Photo: jay galvin via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Last month I attended the New Organizing Institute’s RootsCamp. It was rejuvenating to see folks I hadn’t seen in years and those I have been working with for a while, but had never seen in person like Althea and Chris from the ReStrategizing Team of the Leading Change Network.
There were a ton of important sessions I attended, but since it is the start of the new year and the time of resolutions I thought it would be a perfect time to share about what I learned at Heather Booth’s session on “Organizing for the Long Haul.”
Heather Booth is the founding Director/current President of the Midwest Academy and a long-time activist for countless causes (e.g. financial reform, racial justice, and immigrant rights).
The heart of this session was about figuring out how to continue being an activist without “burning out” or feeling like you couldn’t emotionally/spiritually/physically/etc. maintain your contributions to the social change movement.
Heather Booth facilitated a rich discussion with tons of incredible tips and ideas, but let’s start with her main principles first.
4 ways to live in this movement for the long haul
1. Our work needs to be based in love
Anger is a part of us and shouldn’t be ignored; however, in terms of making sure we can do this work for many years we need to make sure our efforts are grounded in love for people, places, and the world around us.
In Paula X. Rojas’ article in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded she writes political involvement/movements must intertwine with “our relationships with loved ones and the larger community” in order to be “truly liberatory.”
2. Invest time in that relationship
Heather Booth noted “Time is not renewable.” Though this may seem obvious when you take time to think about it, but I know for myself I sometimes have trouble taking the time “when there is so much left to do.”
The work will get done, so I should enjoy the time I have with those I love and not worry about what “I could be working on.”
3. Think strategically about love in this work the same way we do for our campaigns
Yes! A way to apply what we love about organizing to relationships! If it’s helpful for you, the very same tools we do in our social change efforts can just as easily apply to the rest of our lives.
Heather Booth noted 2 key pieces to this concept is to have the following:
- Have a strategic plan (e.g. goals, visions, etc.)
- Have a strategic schedule/timeline
In particular, use these strategic plans/schedules to spend time with kids. But for me, since I don’t have any kids (except those I teach chess to) I’m going to think of how to strategically think about how I invest myself in my partner and those around me.
4. Be gentle with ourselves
One of the biggest lessons I’ve been trying to learn over the past few months. It can sometimes be dangerous to continually criticize yourself even if it is to work on “self-improvement.”
While there are times when we must also commit to changing some aspects of ourselves (e.g. because of oppressive thoughts/actions/ideas), in general we have to remember to avoid allowing “guilt to overcome.”
Heather Booth noted that one of the best ways to achieve this gentleness with ourselves is to “seek out community…They will be there for you…and you will do the same for them.”
Other key ideas to living as an activist
I noted at the beginning that Heather Booth did an excellent job drawing out the experiences of the group, so here are a few of the other ideas that resonated with me the most.
1. Be intentional about time – Every minute is precious to me so I’m increasingly trying to protect my time. This means knowing how I want to spend my time. This goes back to Heather Booth’s idea to strategize a plan/schedule for our relationships.
2. Alone time – I need time to myself to journal or think. The degree each person needs obviously varies, but the idea is the same…take time for yourself. You deserve it!
3. Require vacation time – Organizations should mandate their members take some time off and ideally should support them in this endeavor (i.e. providing funds). Whenever I take a break, even if I really really don’t want to, I know I always come back with much better energy.
4. Say no to protect time – It can be tempting for us to support everyone around us, but that limits the amount of time/energy we put into each project. Think of it this way, you’re still supporting people by letting them know what you can/cannot do at the moment. They’ll be glad to know!
These don’t quite go together as nicely, but they are extremely important!
5. Be clear about values – I know many times we are making choices about what to share about ourselves or our ideologies based on the situation. However, it’s important to have a community that you do feel comfortable sharing with and being clear about your values both for yourself, and your growth as an organizer.
6. $ matters in order to support each other – I have trouble with this one since I would rather not have to worry about money. However, right now it has to play into our thoughts of our work and relationships. Otherwise, a lack of funds may lead to other stresses. Unfortunately, remedying this idea (i.e. finding a position that pays what you need) is not easy.
7. Non-movement friends – Some folks at the workshop mentioned how energized they felt by having different conversations than they had in their work. Also, they noted that having people to talk to who weren’t embroiled in a campaign or intense planning/acting was extremely valuable.
8. Have mentors – Throughout my life I have benefited so much from people who have dedicated time and thought to supporting my journey. Even now I can think of people who make me realize my confidence is already here and I can do this whole organizing thing! Sometimes I forget, but having a mentor can be really helpful in this regard
9. Hold each other accountable for living your values – We need to be honest to each other and make sure we are truly thinking about our actions and their potential impacts. I want to be around people, and I want to be myself someone who have high expectations for each other and hold each other to our own values.
10. Partners/Family engaged in activism who can support each other – This was one of my favorite topics discussed in the workshop! The more we integrate the important people in our lives into activism, the more we learn and grow together. This doesn’t mean you’re each doing the same work, just engaged at some level together.
11. Build an intentional community of support – We cannot do this alone! Over the past 2 years I’ve moved a few times so I know how tough it can be to build this community. But luckily I keep remembering how many amazing people are in my life, even if we don’t live close to each other. It takes time to build/maintain, but this is key!
Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning.