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.


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