It's easy to get caught up in the idea that the role of organizer or activist is a specialized job. But everyone should be empowered to be an organizer and an activist. In this episode, you'll hear about activists' first steps into activism and get inspired to take your own.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that the role of organizer or activist is a specialized job. But everyone should be empowered to be an organizer and an activist. In this episode, you’ll hear about activists’ first steps into activism and get inspired to take your own.
- The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council sometimes has a new project break out at general assemblies. The MACC wiki page has some good questions to think through if you’re starting a new project or group.
- Training for Change is “a training and capacity building organization for activists and organizers.” Their site includes lots of activities and tools. This tool describes creating a comprehensive list of tasks for planning your event and share them amongst a group.
- The anarchist think tank CrimethInc Collective offers a guide to getting started, including an extensive FAQ and links to other articles on their site.
- Take Action NYC is a calendar of protests happening in New York.
- Beautiful Trouble exists to make nonviolent revolution irresistible by providing an ever-growing suite of strategic tools and trainings that inspire movements for a more just, healthy, and equitable world. They share a wide range of resources on their website.
Music for this episode
Rebel Steps, Episode 001, Be an Organizer
Welcome to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that the role of organizer or activist is a specialized job. But everyone should be empowered to be an organizer and an activist. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow you’ll call a rally. But it does mean that you can mobilize your friends and family. These kinds of relationships are the foundation of larger movements.
Organizing is a broad term that can mean a million things. In this episode, I won’t be talking about the long-term strategy or philosophical schools of organizing. For your first task, I’m recommending either bringing your friends to a protest or organizing a fundraiser or activity with them.
You might find that this work feels like other types of project or event planning. But I’ll try and give you some tips and tricks about specific issues you might encounter while organizing political events.
If you’re excited to invite people to a rally or protest, look for one that interests you or that’s associated with an organization you know of. In New York, you can find protests happening every weekend, if not everyday. For information on some upcoming events in NYC, check out the show notes for today’s episode at RebelSteps.com. If you live elsewhere, try contacting some local activist groups to see what’s coming up soon. This may look like escorting people at a Planned Parenthood Clinic or showing up at City Hall for a big vote.
Whatever it is, once you’ve settled on an event, start recruiting your friends. You’ll want to convince them that this particular event is supporting a good cause and will be effective in some way, whether by raising awareness of an issue or pressuring a specific person to act. You also can talk about why it’s important to you.
Invite your friends over the week before to make some signs together. It’s usually tricky to find someone in the middle of a protest so be sure to choose a meet up spot away from the actual protest and walk over together. Bring extra snacks and bring extra water. During the event, be aware of your surroundings and make sure you all stay together. Take care of your friends especially if they haven’t done anything like this before.
If you come from a position of privilege, getting in the streets may be safer for you than for others. Keep in mind that not everyone is able to take this step. And some people just don’t enjoy it. So another option is hosting something small at home.
Maybe ask your friends to read an article and have a discussion. Maybe have a party and ask your friends for donations to your favorite organization. If you’re in an organization already, when picking the date, make sure you’re not scheduling over some event hosted by your own group. When fundraising, consider setting a goal. Your friends may be more inclined to donate and help reach that goal. Even better, ask the organization you’re fundraising for what they need and try to raise money for that specific project.
On International Women’s Day last year, my sisters and I hosted a brunch and encouraged our friends to take off work that day to join us. We made posters together, ate some great food, and went to a rally together later that day. We had a great together and also got to talk politics.
Sarah: Hey, I’m Sarah and I’m involved with MACC.
Liz: Sarah is a friend a met through MACC, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council. MACC seeks to strengthen and support New York City’s anarchist movement through coordination of existing and emerging projects. I met many of the people interviewed for this podcast through being part of MACC so this group will come up throughout the episodes. I asked Sarah what she planned an event
Sarah: The first step was the basic logistics of date, time, location. So we found a space that is affordable, and that is convenient to public transport from various areas of the city, and also a space that is a political space that and that was comfortable with the work we were going to be doing. We identified a date and time that we thought would be convenient for folks. And started spreading the word right away. We made a facebook event for it and also spread it out to our individual networks, and shared it at large group meetings.
And then for planning the actually day of the event, we wanted to accommodate all different folks. So making sure that we ordered vegan pizza because we assumed that some folks coming would be vegan. We made sure to have assigned roles for each of us at the event so we made sure that all areas were covered. So one person, for example, was the facilitator going through the agenda and giving the presentation about what we’d be doing that day, one person was more of a vibes checker. And then we had somebody who was responsible for answering questions.
Liz: Everyone starts somewhere. Your first step might not look like anyone else’s. I asked a couple of my friends about how they got started.
Smokey: I’m Smokey. I’m a long time anarchist here in New York City. I’ve written a few books, I’ve been parts of lots of groups, I’ve had my house raided by the FBI, and I’m part of MACC. I guess my first experiences being involved in organizing around anarchist politics would have been with the ARA, Anti-Racist Action. It was mostly around the rise of specifically right-wing racist organizations in the midwest where I’m from that were attacking mostly African immigrant groups and punks.
