Skip to content Skip to footer

The State of the Community Organizing Model – What Needs to Evolve, with Vera Parra and Jasson Perez

Hosted by
Article published:
Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
The State of the Community Organizing Model – What Needs to Evolve, with Vera Parra and Jasson Perez

As Hegemonicon continues its exploration of what the Left is building, this conversation analyzes the model for political and community organizing that has persisted since Saul Alinsky hit the field in the mid-20th century—professionalized, nonprofit-managed, and non-ideological. The anti-ideological component of this type of organizing has been the subject of ongoing critique. But other aspects, especially the “professionalization” of organizing, also bear scrutiny, given the dramatic changes in the world over the past decades.

In this episode, William is joined by two long-time organizers to take on this analysis and critique. Jasson Perez is program lead at Just Impact Advisors and Vera Parra is a community organizer with Cosecha Movement. As they explore the strengths and weaknesses of the current state of organizational structure in activist movements, they’ll bring in critique from the 2023 book Occupation: Organizer – A Critical History of Community Organizing in America by Clément Petitjean

[00:00:00] Sound on Tape: This podcast is presented by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. 

[00:00:07] Jasson Perez: The role of quote unquote, the organizer as like representative of what is and isn’t real politic, radical politics nowadays. And, it’s used as an author authenticator of radicalism, whereas I think back in the day, maybe it might’ve been more important.

[00:00:25] What was this person, a socialist was this person, a communist and Party or cadre based identification of whatever organizing thing this person was a part of Nowadays, it’s just that you authenticate yourself as the organizer and you’re the real and most legitimate thing amongst the kind of Professional managerial class of the political world, right?

[00:00:47] Which is and he identifies like the campaign consultant There’s all these like new folks that have but Organizers like quote unquote the real thing while they are like Hello[00:01:00] 

[00:01:00] William Lawrence: and welcome to The Hegemonicon, a podcast from Convergence Magazine. This is a show about social movements and politics, strategy and ideology, the immediate present, and the rapidly onrushing future. I’m your host, William Lawrence. I spent my 20s as a member of grassroots social movements, most prominently as a co founder and national leader of Sunrise Movement, the youth organization that put the Green New Deal on the political map.

[00:01:26] Now I’m in my early 30s, trying to make sense of what we’ve collectively learned in this last decade plus of social movements and heightening social crises. I talk with activists and researchers on the left, exploring the guiding theme of power. What it is. How it’s exercised. And how it’s distributed.

[00:01:48] Last week I was talking with Alex Han about the recent breakthroughs in the labor organizing field, which everyone agrees are tremendously exciting, even if there remain a lot of hurdles ahead. I think it’s safe to say that [00:02:00] labor has been where the energy’s at for the last few years, and community organizations, in relative terms, have been having a down spell.

[00:02:07] Now, I’m painting with a broad brush here, and please do message me with bright spots that I should know about. But membership and participation in non profit community organizations is down since the pandemic, the same period over which labor militancy has surged. But I’ve been wondering why this is and trying to interpret it through the longer history of this community organizing tradition.

[00:02:33] In my writing reflection about Sunrise, I’ve tried to interpret these challenges by looking to our non profit management practices, which I think is still an important critique, but it doesn’t capture the whole story. Then I read a really incredible book that came out this year. Occupation Organizer by Clement Petitjean, and I hope I’m saying that really sheds new light on the organizing field and its challenges.

[00:02:57] Petitjean demonstrates how the [00:03:00] grandfather of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, was committed to a professionalized and non ideological form of organizing from the beginning. The anti ideological elements of Alinsky have been thoroughly critiqued, if not completely driven out of the organizing field.

[00:03:17] The professionalization of organizing has been challenged by comparatively few, even by the political radicals in the organizing field. As you’ll hear in this episode, we are still seeking an alternative to the over professionalized organizing that seems to weigh us down and so many people have experienced.

[00:03:40] I called two organizer friends, Jason Perez and Vera Parra, to talk about these issues and respond to this book. Here’s our conversation.

[00:03:53] So let’s start with Jason first, then Vera. Why don’t you go ahead and just introduce yourself with whatever title you care to share [00:04:00] and best suits you for the topic of the show. Anything else you’d like to say about yourself? 

[00:04:04] Jasson Perez: Hey y’all, Jason. Pronouns he, him. Currently my political home is UWF, United Working Families Party in Chicago.

[00:04:12] Hopefully my political home will be whatever becomes the new left roots process, whatever’s going on with that. And then I work as a program lead and like organizing scout for just impact advisors, which is a donor advised fund that works mainly on organizing to stop mass incarceration. Thanks, Jason.

[00:04:33] Go ahead.

[00:04:39] Vera Parra: Hi, y’all. My name is Vera. You see her pronouns. And I am a been a community organizer for the last decade. And mostly organized in the context of the immigrant rights movement. That’s where I started. And then organized for five years with Gosecha which is a immigrant rights group that comes out of the momentum [00:05:00] community.

[00:05:00] So that’s been a big part of my political home information and I am now a grad student in sociology that is new. 

[00:05:11] William Lawrence: Good. So we’ve got a, we’ve got a grad student. We’ve got a we’ve got a foundation officer and I’m now a professional content creator. So I think we’ve got the perfect people here to talk about professionalization in organizing and the dreaded, but seemingly inescapable nonprofit industrial complex.

[00:05:32] And we’re going to foundational concepts of organizing. Like with a capital O, what do we mean when we say organizing and building organization with another capital? Oh, what are these ideas? What work do they do? How do they shape our actions as people who are fighting for a better world, and it’s going to be a critical look.

[00:05:55] At the practices of organizing, we’re going to be asking if certain inherited habits [00:06:00] and ideas about what organizing is might be holding us back from being more effective and more radical in our impact. But I want to begin by saying before we get too critical that we’ve got three organizers, I think on this call, we love all the organizers out there.

[00:06:17] I’ve learned so much, especially from the OGs. And there’s a lot that the OGs know that we’re not doing anymore that we could probably stand to get back to. So it’s not just about discarding things that aren’t working or have been busted from the beginning. It might also be about returning to some things that have been forgotten, but we can explore all of that.

[00:06:38] And I also just want to admit that. I don’t think I’ve ever really fully applied myself to the task of being a field organizer or a community organizer in the classic sense. I’ve always held roles that put me more as a mobilizer A coalition builder a strategist. And I, but I consider myself a novice, frankly, as an [00:07:00] organizer.

[00:07:00] And but even a novice can ask some questions and I’ve been part of a lot of organizations that have organizers and think about organizing. So let’s ask some questions. And the two of you also have a lot more experience than me personally in the sort of community organizing with capital letters.

[00:07:15] So let’s just begin then by getting grounded in our respective experiences of organizing an organization, starting with Jason. I’m curious to hear from you about your experience in the labor and community organizing traditions, what you learned there about the ethos of being an organizer and this objective that every organizer has, which is to build leaders and build organizations.

[00:07:37] Jasson Perez: Yeah, I I started out in community organizing fairly traditional around, trained up by the Southeast East Collaborative, which was, it’s training home or whatever, was Center for Throat Organizing, but back when I got into organizing, usually, Or, most organizations were more so defined by what training house they went to or what training thing that they’re [00:08:00] approximate to versus what the name of the organization was, like that’s actually what mattered the most.

[00:08:05] And from Southwest Youth Collaborative which was a project on the South side of Chicago that did a lot of good youth organizing work and multiracial organizing work. And it was in the area where, you know, where. MLK was getting like it’s, like stuff thrown at them on the south side of Chicago, it’s in that area, which at that time was, and it still is, it was a black Latino and Arab community.

[00:08:29] Now it’s more majority Latino and they’re trained up center for throat organizing. And then also, I got my first professional job at 23 ish and as a youth organizer and I was on the north side and Our organization, Multicultural Youth Project, was connected to Organization of the Northeast, which is a fairly traditional like one of the original Olinsky based training houses and organizations.

[00:08:52] So it was good training. It was a good process. Had my first set of being part of WINS and I don’t ever want to say easy wins, but just [00:09:00] like very visible, structured, you just knew when you knew when he won the thing and he knew when he lost the thing, it was, the biggest thing was fighting against Renaissance 2010, and which was creating a bunch of charter schools in Chicago and getting rid of public schools.

[00:09:14] And, we stopped a school from being turned into a total military school only one fourth of it got turned into a military school versus. You know all of it to being turned into a military school and no longer a community high school and most of our kids in our group went there. So but hey, yeah, i’ll stop there Yeah, because I know i’ve been going.

[00:09:30] Yeah, so that was my intro to organizing. It’s 

[00:09:33] William Lawrence: great. Thank you Let’s turn to vera and you said that you began working as an immigrant community organizer. Tell me again, what were the kind of core values and practices of being an organizer as you learned it? 

[00:09:49] Vera Parra: I’ll say that my actual first models of political work come from my family.

[00:09:56] And the like models are my grandma and in, who [00:10:00] was organized in Argentina and then later in Germany and my. On to organized in Chile they were part of this sort of this thing called the humanist movement which has both political party has like a lot of alternative institution, like personal transformation and stuff, but also they were like part of the, protests against the military dictatorships in Argentina and in Chile.

[00:10:21] And then my aunt really like devoted Her life to political work in various forms making money as she could through doing some union work, but also helping people in rural Chile, start different forms of organization. And so that was my model when I was growing up. And I really admired them and was like looking for political work from a pretty young age.

[00:10:45] And then I, in college, there were three things happening. One is I was watching the dream movement from a distance. I was in school in North Carolina. And the trail of dreams, which was a walk from Miami [00:11:00] to DC. Went through my university and I was just like in awe of the work that was happening and was yeah, just like very moved and inspired by it and was like trying to find ways that I could do like meaningful things.

[00:11:15] And did some kind of I don’t know, found like a nonprofit in Durham that was doing police ice collaboration stuff. It’s like on my way to, to find my way into the immigrant rights movement. So that was on the one hand. On the other hand, there was a big tuition hike at UNC, like 40 percent because the Tea Party had taken over the state legislature in North Carolina.

[00:11:37] And so of the like campus, my senior year, the campus that was like a sort of innovation and social entrepreneurship oriented like student activity became politicized and people started doing organizing around tuition increases and was part of what then became some of them like more on one day.

[00:11:56] stuff in North Carolina. And then the last thing [00:12:00] is I got a community organizing, like qua community organizing training from somebody named Daniel May who trained a lot of the like anti occupation Jewish left people who was IAF trained. And I learned, I was like, Oh, this is a job, this is a job I could do when I graduate.

[00:12:20] And yeah, that was the confluence of things. And then when I left college, I basically was piecing together organizing jobs, but was also part of the, found my way into what was then the New Jersey Dream Act coalition, which was like the New Jersey chapter of the United We Dream in a time when the movement was I would say on the decline, but very much alive and active, or it was like the peak as they won DACA and then people were already starting to leave.

[00:12:56] And so we were, we actually, there was a [00:13:00] cadre of us that formed, some of whom were volunteers who had been hired by different organizations. United We Dream, PICO, which is where I ended up working, which then, and we formed a kind of group that like stood, I don’t know if above or outside of whatever respective jobs we had.

[00:13:22] And so it always felt like this tension between my paid organizing job and the movement work that I was doing as part of the immigrant rights movement. And I like felt that tension very deeply and palpably. And part of what happened, I think for different reasons that we can talk about there was something that felt really different about the kind of movement work that we were doing.

[00:13:47] And also as the immigrant rights movement started losing its way, I was like, okay, I’m going to buckle down on being the best PICO organizer I can be and build this organization here in New Jersey. So yeah that’s my little [00:14:00] trajectory. Tell me just a little bit about 

[00:14:01] William Lawrence: The. The specific work that you were doing and trained to do at Pico, like what would it mean to be the best Pico organizer that one could be?

[00:14:14] Vera Parra: Yeah. I’ll say that being a good Pico organizer meant having a lot of one to ones. I did have some, for example, but I, if I had some, I had like my my boss, my supervisor would run with me. Meaning would come with me to my one on ones and give me feedback on them. I’d have to report on how many one to ones I’d had a week.

[00:14:34] Was hard because I was starting something brand new and very green. So I always felt like I was doing a bad job. But it was like, how does one even find enough people to talk to? I was building teams in congregations. And so I would have to work with the clergy in the congregation.

[00:14:49] And I was working mostly in Catholic immigrant congregations. So organizing mostly at an older immigrant worker constituency. And which is different than the [00:15:00] movement work we were doing was much more the like green movement stuff we were doing, we were like working on an in state tuition campaign which was mostly organizing with young people.

[00:15:08] So I was also supporting some teams of undocumented youth in like community college Essex County Community College. So I was like doing work, supporting that. And part of this youth organizing group. And then the PICO work was, yeah, building teams of mostly immigrant workers in Catholic congregations in in Newark and then other parts of the state.

[00:15:32] Right on. 

[00:15:32] William Lawrence: So Jason made this, was clear to state that in his early training as an organizer, it was not like what people would now call managerialism. It was more like a coaching relationship where it was very high touch and you’re focused on these daily check ins in the form of doing all these different tasks of one on ones and leader identification and so forth.

[00:15:54] Where would you put your experience in Pico like on that spectrum? Was it similar to what Jason’s describing [00:16:00] or was it nearer to the kind of managerialism that people like to complain about today?

[00:16:06] Vera Parra: I think it was closer to what Jason was describing, but lower touch than I wanted. I always wanted more mentorship and support and training than than my director was able to give me. And I think some of that has to do with me, where it was hard for me actually to I think some, one of the things that organizing taught me is, like, how to do things in a self directed way, and how to move from A to D, and how to figure out points B, C, and whatever the order of the letters are.

[00:16:35] William Lawrence: Like you said, maybe the standards had relaxed a little bit. And so then there was a little less of a the hard and fast model had been discarded a little bit, but there was not necessarily replaced with something equally rigorous. I’ve definitely seen that. 

[00:16:49] Jasson Perez: And to make it clear, mine was just in the, that’s like the first six months to one year.

[00:16:54] Okay. After that it’s much more of a weekly, or maybe if it’s a intense event, then twice a [00:17:00] week, but then you have your weekly work plan, which was like your Bible. 

[00:17:06] William Lawrence: So I want to take this then into a conversation about managerialism and the sort of trappings of bureaucratization, institutionalization.

[00:17:15] People have all kinds of different ways of describing this NGO ification, the MPIC. And, this is the phenomenon of organizing efforts or groups that, The participants really believe to be and want to be radical. I think that’s important about it is like the people are part of it, want it to be radical, but then it ends up taking on a shape that turns out to be bureaucratic and top heavy and lumbering and risk averse in order to.

[00:17:45] Fulfill the requirements of becoming like a stable and legitimate organization. And sometimes this is built in from the beginning. Other times it evolves over time from a scrappier or less structured kind of group. So I want to [00:18:00] ask like, when did you become aware of this pattern? Was it in the organizations you’re describing and talking about now?

[00:18:06] Was it in some of your other organizing experience? When did you start to see this pattern and be talking about it with your comrades? Let’s start with Vera and then move back to Jason.

[00:18:23] Vera Parra: Yeah. I haven’t talked yet about Gosecha. So I’ll do that, but I think first I’ll say that I don’t know if I would actually characterize it as. If the main, I think there is a big problem with management and the way in which management and organizations is really different than the kind of relationship you need to build with volunteers.

[00:18:43] And so if your main model for leadership development is a management relationship, then it’s going to be really hard for you to engage with volunteers who you can’t have a management relationship with them because they’re not, you’re not paying them. And so I think that’s one particular.

[00:18:59] Challenge and [00:19:00] question. I, and then I think the question of professionalization and the like career questions that come in is another one. And I think the third thing is money which is presents a whole other host of tensions. I think it’s helpful to tease those things apart because when we talk about non profit industrial complex, we’re can be helpful to be like, this is a type cause it is a type. And I think if we’re actually thinking about how to solve it, it’s like, what are the different tensions here that we need to address and what are different ways to address them? I think I so management was not really the tension I experienced.

[00:19:35] What I experienced was like a volunteer kind of what it feels like when the work is volunteer and what it feels like when you’re a paid staff, which sort of puts you. In a separate, in a outside role. And I think it was I felt it really palpably because I was doing this work as part of the immigrant rights movement with my like friends, comrades this cadre of [00:20:00] people, and many of us had paid organizing roles, but then we were also doing all of this other work that felt meaningful.

[00:20:08] And it felt like we were like part of history in a different way. And. I think some of the things, some of the things that I felt palpably at the time, there were definitely some Things that I just had to do for fundraising purposes in Pico where we like got a bunch of ACA money And so I had to do some like ACA outreach and I really bristled at having to do that

[00:20:40] So so that’s just like pretty you know Like pretty straightforward funding, shaping what you’re doing. And, but I also think there was a way in which, I think in particular, I was organizing in a new place. So there weren’t already like established leaders who were, no, there weren’t leaders who interviewed me for the job, for instance [00:21:00] which which usually happens in a more like established.

[00:21:03] community organization. And I felt really lonely. I think there’s a way in which I didn’t totally feel like a part of the community that I was organizing where in the movement work that I was doing, that was volunteer. We would have a six hour long planning, strategizing meeting and then I’ll go drinking together.

[00:21:25] It felt very different. And yeah. And there were also people had the community that I was organizing had suspicion about like, why was I getting paid? What is this organization? Where’s the funding coming from? I think a big part of that is that there’s not a paid professional organizing tradition in Latin America in the same way.

[00:21:45] There are people who are. When I called my grandma to tell her what I was up to, she was like, you’re getting paid by the church to organize. Does that make sense? And so there’s a way in which when I started organizing with cosecha, that was way [00:22:00] more legible to my family in Latin America.

[00:22:02] They were like, Oh, estas militando is the word for it. And you’re a militant, but it doesn’t come with the same kind of connotation as it does. Yeah. And I, so I think it was like, I built trust through my relationships with people. in spite of the fact of the institution that we were building as opposed to people having a like very profound sense of ownership over the organization itself.

[00:22:32] And I think that had to do with some profound questions that people had about an organization and institution money infrastructure that they weren’t part of shaping. And didn’t have ownership over themselves. And I felt that tension in a deep way. 

[00:22:47] William Lawrence: I think a lot of organizers would really relate with what you described of building amazing relationships.

[00:22:56] In spite of the broader organization that you’re [00:23:00] working to build. And that’s almost the least compelling thing of everything you’re doing. The issues are compelling. The community is compelling. Being there, sitting with an actual person and learning to fight together. That’s compelling. But then all of this apparatus, it, no one is quite sure whether it makes sense or whether we can trust it.

[00:23:20] Jason, let’s. Let’s turn to you and ask a very deconstructed my, my, my question. I think helpfully. You could take it in whichever direction you want or the dawning realization of tensions between the organizing you were practicing and the institution you’re working for and so forth.

[00:23:38] Jasson Perez: Yeah. And I guess to continue the deconstruction thing and I look at those as two different kind of issues, in some ways, like in in SEIU there was always that tension of what I wanted to do as like the staff organizer versus what the elected officers wanted to do versus what the members wanted to do, which was and, don’t think that was really like a [00:24:00] problem of like managerialism or neoliberal managerialism.

[00:24:03] I think actually the closest it came, at least within labor, was when SEIU started having a rule that 20 percent of, your funds had to go towards organizing and paid staff, organizing and and projects in relation to organizing. And there was one way they were doing it, which is the opening of training houses.

[00:24:21] You had the wave training, you had a certain amount of trainings to do, but then there was also then the, and then, and with that comes the coaching approach, and then there was like the managerial approach, which usually, you’d bring out folks from international, not from the local.

[00:24:36] And, it was like this approach of our issues around strategic differences and approaches. We’re going to be If you just organize better, all those issues would resolve themselves. It was very much that thing. And, MacLeavy at times has that tendency to that, like soon the political and strategic differences will melt away as you, as we build better organizers and better issues that are cut in a [00:25:00] better way.

[00:25:00] And no, those issues still, like those issues and those tensions, cause yeah, it’s good to have 20%. Organizing staff done internal and external organizing, but then there’s all sorts of actual issues around grievances, there’s real issues that have to get figured out that organizing is not going to take care of in the kind of traditional way.

[00:25:22] So it’s managerialism to, and using organizing, even good organizing to overcome like those political issues. And then, but it didn’t really become like, I didn’t even notice it. I didn’t even realize it until I think a, I was part of co founding an organization and being a lead in an organization.

[00:25:40] And it became the thing, at least for me that I noticed in regards to, BYP 100, Movement for Black Lives, and in dealing with Internal conflicts and dealing with organization development as you start like sending folks to the management center. And the issue is that you’re just not [00:26:00] doing like task management, right?

[00:26:01] You’re not doing project management, right? You’re not doing it right with your staff and you’re not doing it right with your members. And if you just get these things, right? Then all these other issues will fit. And it’s just no, issue is should we do electoral politics or not?

[00:26:16] William Lawrence: No amount of tax management. You’re saying it’s political disagreements. It’s political disagreements that are being papered over under the ideology of good organizing and good management, as if that would make anybody. Yeah. Or that 

[00:26:27] Jasson Perez: if you just had this kind of good kind of managerial structure versus like more of a.

[00:26:33] Kind of, a democracy structure or a democratic decision making structure that then you could, that you could come to a decision point where everyone would have buy in, people would, and then that’s where, at least for me, I think almost like the misuse of relationship building, where it’s if you just have a strong enough relationship with these people, when the moment of conflict happens, then it won’t blow up in this way or whatever, which I think there’s some truth to it, it almost sold itself as that.

[00:26:59] This [00:27:00] conflict won’t escalate to these, to the level it does. And it’s no, these conflicts still, if you read anything about, SNCC, these people had deep relationships with each other and the conflict scaled in way, especially towards the end scaled in, in, in fairly, in phenomenally intense ways, and that’s where I saw it at. And that’s where, and I was definitely on the team of, Oh, if we just get, if we just get the right campaign, if we just get the right issue, if we just get the right thing, all these other issues would be. taking care of it. In my estimation, it’s that, yeah, that, that wasn’t that, that wasn’t the case.

[00:27:32] And so yeah, that’s how I see it coming up. I have no solution for it outside of maybe some like democracy representative built in representative form of democracy mechanisms. But then you’re left in, DSA land or labor land, like in terms of the conflicts that happened.

[00:27:50] William Lawrence: Vera, you’ve mentioned cosecha. And so why don’t you go ahead and tell us more about the efforts that Cosecha made to [00:28:00] practice an alternative to the kind of staff organizer model. 

[00:28:06] Vera Parra: Okay. So Cosecha formed in 2014, 2015, people started thinking about it launched in 2016 was part of a group of organizations that were trained by the Momentum Training Institute.

[00:28:19] And then launched organizations, including if not now in sunrise and other dissenters and others. Yeah. Gosecha was, we had a volunteer staff model. So we that was modeled off of a snake and the United farm workers as examples. So we. Lived in movement houses and it was something called the Vaughn, the Volunteer Organizing Network.

[00:28:43] At the max we had, I think 30 people who were part of this. And basically were, had a stipend of $200 a month. And that was for, beers and everything else, your food and [00:29:00] housing and travel was covered by our own budget. And, 

[00:29:04] William Lawrence: So obviously I’ll just want to jump in and say, people listening to this will immediately say, if your framework is thinking that these are workers, then you’re like, Oh my God, 200 a month, these are exploited workers, but that was not at all the frame through which you were seeing yourselves.

[00:29:19] So can you like explain that core distinction? 

[00:29:23] Vera Parra: The frame that we, so we’d all. Come from at least the like first wave of us had come from experiences of organizing in the dream movement or organizing as a nonprofit professional organizers. And I think in the dream movement, there was at its height, the dream movement had thousands of people who were working other jobs and then we’re spending the vast majority of their time.

[00:29:51] Organizing and we’re not paid. And part of the like institutionalization of the dream movement meant that there were a small number of people who were [00:30:00] hired to be staff people while others were not. And so I think it, from that context, it felt it was like we want to have, be able to support a large number of volunteers instead of just having a small number of professional paid staff.

[00:30:15] We want to be able to support a large number of volunteers. to be a part of organizing. And so it’s like the idea is instead of concentrating it, we’re distributing it. And yeah. And then those of us who had been professional organizers, I think, had the experience and the feeling of that, the tension I was describing of feeling yeah, both the way in which it separates you or removes you from your community.

[00:30:39] Yeah. So I, and I, the other thing I’ll say, I think is that Like a lot of us had experiences or had in our minds and organizing model outside of us in Latin America, where this is a more where the expectation is not that you’ll get paid to do political work. And so that I think profoundly shaped our thinking and, it’s movement houses is [00:31:00] one solution, which has.

[00:31:01] We can talk about the costs and benefits of that. But, there are many different formates. It’s other people in the family make money to support the person who’s doing the important collective community work. And yeah there, or if you just have more free time and work is less central to your life, then that enables you to be able to do a lot of volunteer, a lot of volunteer organizing and political work.

[00:31:24] And so there are different models. I think that many of us were coming in with, and then maybe the last thing I’ll say is that I think there was something that felt specific to the constituency that we were organizing of, and like older immigrant worker constituency. Of whom had not grown up in the United States and didn’t have the professional organizing model where it felt like this is actually something that we need to do in order to really be able to build trust with our people.

[00:31:50] And in order to really be able to ensure that people feel a deeper sense of ownership over this organization so that it’s we’re all raising the [00:32:00] resources. We had a principle that everything we need is in our community. And I think that, that part actually really bore out. So organizing in Kwasicha compared to any other kind of organizing I was doing, people immediately felt a very deep sense of ownership over the organization.

[00:32:15] Immediately would be like, okay, we have to do fundraisers, sell shirts make tacos. Just like very immediately, we’d do a training in a town and people would start thinking about how to raise money for the organization. And I think it gave people, the leaders that we were working with a much deeper kind of commitment.

[00:32:36] And then there’s a relationship between ownership people feel and the commitment they have. And I think that part was Really borne out by our experience. The flip side is we traded in one set of problems for another. And I think it’s hard for me to talk about this because of the way that we organized in Gosecha was so collective that every time I’ve talked [00:33:00] to, I haven’t processed this really with other people in Gosecha.

[00:33:02] So every time I start talking about it, I like trip up. I froze in a momentum training, talking about this. And I think it’s because in some ways I’m like, I don’t actually feel like I have permission from the group to tell this story. With that caveat I’ll say that, yeah, I, my, my personal sense, and I think different people have different reads and different stories about this, but so Gosecha, the leaders are still organizing the volunteer leaders that we developed.

[00:33:28] And they’re figuring out how the elected national board is figuring out how to how they want to do is trying, figuring out hiring organizers potentially and has been distributing stipends. But the VON, the Volunteer Organizing Network no longer exists and with that came the loss of a lot of resources and skills and expertise that that really sustained OSHA for a long time and I would say what happened, the short, my, my own personal [00:34:00] sense of what happened is that I think when we had, when we were thinking of our organization as a short term thing that existed to fulfill a particular purpose and then dissolved.

[00:34:09] It actually made sense to have this model. But as it became, as the terrain shifted on immigration, as it became clear that it was a much, much longer fight and that actually immigrant need leaders, immigrant worker leaders need a national organization for a long haul to represent. That set of interests.

[00:34:30] I yeah, I think it we actually didn’t know how to we couldn’t shift our staffing structure in order to build something that was more sustainable. And so as the strategy shifted, the structure needed to change. And I think for a number of different reasons that have a lot to do with leadership and governance, it was really hard to make deep changes that felt like they We’re actually like central and core to the organization or what we call momentum, the DNA.

[00:34:57] Thanks for sharing all that. 

[00:34:58] William Lawrence: It was a really powerful [00:35:00] experiment in something very bold and alternative to the way that this is normally done. 30, functionally full time volunteer organizers in the network. It was awesome. I sawing it, I was very inspired by it at the time.

[00:35:13] And you all were on fire, you militantes, as you said, like it, that spirit was really there. And I’m not at all surprised that you were effective at connecting with people on that foundation because it was like there was no wizard behind the curtain. There was no there was no confusing organization.

[00:35:31] That’s impossible to explain with funders that nobody really knows or trust. It was like, You all putting it on the line, and so people people did rally to want to be a part of that. So I appreciate your reflections. 

[00:35:45] Vera Parra: And when we mess things up, which of course we did and, I think there’s a way in which we had like a self effacing sacrificial, like we are, but humble servants attitude.

[00:35:54] But the reality was that we were the leaders of the national organization. And until we developed a [00:36:00] democratic structure, there was actually no, there, there was no governance structure, nothing to legitimize us which ended up creating a lot of tensions and challenges internally within the Vaughn but our, the base of volunteer lead the, yeah, base of volunteer leaders who were not stipended in living in movement houses were very generous with us as we really messed things up, and I think that in some ways that has to do with, in some ways it has to do, I think with And maturity of the people that we were organizing.

[00:36:33] And just like less of the kind of individualism in American individualism that I think ends up ripping a lot of movement organizations apart. But I also think, they like, they were worried about so we would nest things up and they’d be like, why are you isolating yourselves?

[00:36:46] How can we help? 

