The election of President Obama brought about an intense scrutiny and newfound interest on organizers. Whether you were inspired by a community organizer, or on the right, you began to criticize the profession of organizers as an insufficient career to provide experience for a politician, let alone a president, what was clear was that most people didn't know what an organizer does and what their job entails.
What is an organizer? A "professional Troublemaker."
An agitator. An Agent of Change.
Spying, seeking information that may or may not be legally available--or ethically available. No doubt, that the exciting live of an organizer includes schmoozing with politicians, unions leaders, journalists, philanthropists, student activists, business leaders and even models and professors on a lucky day. Mostly, organizers talk to the people with whom they are getting know, and have sought them out to make a significant change in their lives, their community.
The organizer is not a theoretician, though they read, study and learn from their own past, and those organizers and campaigns before their time. They thrive on Action! They organize people and ideas to change institutions, cultures, and norms.
There are professional organizers who are trained, eat, sleep and live organizing everyday, but mostly, organizers are developed through necessity--whether it is as simple as a middle school student demanding better school lunches, or an American who happens to be Black in the 1950s and is tired of the violence, voter repression, and injustice at the hands of the law.
Saul Alinsky, arguably the most transformative organizer of the 20th century, sought out new organizers with specific qualities:
- EGO: Not egotism. The organizer must have a contagious, magnetic personality. Without ego, how can a person convince others they "have it" in them" if they don't believe in themselves?
- CURIOSITY: An organizer needs to question the status quo---dogma, which Steve Jobs defines as "living with the results of other people's thinking."
- IRREVERENCE: The organizer sees that the Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Deeply rooted in the irreverence for rules, institutions and dogma, is a deep reverence for the people, their needs, and their wants.
- IMAGINATION: Every situation will be different. If the organizer loses imagination, they will lose their enthusiasm. Alinsky says imagination "is the fuel for the force that keeps an organizer organizing."
- SENSE OF HUMOR: Satire and ridicule are an organizer's most potent weapons.
- CONFIDENCE: Every decision and action is intentional. The ends are not necessarily justified by the means, but confidence through moral rationalization will determine if an action is justifiable.
What is an organizer's primary role:
Create issues or problems: The organizers must agitate people by gnawing on their resentments to the point of overt expression. The issues or problems must be controversial. They need to create a defined good or evil. Black or white. There is no ambiguity in an issue, and anything less will cause division, lack of unity and dismemberment of a movement, or cause. An organizer must be on the righteous path.
An organizer has many responsibilities and they are outlined succinctly by Eric Mann in his pivotal book Playbook for Progressives. He identifies 12 roles:
- The Foot Soldier: canvassing, phone banking, and talking one-on-one with people--face to face.
- The Evangelist: knowledge, inspiring and keeps people motivated through difficult times.
- The Recruiter: identifies, assesses, and brings new people to the movement.
- The Group Builder: organizes committees, and helps build strong group dynamics
- The Strategist: analyzes complex environments through holistic thinking and design long-term plans to achieve organizational objects
- The Tactician: analyzes the opponents strengths and weaknesses, as well as their (organizations) own coordinate specific actions for maximum effect.
- The Communicator: learns to easily communicate through the written, verbal or nonverbal communication, while facilitating discussions between many different groups.
- The Political Agitator: Can identify, explain and effectively convince other of the issues, problems and a plan for action.
- The Fund-Raiser: builds relationships to get people to financially support and contribute to the movement.
- The Comrade: builds strong relationships with the people, members, and even opponents that will hold the movement together.
- The Confidente: builds a relationship based on trust, and loyalty.
- The Cadre: is an activist that is willing be trained and do what is necessary for the movement.
Truly, an organizer is an undefined profession. They are chameleons who come into a organization, a community, or person's life, and becomes a friend, or foe, but is an unforgettable person. Sometimes, the organizers takes on the role of a celebrity, and other times they are the silent wind which propels the most opulent sail boats.