You Have No Money
  • Personal Stories That Drive Online Campaigns
  • Running Against the Machine

Fundraising:

  • Special Events Planning 101 and 102
  • Winning Statewide Fights
  • A-thons
  • Best Practices in Data Management- Analyst Reportback
  • Building a Culture of Fundraising
  • Building a Fundraising Team: Volunteers, Boards and More….
  • Building Authentic Donor Relationships
  • Developing a Fundraising Plan
  • Fundraising From Your Membership Base
  • Grassroots Fundraising 101
  • How To Ask For A Gift
  • Online Fundraising 101 (with Spanish)
  • Parties for Fun and Profit
  • People of Color and Fundraising
  • Planning Your CrowdFunding Campaign
  • White People and Fundraising

Online Organizing:

  • Advanced Social Media Strategy
  • Building Engagement on Facebook for Your Organization
  • Easy Design Changes to Make Your Website More Engaging
  • Evangelizing Online Organizing Within Your Organization
  • Facebook 101
  • Google Analytics
  • How to Ensure That Your Web Project is a Complete Failure
  • How to Manage or Be a Social Media Volunteer Captain
  • Introduction To Digital Strategy
  • Making Video that Doesn’t Suck
  • Mobile Phone Organizing Strategies
  • Nationbuilder Training
  • NYC Online Local Politics

Sunday is an unconference.  What this means is that participants vote on workshops via the Google Moderator site and the final schedule will be determined on Sunday morning when we fill in “The Wall.”

You can vote on proposals such as these:

  • Local online organizing: how unions, community organizations, and political campaigns can effectively use online organizing, even without a large budget.
  • What to do when your city is drowning? Integrating climate justice into progressive struggles of all kinds in New York City – basically a discussion about how stopping climate change can connect all kinds of campaigns/struggles in NYC.
  • What is NVDA (non-violent direct action)? How do you organize Civil Disobedience? amongst diverse communities and issues?
  • Recent efforts to organize low income service workers – fast food, supermarket, car wash and others. Emphasize what has been learned about the utility of new tools, explain the organizing model.
  • Do you need a website where folks can build expertise, organize (start or join working groups), and take action (using lots of tools, resources and support along the way)? We can discuss pooling $$ 2 create an open source site 4 use by many groups.
  • “How Facebook Helped Win Gay Marriage” Digital and social media played a crucial role in changing marriage from a losing issue to a winning one. Come learn what worked, what didn’t and what’s next.
  • Organizing Faith Based Committees, faith leaders have huge reach, organizing them into a political group can help progressive candidates win elections. Led by proven faith based organizers this could help conference goers move into new areas.

 

 

New writing on fundraising for 501(c)(4)s

Here’s an article I wrote on fundraising for political work through 501(c)(4) organizations.  It was published by the wonderful Grassroots Fundraising Journal. I welcome your feedback!

#OccupyTogether Resources

One of the projects I have been working with over the past few months is SURJ: Showing Up for Racial Justice (formerly Us for All of Us). In response to the swell of actions across the country- from Occupy Wall Street to encampments and bank actions across the country; SURJ has compiled some of the best resources on race and the Occupy Movement.  Check them out here or on Facebook here (which might be update a bit more regularly.)

New videos

In preparation for a strategic planning retreat with US for All of US: No room for Racism (a network of white people working for racial justice,) I made a few videos exploring the work of organizing white people for racial and economic justice with my friend and colleague Paula Ioanides.  Hopefully the beginning of a series.  Enjoy-

Part I- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8F99souz4

Part II- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNB1cktMk58