[00:36:48] William Lawrence: So we’re going to put another bookmark on the governance question because both of you raised that. I think it’s going to have to be a whole nother episode on governance and we’re going to have to keep this one focused on organizing.[00:37:00] 

[00:37:03] Sound on Tape: Hi, this is Kayden, the publisher of Convergence magazine. There are a lot of places that you can put your hard earned money in support of our movements, but if you’re enjoying this show, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Convergence on Patreon. We’re a small independent operation and rely heavily on our readers and listeners like you to support our work.

[00:37:20] You can join us at patreon. com slash convergence mag. Subscriptions are pay what you can, but at 10 bucks a month, you’ll get goodies, as well as knowing you’re helping to build a better media system, one that supports people’s movements and fights fascism. And if you can’t afford it right now, don’t worry.

[00:37:36] All our shows will be free for you to enjoy. You can also help by leaving us a positive review or sharing this episode with a comrade. Thank you so much for listening.

[00:37:49] William Lawrence: Thanks both already for just sharing so much of your own experience. And I know that these things are not easy and there’s a lot of, stumbles and failures and reflections along the way. [00:38:00] I want to turn for this next beat. To this book that Jason turned me on to Occupation Organizer by Clement Petitjean, which is a critical history of community organizing in the United States.

[00:38:13] And in thinking these things through, this book just really shed a lot of light for me on, Why some of these challenges with institutionalization and professionalization keep coming back and rearing their head, even when it seems like we try to run away from them like you were doing with cosecha. So if you indulge me for the listeners in briefly summarizing the core argument of this book, it’s something like this Pedersohn lays out how Saul Alinsky, the grandfather of the organizing field, as we know it today, from the beginning, conceptualized the Organizing as a full time skilled professional job, which could become a career and built professionalized organizations of the kind we still know today in order to house [00:39:00] organizers.

[00:39:00] And I thought there was an amazing quote in this book from 1972. When Alinsky told Playboy magazine, quote, to most people, I’m a professional radical to my mother. The important thing is I’m a professional to mama. It was all anticlimactic after I got that college degree. I think a lot of organizers probably would also.

[00:39:21] See themselves in that a little bit. It’s do you understand what we’re doing? No. Do you understand that I’m like enough compensated and there are people who respect me and I might get an award at the end of the year if I do a good job yes. So these trappings of professionalization are there.

[00:39:37] And then the author also points out that the organizer in this model has always, by definition, been one step removed from the people they’re organizing and the leaders they’re cultivating. And he says, basically, the organizer, the identity of the organizer depends on the identity of the community leader and vice versa, but the two will never be.

[00:39:57] One and the organizer is basically supposed to [00:40:00] be this self effacing, humble servant whose job is to, cultivate the civic sense and consciousness of the community and their own skills, their own agency. So that then the community and the community leaders can speak for themselves. And then he goes on to say that.

[00:40:19] The ideology of community organizing in the Alinsky lineage is a form of, quote, militant liberalism, continuing, quote, a political creme brulee with a crisp layer of conflict tactics and anti establishment rhetoric on top of a mellow cream of commitment to class harmony, compromise, and liberal purpo puro Pluralism.

[00:40:39] He writes significantly. The professional dimension of the work was baked into the cream from the very beginning. So here’s this anti ideologism that Jason is talking about. We’re actually major political debates, which may be falling along bounds of, socialism versus liberalism or what brand of progressivism we want to pursue.

[00:40:58] That all basically [00:41:00] gets cast aside. And we say, if we just did good organizing, we wouldn’t have these problems. But at the end of the day, Like it’s liberalism, it’s liberal democracy and people working to have their voices and interests reflected through our liberal democratic system. So I think this is a fair critique that he’s making that this is at its root, like liberalism, unless there’s some something else, some ideology attached to it that is explicitly, progressive or socialist.

[00:41:27] So then he goes on to identify clearly that there is another historic lineage of community organizing besides that of Alinsky. And this is the humble quote unquote spade work practiced and popularized by Ella Baker and the SNCC Freedom Movement organizers. And then continuing from there. But he says that this tradition then blended with the Alinsky model in the 1970s as a result of sixties radicals basically seeking to make permanent careers for themselves while doing good.

[00:41:56] So here’s a quote on that topic quote [00:42:00] during Alinsky’s career and after his death in 1972, a whole range of actors involved in the burgeoning community organizing movement. Criticized Alinsky’s definition of the organizer’s role as an outside, detached, and manipulating expert. The contours of the roles were challenged by white new leftists, organizers of color, and women who rightly felt that Alinsky and the IAF completely overlooked central issues of race, gender, and ideology.

[00:42:26] However, such criticism never called into question the existence of the organizer’s role itself and its centrality. That coming together happened as former 60s radicals who are trying to find ways to sustain protest activity and engagement outside of movement waves found a home in the various groups that came out of the IAF tradition.

[00:42:47] Again, despite enduring divergences over the meaning of the organizer’s role and position, a common agreement consolidated. Over the need to pursue professionalization as the best strategy to [00:43:00] bring about effective social change in order to legitimize its place within the political ecosystem, community organizers as a group turned to philanthropic foundations, which led to a continuing structural subordination to philanthropy.

[00:43:15] And then he lays out. How it was the networks founded by these professionalizing radicals in the seventies and the eighties, including Pico, including national people’s action, including acorn Gamaliel. These are still the networks that are defining and training us as organizers to this day.

[00:43:32] So that’s the gloss of the book. I think this really hit the mark for me and it made me, got me thinking about the way that organizers, I think, consider organizing to be Inherently a radical practice, or we want to believe that, but this book really shows how that is not necessarily the case.

[00:43:49] It looks starts to look a lot more like an ordinary, if somewhat marginal part of the liberal democratic process through which there are myriad interest [00:44:00] groups, each jockeying for a better deal. And the organizer is the person which You know, embeds in a given community and helps that community to jockey for a slightly better deal within the parameters of the system as we have.

[00:44:14] And I wonder if this history also helps explain why it seems so difficult to practice quote unquote good organizing without sliding into the professional dynamics of top down leadership, staff member divides and the pattern, which I also heard from you all, of A few long tenured organizers relying on the frequent churn and burnout of more junior organizers, which was also there from the beginning with Alinsky.

[00:44:41] I think Petitjean is suggesting that all of this, despite our wishes to leave behind such patterns is really deeply built into our mental models. Of organizing itself. And so if you try to create the conditions to practice good organizing on a durable basis, like you ultimately realized you needed to do in cosecha and [00:45:00] like we decided we needed to do at sunrise at a certain point, and you’re using the tools lying around among fellow organizers, you’re going to end up with something that looks like a nonprofit top down organization.

[00:45:12] And. Again, I think at Sunrise we saw the push to do good, durable organizing and the adoption of somewhat bureaucratic management techniques really came hand in hand. They weren’t incompatible at all. Jason, you turned me on to this book. What parts of it stood out for you? Where did you see echoes of your own organizing experience and where, if anywhere you would push back and really just take it wherever you want.

[00:45:38] Jasson Perez: Yeah. Obviously I’m partisan to the book. I love the book. Even though there’s definitely big parts that I, I don’t know if big parts, but parts that I disagree with on. But I think all the parts I disagree with on, I think are well argued there’s very valid evidence and well argued for what the author’s trying to get at.

[00:45:56] The biggest thing that stood out to me was just the role of quote unquote [00:46:00] the organizer as like representative of what is and isn’t real politic, radical politics nowadays. And, it’s used as an authenticator of radicalism, whereas I think back in the day, maybe it might have been more important.

