No! You’re wrong. I’m not a troublemaker. I’m a hell raiser. And there is a very large difference between the two. Troublemakers grow up to be priests and politicians and social reformers. They are always meddling in other people’s lives. Hell raisers don’t meddle. They rage and roar, and they celebrate life and mourn its shortness. Hell raisers destroy only themselves, and they do it because they love life too much to fall asleep.”
–Will Ferguson, Happiness
I am a hell raiser, a professional organizer. I help people fight for social change. I’ve worked in state prisons, low income neighborhoods and with people with disabilities. I’ve marched, occupied buildings, organized public meetings, created media and sat in endless strategy meetings. All for the same thing–to help oppressed people express their dignity and fight for their freedom.
Until Barack Obama successfully ran for President, not many people had ever heard of organizing as a profession. But organizing saved my life.
Organizing gives me a sense of purpose in life. Organizing gives me the chance to use my talents as a writer and a speaker and a policy wonk. Organizing gives me the ability to use these talents to help people, not waste them on some corporate nonsense. And above all, organizing gives me the opportunity to meet a wide range of wonderful people–people also struggling to make sense of their world and provide a better life for themselves and their families.
The basic blueprint for community organizing was developed by Saul Alinsky who helped organize neighbors in the Back Of The Yards area of Chicago starting in the 1940′s. As the documentary film about Alinsky “The Democratic Promise” states:
A passionate believer that social justice could be achieved through American democracy, Saul Alinsky methodically showed the “have-nots” how to organize their communities, target the power brokers and politically out-maneuver them. The lessons he taught people about the nature of power, imparted dignity to the poor and helped create a backyard revolution in cities across America. His work influenced the struggle for civil rights and the farm workers movement, as well as the very nature of political protest.
Check out the connection that Saul Alinsky had with Syracuse. Although his time here was limited, (about one year) his work here indirectly led to SUN’s establishment in 1977.
My organizing style and philosophy has been directly influenced through SUN’s work with National People’s Action, a national organizing network.
The organization was founded by two Chicagoans: Gale Cincotta and Shel Trapp. N.P.A. is known for two things. 1) The group was responsible for creating and enacting the federal Community Reinvestment Act. 2) The little yellow school buses that cart up to a 1,000 angry protestors to the houses of government bureaucrats and business folks on the Sunday afternoon of its annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Gale taught us to be as well informed on the issue as we could possibly be and Shel taught us to take that knowledge right to the bastards and demand justice! Shel also helped the founders of ADAPT develop their in-your-face style of direct action organizing for disability rights.
Many tomes have been written about organizing–many more since Obama’s election. But if you want the basics–check out Shel Trapp’s “Basics of Organizing” As the sub-title says–you can’t build a machine without the nuts and bolts. You can also check out the numerous posts on organizing that I’ve written since 2004 on this blog: just check out the Community Organizing category for a complete list.