From Activism to Organizing: The Difference

I think it took me three years to go from being an activist to being an organizer, by which I mean: it took me three years to have these two epiphanies.

(1) People will take initial action if they become personally angry… seems sort of obvious, but when you’re in the heat of one of your first organizing attempts, it can feel a little like, “OF COURSE THE PRIVATIZATION of the University is a fucked up thing. I’m doing soooo much work. Why are the rest of these students not standing up and becoming ‘woke.’ Damn sheeple.” People won’t get involved if you don’t connect what you’re doing to something that makes them personally angry. Having an organizing conversation where you find out that because of rising tuition, your potential recruit may have to drop out of school and not become a registered nurse, which is her lifelong dream? That’s a perfect recruit who you should agitate into action, and it takes a lot of time and conversations and mapping to find (and determine) your organizing base.

(2) EVEN IF you get someone angry and willing to take initial action, the only thing that will hold them for the entirety of an organizing campaign is hope.

The reason I make this post is that I’ve been going to all the Sacramento-area post-Bernie what-do-we-do-now events, and while some of these groups know how to do (1), very few know how to do (2).

How do you give someone hope? You need a realistic plan to win. Take an issue, say, income inequality. Who is your base? What about income inequality makes that base angry? What is your issue cut, that is, how are you going to take a giant concept like income inequality and make it personal to your base so that with the resources you currently have you can fight for something *and win* (for example, for a larger organization, a raise in a city’s minimum wage)? And most importantly, what is your plan to win? You should have a step-by-step plan that you can clearly explain to someone in just a few minutes that demonstrates how you’re going to be able to win (for example, maybe it’s canvassing to collect signatures and volunteers to ultimately gather 7,000 signatures to trigger an election on minimum wage).

In other words, even if an issue makes someone angry — the overwhelming majority of people are not like activists and organizers. Of course people are only going to get involved if they believe getting involved will — for real — make their lives better! Hope!! People have to believe in the legitimacy of your organization — and you become legitimate once you starting winning issue cuts in campaigns by having real plans to win!!!

We’re living in exciting times. In large part because of Bernie, there is a lot of new political activity on the Left. Thought I’d throw this rant out there.

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