[00:46:16] Was this person a socialist? Was this person a communist? And party or cadre based identification of whatever organizing thing this person was a part of. Nowadays, it’s just that you authenticate yourself as the organizer and you’re the real and most legitimate thing amongst the kind of professional managerial class of the political world which is and, he identifies like the campaign consultant, there’s all these, there’s all these like new folks that have, but, the organizer is like, quote unquote, the real thing while they are like, The quote unquote fake thing, even though we’re all in, like we’re better than the policy person.

[00:46:49] We’re better than the by better, more radical, right? Rick, we’re all 

[00:46:52] William Lawrence: professional activists, but the organizers claim the mantle of being the most with the people. 

[00:46:57] Jasson Perez: Yeah. And then authentic and yeah. So [00:47:00] that, that, that part I 100 percent agree, agreed with, I think the other part in terms of a lot of the basic premises of.

[00:47:09] At least how we get indoctrinated in organizing, which is very different from let’s say what communist party used to teach or even things like March in Washington committee used to teach about power. There’s like that, there’s that myth that fDR said go make me do that and that just didn’t happen, right?

[00:47:25] But there’s very much this organizing idea that you know you make the powers to be do the thing that you want to do and then you’re actually like enlivening and making democracy and Barack Obama really ran with this at absurd levels which then always You know ignores and gets rid of the issue of no we don’t want to always keep on and this is something I actually got from labor but in the community social movement world, we don’t always want to keep on fighting these fights we want to institutionalize these fights So that we don’t have to keep on fighting the fight and it happens on its own and we can go on to the next stage [00:48:00] of whatever the struggle is but community organizing I would even say social movement organizing really valorizes You The constant kind of bottom up asymmetrical conflict and that, that becomes like the sign of our virtuousness, righteousness, like the right, and even like the analytical rightness of our politics and then things that are, whether they’re structural reforms, reformist reforms, and especially when you’re attached to institutionalization, all of a sudden becomes the thing that’s compromising us, co opting us, the thing that never co ops us, supposedly, is the fact that we have to work 60 or 70 hours in a week just to get a certain amount of people there, just to get people to care about one issue.

[00:48:43] To me that, that was always much more critical about co I don’t even know if it was co options incapacitation or whatever it was, getting in the way of us building something versus us winning a thing our things being, incorporated to stand here. So I just feel like that point that he made.

[00:48:59] Where like [00:49:00] community organizing, social movement start becoming the nonprofit thing that’s in place of actual democratic government, the democratic economy, things like that. And then, at least for me, I, it just, I think I very much always justified my work. My career and my life as at least I’m part of the state work tradition, like that’s where I’m a part of the, that’s what I do.

[00:49:26] And he blew, very gently, but, he blew that out of the water. And, he made a very, that, that’s hegemony 101. Just because you feel like it’s not a part of it. No we live in the, we, and actually now that I’m working this job, I think he he does overstate it to a little bit, but for the most part, we, or up until maybe before Occupy maybe, we lived in the funding world and foundation world and in the organizing world that Saul Alinsky built, even if we had various things.

[00:49:57] I think the thing that he wiped away [00:50:00] was the world of padre and cadre organizing and, labor organizing of the way that McLeavy described, and that and that, that part is right, 

[00:50:10] William Lawrence: Sarah, how about you? You haven’t read the book. So you have fresh perspective here. And tell us that we’re full of shit. If if you want to how does this sound to you? And any echoes from your own experience? 

[00:50:22] Vera Parra: I’m going against all might. Grad school instincts of staying close to the text, talking about something I haven’t read.

[00:50:29] But yeah, I’m excited to read this book. As you were talking, Jason, I’m a little nervous to read the book because I think I have. I, there’s a deep way in which I think organizer, it’s an important part of my identity and sense of self. But I think here’s one just like immediate reaction that I’m having to this is I think useful to understand the tradition that we come from and denaturalize some of the things that have [00:51:00] been woven together.

[00:51:01] And I think I guess my question would be, can we like unbraid them? Are there elements of the tradition that we would want to rescue as we pull certain pieces of it out? And I think there’s a few things that I want to say in defense of the American tradition of community organizing. And maybe this is what he refers to as the spade work tradition.

[00:51:27] But I think there are and the reason that I’m, think it’s important to do this is some of what you were saying earlier, Will, about Rescuing or returning to older traditions and not losing them. But I think we’re in like a really pro we’re in a different moment than Alinsky was we’re in a moment where there’s an enormous amount of philanthropy that goes to a lot of bullshit work.

[00:51:50] And there are a lot of people who are hired to be community organizers who are politicized in some way or other through mass cycles of mass protests that happened over the last 10 [00:52:00] years. That are hired into organizations that have no tradition of community organizing and get absolutely no training.

[00:52:07] And so we’re claiming the mantle without actually getting any of the training that I think is useful. And I think a lot of the finance, to me, one of the biggest problems of philanthropy is that you can get money without having to build. That those things are good one. Oh my God. 

[00:52:26] William Lawrence: As long as you can organize the funders, you may never have to actually organize a base.

[00:52:32] Vera Parra: A single person. Yeah. And it also means that I think the importance of comms and social media is like that will get you funding in a way that filling up a room won’t necessarily, or you only need to fill up a room one time to be able to put it on your brochures. To convince funders that you’re able to fill up a room, but it’s completely disconnected from building mass organization.

[00:52:55] So there’s just, I think an enormous crisis of mass [00:53:00] organization in this country where we don’t have the organizational vehicles that we need. And so for that reason, I think it’s actually important to I think there are some things in the community organizing tradition and in the particular role of the organizer that I think are useful.

[00:53:16] Clues or practices maybe that that I think are worth rescuing even as we critique the professionalization and lack of ideology of Lenski and all of that. So I think one of them is that actually incentives for organizers are not, are lined up in the traditional community organizing model.

[00:53:40] I think this is true for labor organizers, like you. You’re measured based off of whether you can turn people out and whether you’re building relationships with people. And I think that actually, so your own personal incentives for your own advancement in the organization actually in some ways line up with [00:54:00] building people power, I think that matters.

[00:54:03] I think also financially, like the traditional model community organizing actually doesn’t rely on foundation funding in the same way it relies on church donations. And so that means that you need to get your clergy leaders, community leaders bought in on on the organization that you’re trying to build.

[00:54:20] In a similar way that with union organizing, it’s member dues. And so if you don’t have members, the organization does actually fall apart. And I think that is like qualitatively important difference. 

[00:54:30] William Lawrence: Cause we shouldn’t want organizations without members going around, confusing the field. Yeah. Yes.

[00:54:36] Yeah. 

[00:54:39] Vera Parra: I think it’s critical that the life of your organization depend on whether you have members and materially is the most important way you can do that so that you’re, so that the things you have to do for your organization to survive are not actually like fundamentally disconnected from the things you need to do to build people power.

[00:54:59] So I think [00:55:00] that’s one thing that’s worth rescuing. And I think another thing is actually this, the organizers are in a kind of I think being the like role that you play, even though in the Linsky tradition, it’s like you pretend that you’re not the leader in the background, but I actually do organizers play, I think an important intermediary role.

[00:55:24] Between that, particularly if you are representing a particular turf or a particular constituency, that’s part of the whole, you need to build relationships and in some ways represent and articulate the interests of the people that you are representing and then negotiate those with other groups of people.

[00:55:43] And that’s where strategy comes from. That is actually, and I think that intermediary role is. Gramsci talks about this is like really critical. So I think you have right now a lot of organizations that have large lists. And then a few professional staff people at the [00:56:00] top and nothing in the middle.

