By Daniel Mackintosh
Organising is a hard job. It often involves some unsocial hours (evening meetings), campaigns that don’t go to plan, struggles to recruit and retain member organisations, tough conversations, many hours of training and coaching and making mistakes.
And yet, it is the most rewarding job I have ever done.
This blog is to share why a few different broad-based organisers love their work, because we would like to encourage new people to see organising as a viable and exciting career.
If this piece piques your interest, come and check out what organising is all about.
Frida Gustafsson (25 years old, Swedish, she/her, organising in Brighton and Hove)
I organise because, as a young and hardworking woman I am constantly told to be less. To sound less, to take less initiative, to be less aggressive – to listen to those above me, and get in line. I’ve always struggled with hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake – my teachers will attest to this – and especially so when it keeps people restricted, kept back, silenced. But in organising I’m never asked to be less – in fact, I walk into rooms and people expect me to be more than I think I am. Someone who dares to take action, stand in the way of injustice, and inspire others to lead. I love that challenge – how it challenges me to be more.
We also get to stir pots, light little fires, and see what happens. Organising is frustrating at times – it is about relationships and people, and as a result nothing we do is clear and linear. A lot of what we do doesn’t end up in fantastic campaigns. But some it does – and we never know which pots and flames will turn into fires. I enjoy the unknowability of our work – and the pleasure in creating little mischiefs and agitations to see what justice and leadership might come out of it.
Finally, I often get disheartened looking at the news. But my colleagues and leaders I work with remind me that the world is filled with people who look out for each other and our communities. People who get up in the morning because we believe we can together make the world just a little bit better – and in getting up we make it so. If just my little patch of land in Brighton has this many courageous, kind, and hard-working leaders – then the rest of the world must be teaming with them. And if the world is filled with kind, courageous and hard-working leaders then there truly is hope for something better.
Paulina Tamborrel (28 years old, Mexican, she/her, organising in South London)
I love being an organiser because we are professional story gatherers; we basically go around our alliances prompting, discovering and celebrating stories. And we get to do it over coffee with wonderful people – how can you top that?
We get to walk with people in the journey from pain to power; I still remember the light bulb moment of 14 year girls when they realised their experience of violence and harassment made them experts and a force of nature if they found the courage to organise around it.
Organising celebrates people; it cherishes and highlights the experiences, the hopes and the anxieties of leaders – and along the way we get to celebrate ourselves as well; we get to share our stories, be hopeful and learn non-stop.
And lastly, we get to widen our world and connect with people we would’ve never done otherwise.
Alistair Rooms (26 years old, British, He/Him, Organising in Newham – East London)
I love organising because it is about journeying with people. Being with them when the going gets tough and the rubber hits the road, we walk alongside people and support. Being an organiser is a bit like being a midwife, we come along and we support people to create new life and do something amazing but it’s not without pain. As midwives, we have done it before, we know a few things about how to do it (the craft), we support people when the going gets tough and ensure there are other people there to do the same, family, friends etc. But the work and the pain is not ours, they must do the work. It is not always easy and sometimes can be emotional and difficult but afterwards new life is born and people can be truly transformed.
Paulo Frere talks about this in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed talking about the role of the educator being to ask the right questions because people are smart. I think organising and good training is a lot like this because it values people, the people I grew up knowing who were often dismissed. John Mcknight is someone who challenged me to think about people’s gifts. In his book he talks about the fact when working in communities people start with the problems, the issues, poverty, poor housing, immigration issues. We don’t start there: we start with people and their gifts. We sit down with people find their gifts and what they want to achieve in organising and walk alongside them to do it.
We also get to see the superheroes of organisations who run their school on tiny budgets with hundreds of volunteers, hold their faith organisation together with a few committed individuals or run their charity with two full time staff but change thousands of people’s lives. So often I see people who make the impossible possible, give hope to people they come across and achieve incredible things as institutional leaders. They then go home see their families and earn an average salary, these people are heroes and this work allows us to see the depth of who someone really is and see them in this way.
Lastly, I get to see my own flaws – the parts of myself that I don’t like. The good and the bad. This work forces me to question myself and asks me to be vulnerable and clear about my own human failings and the parts of myself I need to work on. Other work doesn’t do this, it challenges us to go under our own skin and really get to know ourselves.
Daniel Mackintosh (35 years old, South African, he/him, organising in West London)
I love organising because, as a Jewish migrant from South Africa, it gives me a chance to create ‘shleimut’, ‘wholeness’: from the Hebrew root word for ‘Shalom’ (peace). This is the first job I have ever had where I can bring my whole self as a Jewish person – my commitment to Judaism and building God’s partnership with human beings to create a decent world, and my secular commitment to an egalitarian society.
Organising has also taught me to be more courageous, to learn how to ‘stiffen my spine’ by working with othres. I am NOT a naturally courageous person, which means I have allowed injust to happen because I would prefer to keep the peace. But organising has taught me that tension is often needed for a just outcome. Building organising habits, which include a gut instinct towards action, has meant I have done things I that would have terrified me: like intervening between drunk men to stop a fight on a train or being the first mover to build deeper relationships with the neighbours on my council estate.
When I was younger, I hurt a number of people by being completely self-involved. But organising is constantly about trying to ensure I take up increasingly small amounts of space as an organiser, so that leaders, who are directly affected by a variety of issues, once they have been trained and supported in the organising method, are at the forefront of their own struggles.
I also love institutions. Yes, they can be irritating, but I owe my own development to institutions and people who invested in me (my school, my Jewish Socialist youth movement, The University of Cape Town, the synagogue I am building in Willesden Green). This is how I get to pay it forward.
Finally, it is possible to earn a fair living and build a simple life. I used to think that working in social justice meant living just above the breadline, but organising is a highly skilled profession, and as a Senior Organiser with 6.5 years’ experience, I earn similarly to the early point scales of a Lead Practitioner Teacher in London.