Above photo: Political education session.
My license to speak about this comes from the fact I’ve been involved in organizing work since 1979 when I joined the Pan-Africanist Secretariat (Brother Oba T’Shaka for those that know) at 17 years old. In 1984, I heard Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) speak and I joined the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). I’ve been an organizer/member of the A-APRP ever since. That means decades of working with people, all types of people. I’ve worked in organizing efforts in Africa. In Europe. In the Caribbean. I’ve worked with African street organizations (what you would probably call gangs), church groups, women’s collectives. I’ve worked with students. I’ve worked with African people from every segment of society and I’ve also worked with European allies, Indigenous people, Asian allies, and Palestinian comrades. I’ve done significant work with organizations as broad as the Nation of Islam to White Women against Imperialism.
My political organizing work created the opportunity to work as a paid organizer for the labor movement which I do as well. In that work, I work with right-wing workers. Workers who have no experience interacting with African people. I’m still responsible for moving these folks. So, with all that outstanding experience, if there’s one thing I know about, it’s how to work successfully with people. I’m not saying I know everything because the more work I do, the more I realize I need to learn, but I am saying, I have at least learned some valuable lessons that some of our newer organizers would do well to pay close attention to.
Dont’s – No nos in organizing work 101:
1. Make sure you are in an organization. If not, your message is you don’t seriously believe what you are spouting because you don’t think enough of it to create a plan and work to bring it into existence.
2. Don’t criticize other people’s work. It makes you look like a hater and opens you up to questions about what you are doing (which is usually not to much if you have time and the lack of focus to criticize other people’s efforts).
3. If there is a problem with another organizer and/or organization, take that problem directly to the people involved and engage them in principled ideological struggle around the problem. DO NOT, under any circumstances, talk about people behind their backs. It will come back against you and will make you look cowardly and dishonest, the crippling ingredient for anyone attempting to become a respected organizer. Plus, principled struggle creates a stronger movement.
4. Do not permit yourself to see the struggle simply as an extension of your personal experiences. You are just a speck in this work. Remember that and carry yourself with humility at all times.
5. Do not view the struggle as the flavor of the week. Get a focus people and stick to it. If you change what you are doing every other week you send a clear message that you are not serious, about anything.
Do’s – Great things in organizing 101:
1. Make sure your organization has a dedicated study process where you can rotate facilitators, everyone is required to participate, and you have a praise/criticism process to properly assess your work.
2. Use the praise/criticism process to challenge yourself honestly around improving your weaknesses
3. Practice your writing skills by putting together articles, leaflets, etc., that address the problems you are fighting against. Getting people to read is a critical component of this struggle so help out by developing your skills while contributing relevant material.
4. Develop strong habits in your organizing work around study and work. Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. Don’t be late and don’t make excuses. If you are always consistent, the message you will be sending out is that you are serious about your work and there is an urgency to make that work happen. If you are always late and disorganized, the message you send is that you say it matters, but you really don’t believe it. A credibility problem again.
5. Lastly, base your personal behavior and your organizational work around one principle – what’s right and just. An African proverb is “even a dead fish can swim with the current.” Don’t be a dead fish.
If you heed these do’s and don’t’s you are guaranteed to be an effective and respected organizer. Everyone won’t like you because waging principled struggle, being consistent, and making things happen challenges those who desire to function without accountability, but just remember Sekou Ture’s correct statement that “if the enemy isn’t doing anything against you, you aren’t doing anything.” Do the dos and don’t do the don’ts and you will become stronger. You will also realize that all work is important and should be respected (I always know someone doesn’t know what they are talking about when they start talking about work that isn’t relevant). Even standing on a street corner with a sign saying “ORGANIZE!” is good work and anyone who does this work seriously knows that. So, take these and use them. They don’t belong to me, they belong to humanity. And make sure to share them. Good organizing to you!
Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.