[00:56:02] And I think that creates big governance crises. And and I think it’s, I think it’s a major problem. And it also means that people aren’t getting the kind of like support and development that they need. So I think that an organizers often actually, I think staff organizers often feel some kind of tension.

[00:56:21] Where on the one hand, there’s what their members want. And on the other hand, there’s the demands at the top of the organization. And I actually think that intermediary level is really important. And it’s just could that not be a professional role? Could that be a could that be a community leadership role?

[00:56:37] And I think. 

[00:56:39] William Lawrence: Could it be something that feels like organic and vital rather than feeling like you’re a cog in a machine getting torn between competing interests and not really working for the people more like having to, twist their arms into doing things somehow. Sometimes it ends up like that.

[00:56:54] Vera Parra: Or could it be an elected role, for instance or an appointed role or, however you would want to do that. I think the [00:57:00] other two things that are important about the tradition here to 

[00:57:04] William Lawrence: save organizing and I really appreciate it. 

[00:57:07] Vera Parra: Okay. It’s and that these are things that are different than the conventional nonprofit.

[00:57:13] I think is about, I think actually organizers have less specialization. Like if you are a turf organizer, so if you are responsible for organizing people in a particular region, you’re writing the press release or teaching people to write the press release. You’re doing the other, you’re like trying to get some money.

[00:57:30] You’re, you actually have to do all of the different things and train and develop others to do all of the different things, which is really different than being organized by. Function and by specialty, which like a traditional nonprofit structure is like the strategy team is the pumps person and the political person and the organizer as one person.

[00:57:54] And I think actually that specialization is a real problem. 

[00:57:59] William Lawrence: Because it’s all [00:58:00] kind of integral to a understanding of like you gotta have the comms, you gotta have the organizing, you gotta have the policy. If you’re only looking at one of those pieces. Yeah, I can think about so many people I’ve known in like nonprofits who are specialists in one of those areas.

[00:58:16] And my rap on them is you don’t actually understand campaigning and you don’t understand power because you’re in loan. You’re in love with your own expertise in your own specialty field. So I haven’t really thought about that, but I love that point. Okay. And then what’s number four? 

[00:58:30] Vera Parra: Number four is that organizing involves skills that you can teach.

[00:58:38] That’s just the leadership development. I think even if we take all of the professionalism out of it, it’s no longer a paid staff job, whatever. But I do think there are skills that can be taught. 

[00:58:51] William Lawrence: And how is that piece contrary to the way that it’s, it is practiced sometimes in, in the nonprofits. I thought you had said 

[00:58:58] Vera Parra: That was it.

[00:58:59] [00:59:00] Yeah, people aren’t teaching anything. That’s 

[00:59:02] Jasson Perez: good. I’m glad I don’t feel alone because I’m, no, I’m worried, especially now on this other side of the, I’m worried like I’m becoming this old curmudgeon that’s people don’t worry, but hearing you say it, I feel, which maybe it’s just an echo chamber and we’ll just organize an echo chamber.

[00:59:16] But I thank you for saying it. Cause I, good Lord, my God. Yeah, 

[00:59:20] Vera Parra: But we should but why this not to discount the crit, like we should definitely go deep in on the critiques. Cause I think those are huge problems. Then. 

[00:59:28] Jasson Perez: And in fairness to him, like to the author, he’s not saying abolish the paid organizer, abolish the community organizer.

[00:59:34] I think it’s, it’s, it’s a critical history. So it’s just saying these are some of the issues and tensions and these tensions get taught because he actually goes to great lengths to say, my issue isn’t the nonprofit industrial complex to critique or philanthropy critique.

[00:59:48] In it of itself, like people have done that or even like the Thetascopo kind of managerialification of, his, my critique, what I’m worried about is The per how the professional and less like that [01:00:00] professionalization has happened, but how the professionalization of the organizer has happened, which I, that’s the part, I think that’s why I think I was a little bit more open to it.

[01:00:08] But he, he makes very clear that, without this kind of professionalization, you wouldn’t have the amount of people of color coming into organize. The beginnings of organizing as a profession was very was very white, very male, very much the kind of people who could sacrifice.

[01:00:24] Hours of time, like who could sacrifice and then get low pay and that what the professionalization has done is allowed folks who normally wouldn’t be able to sacrifice that much volunteer time to be a full time organizer to then go and do that. And then that’s why you’ve seen the rise in in, in that.

[01:00:41] And then I think the other, the only other piece too, and I forgot to say is that, and I think he misses this point or maybe he doesn’t, but, You know, especially now understanding the job, it’s just, even the Alinsky style of foundation stuff is, that’s actually a tiny sector of [01:01:00] philanthropy funding of organizing, right?

[01:01:04] And that part needs to get teased out because then there is a bunch of, and he has a problem with all these conditions that Alinsky stuff puts on, or even like center for organized, those kinds of schools they put on in terms of how you get funded. And I’m actually more on the side of, yeah, I think.

[01:01:20] We need more of that. We need to get back to that. Like that that Linsky, that Delgado, that, Rathke all these folks, like they were onto something that like, if you don’t put all these conditions around training houses, around all these things or whatever, this thing can just veer off into, places that you’re just not, and I think that’s what we’re living with now, that.

[01:01:41] In response to how I don’t know if the right words dictatorial or methodological in terms of how this is how it gets done that then everyone was just like Anything goes organizing will fund it. And then we’re in that world now. And at least for me personally, I don’t like that world. Yeah.

[01:01:58] William Lawrence: What are the [01:02:00] directions that we need to be moving in to organize in a way that is I think it’s fair to say we need something which is qualitatively different from the organizing we’re doing now. We need to rescue some of these old lineages and traditions and skills and training. We, then there’s also some things I think we just really need to chart a new course.

[01:02:18] And one of those pieces we’ve talked about is like having the organizer not exist just to reproduce their own specialization and produce other organizers per se, but to be, increasing protagonism Class consciousness among the community as a whole, the working class as a whole. I feel like bringing ideology back into it seems like just such a critical piece of all of this.

[01:02:43] And also I think maybe leaning against the self effacing posture of the organizer seems like it might be also related because if the organizer gives themselves. permission to be ideological, then they also have a responsibility to be less self effacing [01:03:00] because it’s not just about you doing whatever you want to do as a community leader, fighting over the stoplight or the thing that’s the most immediate or the most winnable.

[01:03:08] If we do have ideology, it’s about charting a course that is not going to lead to a dead end. And, maybe posing the question directly to people. Do you want to fight for something tangible that we can fight and win in the next two years? Or do you want to fight for something a little bit farther off?

[01:03:21] That’s more about winning the war of ideas over the next five years. Like these are tough choices. Cause there’s shit that you need to win now that would help your life. But on the other hand, we’ve learned some shit and that’s reflected in our ideology. So those are some of the things that come to mind for me.

[01:03:36] And I, I feel the ideological organizer kind of looks in my mental image a lot more like the sort of radical agitator of the old sort of like communist party tradition, maybe a hundred years ago, or, across America or the old socialist party at its height, where it’s like you’re organizing, you’re campaigning, you’re building coalitions, you’re developing leaders.

[01:03:58] But it’s just like [01:04:00] highly ideological on its face. And you’re working to make that kind of like common sense and popular and then connect it to the tangible. Those are just a few of my thoughts that come to mind. But as a closing, why don’t we just hear from each of you once more on some of the directions that organizers ought to be setting out in order to, make this a more, I think the more radical, the more truly radical practice that, that we want to be a part of.

