The joys of being a community organizer
As a Trainer of potential community organizers, I am often asked by college students the question: “Why did you stay too long in a job that does not classify you among the so-called successful people of society?”
My reply with a wink: “Who says I am not successful?”
Of course, community organizing is not a walk in the park, to use a cliché. But who defines the indicators of success of one’s life? When society isn’t what it should be and we complain, who do we think should be making society livable for young and old women and men, gay and straight, other-abled or not, etc.? Are there people tasked to make society livable for you and me while we live frivolous lives with a life-long propensity for leisure and cynicism at the way society moves along?
When I am in a discussion with students on exposure to poor communities and the topic of joining a mass action comes up, I toss the question “Why is it that in our streets, most of the time the people who make up mass actions are from the low income sector?” Uncertain of their responses , some students on exposure visits reply with: “But the poor need to learn to be contented with what they have!”
“Bull’s eye!” I say to myself. Indeed, there should be many community organizers to help in freeing the mind of the young. This is not a kind of “holier than thou” judgment but an observation that most of today’s young people are more concerned about defining their career often as just a source of income with the fate of society being assumed to be relegated to some children of lesser gods.
Being able to dream with people who tell you that they have stopped dreaming until their first organizational victory - this makes a community organizer’s space for faith in the future widen. This sense of being connected to a community’s story of being able to reclaim their capacity for victory is the stuff that makes up an organizer’s joy. Poor communities , if their efforts to change their situation are unorganized, tend to believe that another world is not possible at all. But talk to communities who have stopped a forcible eviction or who have stopped the construction of a highway that would harm a mountain – you cannot find words to define the gleam in their eyes. The gleam comes from a collective sense of self-esteem affirmed by an experience of success. Victory of poor communities from the rut of powerlessness makes a community organizer put up with late lunches, late night sleep, postponed holidays or even dates without any sign of tantrum.
We want to sleep at night free from the terror of crazed drug addicts, robbers or any other form of sociopathy or psychopathy? The answer is organized vigilance…organized accountability to society…organized visioning…organized social transformation work. Not a walk in the park but with many people dreaming of a better society and doing something about that dream, our world will not be hopeless. To help communities make things happen so all of us can sleep the sleep of the just – we should organize. Seeing people getting things done – what else in this world is sweeter than this?