What Organizing Can Do, What It Cannot

The Left means so much to me, in the way that the deepest things cannot be described through written language — words diminish the meaning. Suffice to say, when I first discovered organizing I was a hollow shell of a person. Constantly anxious, had a hard time relating to even my closest friends, much less total strangers. I felt alone. I was in so much pain. And organizing allowed me to find community, discover an analysis for the world’s social systems that made sense to me, and gave me a sense of purpose.

Here’s a list of what organizing is great at:
* Building relationships among people and creating community.
* Mobilizing people to take massive action against oppression.
* Teaching people how to communicate with one another in the deepest ways and to build power in a strategic way.
* Educating people so that they have language for the previously ineffable pain and alienation they feel in the face of structural oppression.

But — I had to learn this the hard way — organizing is not the end all be all. Organizing is a start, but it will not solve all the pain you experience. Especially not that deep down spiritual pain that, at least for some people, may have at least partially drawn them to organizing in the first place.

I wish I could tell my younger self that.

Questions like, What makes a meaningful, fulfilled life? What will make me happy? Who am I? What are my values? From what place should I take action? What actions should I take? These questions can only be partially solved by organizing.

“Partially” is the operative word. On one level — necessarily, if organizing is the only thing you care about, if it’s the thing you spend most of your waking hours thinking about, then you will not be able to relate to others effectively. The best, most effective organizers radiate a positive, “giving” energy, based much on their life outside of organizing. Sort of like, I would “very much like others to get involved because it very well makes sense” but I don’t “need it,” and the emotional-energetic mix of “carefree” and “passion” produces a non-neediness in the organizing conversation that produces paradoxically stronger results and more authentic commitments from others. (I expand on this concept a lot in a blog post called “The Subtle Ways Your Soul Makes a Profound Impact.”)

That’s a very technical answer.

On a deeper level — questions of politics and organizing are only a partial answer to questions of humanity and spirituality.

We are way more than beings of oppression.

That’s powerful so let me repeat that: we are way more than beings of oppression.

I wish so much that I could tell my younger self that. That the deep pain I felt in my soul every day, I’d have to go on a deep spiritual quest to find answers to them. And that yes, a lens rooted in my organizing work would help. But it is only one of the lenses available, and again: organizing is not the end all be all.

There *is* a dark side to the organizing community — as with every community. The self-help community’s dark side includes people that don’t have a structural analysis of oppression, that has a tendency to victim-blame. The fitness community (I mention these communities in particular because I belong to them) has a dark side to it too, of some people who have narcissistic tendencies and really unhealthy views on beauty and what makes a human worthwhile and attractive.

The dark side to the organizing community — in my experience — is some people who don’t take massive action to take tremendous personal responsibility to improve their lives and find deeper answers about fundamentally existential questions. Yes, the world is oppressive. We should take lots of action to change the world. Let’s do that, and let’s commit to that every day. And also, it’s important to live your life to the fullest and find happiness and solutions to your spiritual, human pain outside of organizing.

Put simply, many of us would still be in a lot of deep emotional pain even after the revolution.

Even, that spiritual journey outside of organizing is necessary *to* be an effective organizer. But importantly, don’t find a life outside of organizing *in order to* be an effective organizer. That’s the wrong frame. Just find spiritual answers to what it means to be human and to be fulfilled, period. Also then that will help organizing.

The world is too dark for anything else.

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