[01:04:24] Let’s just start with Jason and we’ll give her the last word. 

[01:04:27] Jasson Perez: Yeah. I think the things that come off the top is all of us as, if we’re professional organizers, but then just anyone in this milieu of work being part of some kind of party organization or proto party organization, here, I’m thinking of either WFP affiliate or a DSA counterpart.

[01:04:43] I think that is, or a democratic union, of some sort where, where your day to day, a lot of decisions are being made. Especially larger strategic ones are being made through a democratic process. And you’re just a member of the thing and you’re trying to figure it out and that type of organizing.

[01:04:59] [01:05:00] And to me, that kind of organizing de centers the community as the thing, or the grassroots as the thing, and also de centers like the social movement as this and I think it’s just, it leads to different opportunities and different understandings of what we need to do as organizers.

[01:05:14] I think we need more cadre type of organizations, formations, whatever you want to call it. Like to me, momentum that basically became a de facto that would do the work of what a cadre used to do in. In the communist party, right? In IDI, IWW what Left Roots has done, same thing. I feel like there’s a reason why folks who are attached to either something like a Left Roots or Momentum, like their organizations are able to survive and able to survive conflict or just differences in fundings and ups and downs different than other organizations that are just totally detached from any sort of Like training house or organizing tradition or trying to figure out different organizing tradition.

[01:05:58] So [01:06:00] I think those are the two biggest just interventions that I think we, we can do. And then I think the last one is yeah, we, and dissent just had an article on is, I think we have to rethink what we mean by organizing money, I think nowadays it’s still either or not the kind of, Elinsky reduction of you’re just organizing money just to build this organization thing or it’s organizing money as like this like you know the class version of white fragility of like where You know, you just tell rich people, give us this money because we deserve it.

[01:06:33] And it’s redistribution, which it’s just, philanthropy dollars are never redistributive. It’s it being a philanthropy is the redistribution part, which is the money goes going back to them to do what they want with, instead of being democratic control. So I think moving it from there and putting it much more in the realm of.

[01:06:50] How does this build political, strategy and organizing strategy? I don’t have all the answers on it, but I but I think people like Alinsky and [01:07:00] Delgado were right. The people who built out this thing before us in terms of how philanthropy was structured around organizing specifically, I think they were onto something about these are actually really important things around.

[01:07:11] Preconditions around money, not in terms of how many numbers you have, but like trainings, development, all that kind of stuff. And then just the last little piece is the importance of membership dues and individual donor networks is building up the organization. And that is the thing that is going to get majority of your money in or whatever.

[01:07:29] But just in terms of Folks then seeing themselves as part of the organization and be and not dues like, the 1 percent dues that, the DSAs do it. Three to 5 percent dues like Acorn used to do and, like labor does, and across and just letting go of this liberal paternalism of poor people, working class people can’t pay dues they pay dues all the time.

[01:07:48] They pay 10 percent to their church. They can and will and want to, if it’s for the right thing. And that builds like people power and working class people power in a very different way and build and I think structures of the [01:08:00] relationships and organizations in very different ways.

[01:08:02] And then the other point though was then the organizers were just workers that like your organization cannot be your political home that you have to find a political home outside of the place that you work and you also, you need to unionize. Your place, right? If you want to hold these things accountable around management around how the organization’s run, how it’s funded, folks need to unionize their place.

[01:08:22] I think there’s a place for deep professionalizing, but I think there’s a place for professionalize it along the ways that labor is described of how you should professionalize the place. And I think that’s super important if we want to work. See our way out of this, like molasses that we’re in.

[01:08:36] William Lawrence: Go ahead, Vera.

[01:08:38] Vera Parra: Yeah, I I really agree with you, Will, on the ideology piece. And I think that’s, yeah, one, one of the big flaws of Linsky and the Linsky tradition. And I think there’s, for me, there’s a relationship between being accountable doesn’t mean that you’re following whatever the interests of your members are but that it’s there’s a [01:09:00] back and forth relationship.

[01:09:01] So you are articulating the most radical pieces and also shaping and forming as you represent. And I think it’s right that role is not a. It’s not, you’re not doing it in a, you can’t totally face yourself. You actually have to be honest about that and ensure that their mechanisms of accountability to make sure that you’re doing a good job leading and articulating.

[01:09:23] And I think yeah, I think the other thing about Alinsky is that Alinsky was the model of organizing was broad based organizing, meaning you’re, and that I think is the profound liberalism is like, if we just. everybody together as opposed to understanding that there are differences and that some bases and constituencies by virtue of their position in the world are going to have a more transformative critique of what’s wrong with the world.

[01:09:53] More about the world will have to change. If you’re organizing people who are. Experiencing different [01:10:00] forms of oppression. And and so I think, yeah, we need to build working class organization and particularly black and brown immigrant working class organization, I think in this country and and need organizational vehicles that can represent those interests in particular.

[01:10:17] And yeah, I guess the other thing is, I think we can try to build, there’s like the money interests, there’s the organizational interests, and then there’s our personal individual career interests, and I think all three of those. Pose challenges to doing the kind of work we need to do. I already talked about, I think you can try to align your organizational interests such that they’re more in line with the kind of work you’re trying to do.

[01:10:44] Like for instance, making sure that you depend on member dues is a good way to try to get, try to line up your organizational interests with the, your broader political interests. But I think the other thing is like to [01:11:00] be aware and not get confused about when something is an organizational interest. And when it’s you’re like actual genuine political interest to as much as possible, talk about it and sit with attention.

[01:11:11] Cause it’s a real one. The career thing, man, I don’t know. I think careers, I think it’s bad. It’s, I don’t think it’s good ideology. I don’t think it’s good for the brain. And I think it shapes us all in different ways. And I think one of the things that I heard Mike Davis once talking about what it was like to organize in the seventies and was You could just get away with not worrying about career too much, because you could get a good paying union job, pretty much you could be guaranteed that you could get that.

[01:11:39] And I think we are just living in a different time in which things are more, they certainly feel more precarious. And so making the kinds of sacrifices that would be required to be able to do political work on a volunteer basis. To carve out as much possible time for yourself as necessary. I think all of that if we’re living in [01:12:00] a society in which there is more precarity as opposed to less, I think it’s harder to do those things.

[01:12:05] And I don’t really have a solution for that, but I think it’s like how to sustain your life in organizing. And which I think in some ways means you’re like trying to carve out some space for yourself outside of the market. I think. Doing that is hard when market pressures are, and professionalizing pressures are getting bigger and bigger in our lives and in the world.

[01:12:25] And I think that’s the reason I like just people have, when I go visit my family, I spent some time in Chile and it’s people just have so much freaking time. And so that gives people a lot more freedom. And I think that’s, it’s harder in the U. S. And that’s not to say, that’s not to erase the ways in which like communal networks and people spend time, people go to church, people put a lot of that. 

[01:12:48] William Lawrence: Yeah. Let’s let’s stop there. This has been really rich, really interesting, a lot to follow up on Farrah and Jason. I appreciate you both.

[01:12:57] Thanks so much for being here. 

[01:12:58] Vera Parra: Oh, thank you.[01:13:00] 

[01:13:07] William Lawrence: This podcast is written and hosted by me, William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh Elstro, and it is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. You can help support this show and others like it by becoming a Patreon subscriber of Convergence for as low as 2 per month at patreon. com slash convergence mag.

[01:13:26] You can find a direct link in the show notes. This has been the Hegemonicon, let’s talk again soon.

About the Host