Against Pure “Authentic” Organizing

David Letterman has this new show on Netflix called “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” The first episode has now been released, which features an hour-long interview with former President Barack Obama. Sad and drunk on a Sunday night, I’ve been crying for many more minutes than I’d care to admit — weeping hard at about the 29 minute mark of the interview.

Obama is now a historical figure who’s greatest life’s work are definitely behind him. He has nothing to prove, nor any outcome or effective agenda at this point in his life or for the rest of his life. And at that 29 minute mark of that interview, he has an all-too-familiar expression — this sort of “lol wtf” expression — as he remembers his first experiences as a professional organizer, clumsy, awkward, and ineffective. (He describes how his first anti-poverty event he organized, despite massive flyer-ing, only achieved 4 attendees.) I remember being a clumsy, awkward, and ineffective professional organizer myself, and in that moment of the interview, I found myself seeing how utterly, completely, inescapably sincere and honest Obama had been during the interview… I *knew* exactly what he was talking about as he described his first professional organizing attempts, how horrible and humiliating those first professional organizing attempts are.

And that got me thinking about how sincere Obama has likely always been. Hell, even how sincere Trump has been — albeit in much different ideological and historical frames. And that got me thinking about how — even interpersonally in our everyday micro-interactions — we can be utterly sincere and honest with the best intentions and yet still hurt others so profoundly. How the best, most honest, most pure intentions can sometimes still destroy others’ lives. How maybe even presidents of the United States of America may actually truly believe that they are doing the right thing, yet at the same time impoverish and destroy, kill and spiritually maim, millions of people with horrible decisions.

Authentic, honest living is not enough.

The art of organizing is often accused of being manipulative — learning social/emotional tricks and studying social/emotional power in order to manipulate positive political results. Thus, organizers graduating from a “beginner” level to an “intermediate” level must learn to incorporate a “being” over “doing” that is authentic and real — building genuine comfort to help build real relationships to deliver raw results and uproot real trauma expressed into collective action *without* indirect, cloudy inauthenticity.

But authentic, honest living is not enough.

To go from an “intermediate” level to an “advanced” level, one must return to those mis-labeled “manipulative” tactics once again… just that it comes now from a different place — an appreciation for social/emotional tricks (“technique”) not from a place of desperation (“I need to organize”), but from a place of inspiration (“I choose to organize and these tricks will help, as authentic, honest living is not enough to heal the world”).

Idk, I’m pretty drunk and I don’t know if this makes sense.

Sometimes a certain piece of media will hit you out-of-the-blue like a train of bricks. Ugh.. hope this resonates. Thank you for reading.

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