A good friend recently reminded me that there is a big difference between activism and organizing. Activism is to be involved at some level in political struggle; organizing is to make that struggle effective by planning for success.
Organizing requires attention to the smallest details and the broadest overview. It takes a great deal of strategic thinking, critical self-evaluation, people skills, and persistence.
Organizing is hard. None of us are born with the skills needed for effective organizing; we have to pick them up as we go. All we have is us, and so many of us are tied up with families, jobs, and other responsibilities. But if we’re going to win struggles for social and environmental justice, we need more organizers.
With that goal in mind, I would like to share with you this list of points on organizing. I’m by no means an expert organizer, but I have gained some experience in the past decade. This list is not definitive or faultless. If you think I got it wrong, or if you have more points to add, let me know in the comments.
15 Points on Organizing
1. Reliable people are irreplaceable. One solid person is worth a dozen who don’t follow through on their commitments.
2. Beware of abusive and toxic people, as well as those who are bring nothing but drama and distraction. Set boundaries.
3. Social skills are profoundly important for organizing. Cultivate these skills. Avoid stereotyping or dismissing people based on their lifestyle, job, or any first impression you may have. Movement building requires getting outside of our comfort zone and engaging with people as individuals. You can’t have political conversations if your prerequisite is that everyone should agree with you. This is a dead end for making change.
4. When organizing people, folks seem to respond well to individual requests for assistance. For example: “I’ve noticed that you’re really skilled about getting people motivated. Can you help with promotion for our upcoming event?”
5. In organizing, details matter. Small problems can grow into major ones. Pay close attention to what is happening in and around your organizing community. But be careful to avoid getting bogged down in the small stuff.
6. Build coalitions and relationships with a wide variety of people and resistance-oriented communities. Sometimes you will be surprised at who is willing to lend support. Draw out linkages between struggles and focus on the shared visions and overlaps in thinking. Radicals are scattered and disorganized, so solidarity is critical.
7. Humility, respect, and appreciation for others are the foundation of relationships. Shared hardship, struggle, and joy are the mortar that cements these bonds. Build friendships and caring relationship with the people you organize with.
Swamp Cedars sacred site, eastern Nevada.
8. Do what you say you will do. Follow up on commitments and responsibilities. Don’t give your word lightly.
9. Ask for help when you need it.
10. Make time to recharge. Burned out and overworked activists are no use to the movement. Allow time for relaxation and self-healing after intense periods.
11. Focus on the long term struggle. Make sure that each action, event, and campaign you engage in leaves your group stronger and more engaged than before. Try to maintain positive momentum, while at the same time understanding that we fight regardless of winning or losing. We fight because it is the right thing to do.
12. Sometimes you have to take risks.
13. Never stop learning. Deepen your wisdom and plan to become an elder and mentor as you age.
14. Justice is on our side. Be heartened by the spirituality and community that comes from battling injustice and building beautiful cultures of resistance.
15. Be so stubborn they will never stop you. Never give up.
Max Wilbert is an activist and organizer from Seattle, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org