We were organizing self-defense committees, doing neighborhood watches, which mostly involved getting into scuffles with right-wing bigots. We were also doing clinic defense. So we were helping escort folks to Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.
Julian: My name’s Julian and I’m a native New Yorker. Librarian to be hopefully. I didn’t grow u with them, but I went to a highschool with very privileged people. One of our alumni was David Koch, of the Koch brothers.
One day a guy called out our school for taking this guy’s money and having him as an influence. And that hit me and a couple other friends in the right place. We resolved to go on an information campaign, so what we did was we got an article that someone had written that outlined who this David Koch guy is. We printed a bunch of these things out, we got up early in the morning, and we all snuck in. We went into all the open classrooms, we put things up, we put them on like every seat.
People were asking “Oh what are these things?” and I would also ask “Oh did you see this thing?” It’s like “Yeah, we saw it and like, we didn’t get it.” And I was really sad because we put all this work in to try to get people talking. There was an announcement made in the next couple of days that tried to console us saying “David Koch has no influence on our school” And it was in discussion for a couple of years. That was my first foray into some sort of activism.
Gabriel: My name is Gabriel, and I am the Program Director at Brandworkers. We are an immigrant worker center here in New York City.
Liz: Gabriel came to activism through organizing his workplace and continues to be involved in the labor movement.
Gabriel: Well my first experiences with the labor movement really had to do with me being a student just needing to have a job. The way I became involved in organizing my coworker was a realization that the things I needed for myself were intricately tied into the things my coworkers wanted for themselves.
I thought that I could just kind of talk my way into getting the things that I needed from my job and very quickly you come to an understanding that that’s just not how it works, like you can’t argue or like logic your way out of a bad situation. There’s situations that exist and it’s structured that way for a reason.
When I knew that I needed things to be different at work, I wasn’t going to get it just by myself and I needed my coworkers to help me. And I needed them to stand by me when I asked for the things that I needed and so they could also get the things that they needed as well.
If you’re gonna to get the things that you need in your life, we’re going to have to do it together. That’s really kind of the most difficult thing in most circumstances. Like really pushing somebody to come to an understanding that they’re not going to get the things that they deserve in their lives without working together to figure it out.
Amy: Hi my name is Amy, and I’m the producer on this podcast.
Liz: Amy’s working behind the scenes, you’ll hear from her a couple times on throughout the season.
Amy: During the summer before Trump’s election, I started going to some Black Lives Matter marches, some actions about the Dakota Access Pipeline, and also started volunteering at a soup kitchen regularly. I sort of just had this feeling that the world was really messed up and I should do something, but I wasn’t really sure what yet. I was sort of just exploring a lot of different ideas.
Then after the election it was just a huge blow, and it just felt like everything was a disaster. And so then it was really important to me and some friends to go down and protest at the inauguration. We went to some of these barricades in the morning that people had set up to barricade the entrance to the inauguration. And we went to something later in the day, the Festival of Resistance. It was a like really long day with a lot going on and it really was an impactful experience and that’s what really drove me to continue to be involved.
Liz: As you take your own unique first steps, don’t be intimidated. Here’s Smokey again.
Smokey: People are already orginzined. You’re not organizing people. If you have to organize people you already lost. They’re already organized either at their school or work place or other places. It’s really a matter of saying “Ok, we want your informal organization to take a stand and this is how we want you to do it.” I’ve always seen myself more as an inviter than an organizer, being like “Come, come to this thing.”
Liz: I believe in people’s ability to take their own initiative. During school and at jobs, you’ve been given the opposite message. You’ve been told to listen to those in authority. So if you’re feeling imposter syndrome or like you shouldn’t be doing this, that’s normal. To be an organizer, you have to fight through it. This is something that I’ve struggled with a lot in the past and now during making this podcast. When I was putting together some benefit shows in Philadelphia, I talked to a friend who was more involved in activism than I was about this feeling. I told them was nervous about it because I hadn’t been involved before. They told me to go for it, because if I waited until I was felt ready, i might be waiting forever. You may never feel 100% ready to do political work. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and do it.
I talked a lot in this episode about how everyone can do this. I want to add a little note about why you personally are essential to the movement. You have access to things that no one else has access to. You have friends and family that will listen to you more than they would me or a book or an article. Many folks want to sit back and say “Well it’s not my job, someone else will do the organizing” I want to remind you that’s not true. The work you do organizing your own crew is work that no one else can do. So get pumped! You’re crucial.
Also remember that you’re doing your friends a great service. Many people want to be involved in making the world a better place. But being involved is easier said than done. So if you’ve taken the time to do this work and help your friends plug in, at least a few of them will be grateful for the opportunity.
Lastly, your first try at organizing might not be perfect. In fact, it most likely won’t be. But remember, something is better than nothing and you’ve learned some valuable skills. Take time to celebrate the success and try again when you’re ready.
You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps. Find more resources at rebelsteps.com.
I’m your host Liz. believe in yourself, trust one another, and get organized.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Amy and myself. Music for the this episode was kindly gifted to us by Tutlie & Ellen Siberian Tiger and also includes a few songs that I created. Special thanks to our interviewees, Smoky, Gabriel, Julian, and Sarah and their organizations.