Be an Organizer 102

7

This series has offered a collage of ideas to get folks organized. This final episode will give you more to think about as you take the next steps. Hear closing thoughts from our interviewees on ways to move forward.

Quote Images

expand

Mentioned in this episode

Music for this episode

expand

Rebel Steps 007 Be an Organizer 102

Liz: Welcome to this season’s last episode. I’m your host Liz.

This series has offered a collage of ideas to get folks organized. Hopefully one or two of these things has inspired you. This episode will give you more to think about as you take the next steps.

If you’ve tried out some of these activities, you may have realized that each one can be a whole world of organizing. Groups and activists dedicate years of work to each of these topics. With that in mind, this episode can be applied to any place you find yourself. It’s a patchwork of ideas on what to do next and how to keep building your skills.

Throughout this episode you’ll hear some familiar voices.

Smokey: I’m Smokey. I’m a longtime anarchist. Maura: Hi I’m Maura and I am part of MACC Legal. Chris: My name is Chris and I’ve been a bottomliner to get Food Not Bombs Lower Manhattan over the past eight years. Daniel: My name is Daniel McGowan. I’ve been volunteering at Books Through Bars… Beena: My name is Beena and I’ve been with Books Through Bars for about three years maybe four. Cait: So my name is Cait working with MACC the metropolitan… John: My name is John. With the New York City Anarchist Black Cross. Sarah: Hey I’m Sarah and I’m involved with MACC. Julian : My name’s Julian and I’m a native New Yorker. Amy: Hi my name is Amy and I’m the producer on this podcast. Elektra: Hello my name is Elektra KB I’m a multidisciplinary artist. Jack: I’m Jack Hogan. I’m an Irish artist and lapsed architect.

1. Projects

Liz: I talked a lot in this series about planning single events. Challenge yourself to take on a small project. Did you love making street art? What about series of posters around your city? Did writing a letter feel best? Maybe make Anarchist Black Cross a part of your week or start your own letter writing night. Moving away from single events to recurring events helps foster community. Recurring events are easier to promote and can help people plan ahead. I’ve really enjoyed my monthly book club with some fellow organizers.

Amy: So we have a new project break out that we run at MACC where anyone who’s interested in running a project, in starting a project, or getting more involved in a project can come and talk about their idea and what they’re trying to do and what they want to do. I run this break out a lot and I’ll sort of ask them questions about what kind of help they need and what it looks like and what success looks like sort of like help them round out their idea and figure out how to get started. And I always encourage people to start relatively small but just having one meet up where you get together and talk about a topic we’re all interested in with like maybe just 3 or 4 people is already a win and you’re already organizing.

2. Structure

Process is everything… and also nothing. In the search for a balanced movement, look for both the outcomes you want and a uplifting organizing method. There’s a place for autonomy. There’s a place for collective action. The structure a group takes my change from season to season based on its needs. The structure that works best for you may change with time as well.

Smokey: One of the mistakes that occurs is a kind of creeping bureaucracy and a desire for efficiency which I understand I’m very pragmatic and I like efficiency and I like getting things done. But I think that’s often a problem. And early groups because it alienates people new kind of product becomes more important than the process. And the reality is the product we have which is worldwide revolution and social change is imprecise and imperfect at best and takes a very very very long time. So the product is not enough to keep people engaged. It’s very hard to see kind of in the fog of oppression that you know there is any movement at all. The processes the key element and how do you create an open process where you’re surprised and people can feel immediately connected.

Jack: I’m sort of like hesitant to use the word horizontal because I think it’s maybe not possible to be entirely horizontal but that the maybe peaks in the horizon are always changing that it’s like it’s not always the same people that are like peeking above the horizon.

3. Squad care & Self Care

Liz: The feminist writer and activist Audre Lorde wrote “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

The work is never-ending. You have to take care of yourself. But better yet, build a community where you’re taking care of each other. In her essay “How #SquadCare saved my life,” Melissa Harris-Perry examines how self-care has been co-opted to mean spending money on luxury items. She also looks at how it has become highly individualistic, putting pressure on people to be self-sufficient. She offers Squad care as alternative, writing “Squad care reminds us there is no shame in reaching for each other and insists the imperative rests not with the individual, but with the community. Our job is to have each other’s back.”

Cait: Encourage the groups you’re with to organize events which sole purpose are to build camaraderie. I think finding a sense of camaraderie and unity are crucial when it comes to like holistic care for an activist group. Also crucial for self care. Right like a lot of the things we commit to are demoralizing and you need you need to be able to wind down with the people who shared that same experience with you. And I think that’s such a simple thing. But for some reason it’s something a lot of groups overlook right like. And then also keep looking. Right. Like there are so many groups in this current climate and it pays off like once you find sort of your place in this whole ridiculous thing.

