If you have read some of the “living deliberately” posts, you know that I’ve divided up my day very carefully in order to ensure that I am not wasting my time. 3 hours a day for reading, writing, and exercise, 8 for work, another 8 hours a week for my secondary list of things to improve on.
That 8 hours a day was allocated for work on this schedule was a choice predicated by the assumptions that a) I needed this thing called food to continue to live, and b) that my work would be devoted to helping others. While I do, as a doorman help the rich and the comfortable enter and exit their frivolous apartments, and help solidify their upper class status (as the doorman really functions as a very elaborate and complex status symbol), this type of “help” you might guess, is not quite what I meant.
So how did I get here?
I spent the last two and a half years of my college career working to become a community organizer, studying it, and working both on-campus and with large national activist organizations. I could tell you the day (though I won’t) when I decided to become an organizer, and I still remember that elated feeling of shared and collective power. That sense of being able to clearly see the steps from being able to change yourself to being able to change the world and how exciting, right, and goddamn do-able that seemed. I’ve felt it once or twice since then, when it seemed something went really right or was going to go right in the world. When Obama won, for example.
I also remember learning the hardway the difference between being an organizer and a mobilizer. When you work in the not-for-profit world, one of the first things they teach you is the difference between “mobilizer” and “organizer”. An organizer asks “how can I help you?” A mobilizer asks “How can you help me?”. This is easy enough to define, but I would argue that the majority of self-proclaimed “organizers” are truly “mobilizers” asking the far more subtle “What can you do for me that I think will help you?”
While these organizatiosn were very supportive when I was working for them, the minute I stepped out the door to go do the work I was trained to do, I felt abandoned. Suddenly it was harder to get in touch with people. Resources were unavailable. The local efforts I was involved in were no longer aided. It was the short-term effect of mobilizing.
I am not criticizing these organizations outright. They do incredibly necessary and important work, and priorities must be had. I am merely elucidating how my experience and my evolving view on community organizing changed.
My heroes in the world of community organizing were those civil rights leaders you may have never heard of-Ella Baker, Hollis Watkins-people who worked to work themselves out of a job, who only led reluctantly and until they could develop better leaders to replace themselves. They did not do it “professionally” as a career choice like a doctor or a lawyer, but because it needed to be done.
And now for something completely different:
When I decided to run for president of the environmental organization on campus, I was very nervous about doing it for the right reasons, not for or because of my ego. In the end I was reasonably sure that I ran for the position not for whatever glory was attached to it, but because I hoped and felt confident that I was doing it to develop next year’s leaders and would have a positive impact.
I essentially applied the same thought process to my post-graduate career choices. If I was truly passionate about the environmental movement, I would do it anyway, and not expect a title, a salary, and paid vacation to do it. And I would do it as an organizer, in it for the long term, not as a mobilizer in it for the short term I would be like Baker and Watkins and those even more local leaders, the barbers, the church women, who were the true organizers.
So, I ended up a doorman. It was a hard choice that left me feeling lost, but the right one. If I choose to go more full time as an organizer, or in some other capacity helping others, I will know that I have done it for the right reasons, chosen deliberately.