As Bertha Lewis said at the NYPAN conference in December of 2016, organizing is messy, nasty, hard.
This woman speaks from experience. It’s no joke. She comes off a little NASTY. But then again we need some NASTY WOMEN to combat this Trump administration.
Organizing a political group has been grueling. Hours and hours of work (and wine).
I’m not speaking these harsh truths to scare off potential organizers. I just don’t think organizers or concerned citizens understand the complexity involved or the emotional, physical, and personal roller coasters associated with it. You sacrifice a lot of yourself in hopes that you improve the lives of you and the people around you.
In reflection on reading Bernie Sander’s Our Revolution: Bernie had to lose a lot before he won. He had to organize and start with a base before he could succeed. It took years and countless hours of organizing. The message had to get out there. His love for people motivated him to protect human rights and create legislation to represent and serve the people.
Bernie’s success wasn’t obtained solely by himself. He had an organized team consisting of his staff and volunteers. His followers organized in response to his message by phone banking, canvassing, and hosting events.
It’s one thing to have a system already put in place for people to show up and participate. It’s another to create from the ground up.
When you’re organizing ground up, you have to be open to working with people who have opinions and different visions than you. A reality is that everyone likes the idea of changing their local politics.. it’s just so few are motivated to really do what needs to be done. Sometimes people just don’t have the time or energy.
Being a leader involves hard work and using precious time. I never thought I would stop going to the gym and subsequently gain 10lbs. I never thought my boyfriend, a like-minded progressive, would be irritated by how much time I designate to it… the times I have to attend meetings after a 9 hour work day, take conference calls around dinner time, or hide myself in my home office.
I spend my morning and evening commutes reading articles and listening to podcasts. I schedule content for social media, jot down ideas, and take notes about important legislation. I am sharing, commenting, and liking practically all hours of the day – at home, at work, waiting in line… Dinner talk consists of how work went and “did you read about..” (and perhaps more wine).
I am living and breathing developing stories… trying to grasp why things are happening and what sport of consequences I need to brace for. If you’ve been keeping up this election cycle, you might feel the same sentiments or even have developed mild alcoholism or the need for an anti anxiety medication. Pretty sure I haven’t had a goods night sleep since Iowa!
Many of my evenings, I spend corresponding to inquiries, updating the website, checking out upcoming events. I go to organizational meetings angry, fired, ready to organize. I come prepared, eager, and in need of help. Feeling all sorts of burnt out and bent out of shape. I have an opinion and I’m not afraid to tell you how I feel.
Balls get dropped. I get it done. It’s midnight on a weeknight and I have to be up in 7 hours. My man is mad at me. It gets done.
Organizing successfully requires that individuals mobilize and take responsibility. When you lead, you often find that you have to anticipate and react when volunteers fail to complete projects or don’t do what they volunteered to do. A lot of the time you will have to pickup what doesn’t get done. It can be totally unfair.
Being an organizer is nearly a job on it’s own and comes with sacrifice. It wears on you, beats you down, and it can lead to second guessing and maybe even believing you should just give up.
Being an organizer means that you don’t always satisfy other peoples expectations. It’s like you get beat up from all sides: your own, the opposition, and the people you want to help.
Being behind the scenes means that your work goes mostly unseen. Outsiders only see the exterior, the final product. They don’t comprehend the love, care, and precious hours or money it took to get a group there. It means that because you aren’t in the front lines, you must be invisible.
At times, you feel like you wasted your time. That you feel unwanted, unfulfilled, and maybe even worse off then you started. Sometimes you cry in the shower or with your head buried into a pillow. Your family might condone your efforts and tell you to just stop. Instead, you switch to boxed wine because it’s cheaper and you hide yourself back in your office… “the revolution needs me!!“
On the positive side, being an organizer comes with self fulfillment. It fills a need to keep you busy, be constructive, build. It becomes a hobby, a passion, a drive or motivator.
It makes you feel empowered. At times feeling accomplished, like there’s progress happening.
Being an organizer means that you can connect different people, hear different ideas, collaborate, and build friendships. You have the opportunity to educate, guide, and care for a constituency.
Organizing gives a voice to those who do not speak up. It gives other people purpose and hope. You lead people who want change to make the hard fight. You build them up and make them know they’re not alone.
Organizing is the hardest part to any new group. It’s the least favorite part of participation and is the least understood. Organizing is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who cut corners. It’s for leaders and visionaries.
Being an organizer is a labor of love.
Don’t give up.
About the author: Rose F. Is was the former Executive Director of Communications for NQD.