John: Being around for any amount of time but especially as long as I’ve been around here in New York. Burnout is to be expected at least at some point in your organizing. And one of the important things that I have found to help deal with that is kind of a thing that you have to do beforehand which is to find yourself a good fit in a good group of people that you trust folks that you know that if you have to take a step back from something for a certain amount of time that they’ll pick up the slack and the work still gets done.

Maura: To avoid burnout you never want to have you have to trust. And once you have trust which takes a lot of work then burn out is going to happen less. Don’t start things that you don’t want to finish don’t organize people you don’t want to organize with and don’t do projects you’re not interested in.

Smokey: If you’re doing it out of duty as opposed to joy, the movement’s doomed. If you’re history nerd like me you’re really interested in like anarchist history. What you find is that parties, bars, dance, halls these things and dinners play inordinately and the organization of the political during the anarchist times from the mid 1800s through say 1930s or whatever. When they shut down an anarchist bar it has a direct impact. I would argue it had greater impact in places like New York than shutting down the presses.

4. Humility & Listening

Liz: It’s tempting after only a short time to feel amazing about your activist work. Part of that is great: It’s important to celebrate wins. But sometimes people can get a little too self satisfied. Be sure that you are approaching your work with humility. Hearing advice, recommendations, or critiques can be difficult. It’s crucial to accept feedback without being defensive.

If you are white, straight, cisgendered, able bodied, or middle or upper class, it is especially important to be ready to receive feedback and to educate yourself on issues that may not directly affect you. As Audre Lorde said, “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.”

John: A couple of things for new folks coming into new space is just wonderful being an asshole to folks. Be real, don’t try and pretend like you’re something you’re not. Don’t be what you think an anarchist supposed to be.

Chris: It’s very tempting to come into a space and have all of these really great ideas working under the assumption that somehow, someway no one in the whole history of this problem whatever problem it is that you are trying to address has never thought about it before. And oftentimes in my own arrogance I have found that no this brilliant idea, not only has already been thought of and not only has already been tried. It did not work well, there have been numerous analyses as to why it didn’t work well and your obstinate insistence upon it is really just disrupting every single thing over here.

Sarah: I would encourage newcomers to listen to what more experienced organizers have to say and to value their experience. But don’t let that kill your innovative spirit. And just because one idea may not work out does not mean that another idea won’t work out or that it can’t be modified or tweaked and be successful.

Amy: When tech people come to activism a lot of times they want to use their skills. They’re like “I have this professional skill. I can use it. I want to help build a website or make an app or do something with my professional skill.” And a lot of times I can be really the wrong thing to do because unless you’re in the organizing already and you’re already organizing or part of the struggle you don’t know the right thing to do. You’re not going to build the right thing and you’re going to be sort of like out of touch with what the actual needs of the community are or the needs of the struggle.

Liz: As I said at the beginning of this podcast, taking action is very important. But continuing to grow and educate yourself is equally important. Balance celebration with growth and respect for others and you’ll do great.

5. Goals

It’s easy to get discouraged in this fight. You can work on your political goals everyday for months, or years, or decades without seeing the results you envisioned. So as you work on your projects, keep clear short term goals in mind.

Smokey: The key is to have what is your expectation of said work. Is the expectation that capitalism will fall or is the expectation you’ll you know meet new people? Or is the expectation you’re going to know politically bring up the consciousness of you know the person walking down the street? I think all those are seldom discussed.

Julian : Nothing is perfect and even when we think that we’ve got it we still have to keep building on it. I don’t think anything can be perfect like the one the revolution happens. You know all of a sudden we’re not going to be in like utopia where you don’t have to do anything and there’s no more work towards creating a better world, like we have so much to deal with. But as long as we’re open minded and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, then we have a little bit of humor and a little bit of self-criticism, then we can make things better.

Daniel: I sometimes think there’s an element of Books through Bars that feels like black hole. Like it’s a black hole, it’s Grand Canyon. Like I sometimes intellectually try to play it out, like OK so what if we sent one book or four books that every single incarcerated person in the country. Like what would that do? Would that actually be good? I mean there is no end goal or end goal. This is like destroying the prison system it’s not making sure that everybody has everything because at the end of the day we can do that and we can’t do that but if we were able to do that what then. So everyone’s well-read and in cages. I mean that’s obviously not necessarily our goal.

Beena: I’m also a criminal defense attorney and that work also sort of you know makes me feel like I’m hitting up against a wall sometimes where a lot of the work I do ends up involving you know sentencing memos and you know throwing yourself at the mercy of the judge and begging for the best outcome. But so little of it feels to really be about liberation. And so I think there’s sort of an understanding that you know that the education and the literacy goals are in furtherance towards one day where you know we have both we have sort of capacity building and knowledge for people to take agency into their own hands. And part of it that sustains me is also the sense that just knowing from my clients who’ve spent time in prison how much those books mean to maintaining the strength to get through another day and to be able to think about the future.

6. Hope

Liz: As you continue to find your place in the world, don’t forget what you’re looking for and build toward that. It’s so much easier to inspire people to action when they can envision a better world. Many people will agree that it’s the right thing to do to house and feed everyone. Many people agree everyone should be provided healthcare. Starting from this place of a positive, hopeful vision will keep you inspired and help you bring new friends to the fold.

American feminist & writer Peggy Kornegger wrote about the importance of hope in her essay “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection,” an essay I found in the anthology Quiet Rumors. She wrote, “Obviously, it is not easy to face the daily oppression and still continue to hope. But it is our only chance. If we abandon hope (the ability to see connections, to dream the present into the future), then we have already lost. Hope is woman’s most powerful revolutionary tool; it is what we give each other every time we share our lives, our work, and our love.”

Sarah: I stay politically active because it helps me feel less hopeless. So taking that step and having a purpose can be really grounding and inspiring and bringing clarity to my life.

Jack: I think imagining visions of other worlds is something that I find a lot of fun and also like very energizing. For example ultimately everyone having basic services free healthcare education food water and freedom from wage labor which is also my hope and what I’m looking forward to. But more specifically trying to imagine the steps along the way but also just like small pockets of hope that can happen. So I think art is really helpful in that regard just for getting your imagination going living small aspects of us in the present is possible. And I think really important to do if you can get a day off work and you can experience what everyday could be like. I think that’s really important.

Chris: By their very nature the revolutionary must be an optimist you must believe that what you are doing will have some sort of effect. It’s important to dream big and to think big and to be ambitious and bold and daring and audacious because ultimately the project of being a revolutionary is a bold thing is a daring thing. Safe ideas can be lovely and they can help us build capacity and confidence and organizational skill. But at the same time the revolution will not be built on safe ideas. It’s going to be built by aggressive dreaming. I don’t exactly know what form that will take but it’s going to be something that will take us all by surprise.

7. What next?

Liz: Our culture is a culture of isolation and individualism. Breaking through that to build something together is amazing. Be patient and kind with yourself and with others. Strive toward a future of unity, self-actualization, love, and support.

Urusla K. Le Guin illustrated this attitude in her book The Dispossessed. She wrote: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

Elektra: I think there are steps to be the revolution the baby step is having empathy. I think that is the basic. It starts where you were indignant and then you become angry and then you take action. The things that lead us to the revolution are very painful things. You have to channel that hurt to drive you to change things.

Jack: The revolution should be like continuously revolving and that does involve like small gestures. I think it’s going to be comprised of small action. I think it will be continuously changing and developing as we learn more and just not becoming ossified or entrenched in sort of dogmatic views. There’s more than enough of us that if we all do little things that will add up. It should be a social thing more than a political thing. And I think I think it really becomes quote unquote praxis. Obviously we all have to be well-informed but then it does become something that’s lived to rather than just talked about as.

Liz: Our current political climate has pushed a lot of people to want to take a big new action. But changing the power systems is a long term project. It will take more than one big march, or one election cycle, or one direct action. Being part of this struggle means consistent commitment, and taking action as part of your everyday life. It will also take giving things up, our time, our privilege, our resources. It’s not an easy fight. Epilogue

This podcast started as a way to help new friends through the first steps getting involved. Part research project, part journal, it’s captured my experiences of the past year or so while exploring the views of my New York anarchist community. That exploration has helped me develop and codify my own views.

I still feel like a newbie in lots of lefty circles. I wanted to make this podcast while I still remembered the uneasiness of showing up somewhere for the first time and trying something radically new.

As the weeks and months have passed, the social discomfort of political action has worn off. But the work itself becomes trickier the more I learn. The only solution for me is to keep trying and keep taking the next step.

You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps. 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 Ellen Siberian Tiger, Morgane Fouse, Tutlie, and the Resistance Revival Chorus and also includes a few songs that I created. Special thanks to our interviewees from our entire season Gabriel, Naomi, Jason, Beena, Cait, Daniel , John, Maura, Sarah, Chris, Julian, Smoky, Elena, Jack and Elektra. Also thanks to Matt for helping out with press and Ben for donating our sweet logo. Thank you to our friends who gave us feedback throughout the process. And thank you for listening.