4 Essentials To Organize For The Long Haul


Photo: jay galvin via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: jay galvin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last month I attended the New Organizing Institute’s RootsCamp. It was rejuvenating to see folks I hadn’t seen in years and those I have been working with for a while, but had never seen in person like Althea and Chris from the ReStrategizing Team of the Leading Change Network.

There were a ton of important sessions I attended, but since it is the start of the new year and the time of resolutions I thought it would be a perfect time to share about what I learned at Heather Booth’s session on “Organizing for the Long Haul.”

Heather Booth is the founding Director/current President of the Midwest Academy and a long-time activist for countless causes (e.g. financial reform, racial justice, and immigrant rights).

The heart of this session was about figuring out how to continue being an activist without “burning out” or feeling like you couldn’t emotionally/spiritually/physically/etc. maintain your contributions to the social change movement.

Heather Booth facilitated a rich discussion with tons of incredible tips and ideas, but let’s start with her main principles first.


4 ways to live in this movement for the long haul


1. Our work needs to be based in love

Anger is a part of us and shouldn’t be ignored; however, in terms of making sure we can do this work for many years we need to make sure our efforts are grounded in love for people, places, and the world around us.

In Paula X. Rojas’ article in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded she writes political involvement/movements must intertwine with “our relationships with loved ones and the larger community” in order to be “truly liberatory.”

2. Invest time in that relationship

Heather Booth noted “Time is not renewable.” Though this may seem obvious when you take time to think about it, but I know for myself I sometimes have trouble taking the time “when there is so much left to do.”

The work will get done, so I should enjoy the time I have with those I love and not worry about what “I could be working on.”

3. Think strategically about love in this work the same way we do for our campaigns

Yes! A way to apply what we love about organizing to relationships! If it’s helpful for you, the very same tools we do in our social change efforts can just as easily apply to the rest of our lives.

Heather Booth noted 2 key pieces to this concept is to have the following:

  • Have a strategic plan (e.g. goals, visions, etc.)
  • Have a strategic schedule/timeline

In particular, use these strategic plans/schedules to spend time with kids. But for me, since I don’t have any kids (except those I teach chess to) I’m going to think of how to strategically think about how I invest myself in my partner and those around me.

4. Be gentle with ourselves

One of the biggest lessons I’ve been trying to learn over the past few months. It can sometimes be dangerous to continually criticize yourself even if it is to work on “self-improvement.”

While there are times when we must also commit to changing some aspects of ourselves (e.g. because of oppressive thoughts/actions/ideas), in general we have to remember to avoid allowing “guilt to overcome.”

Heather Booth noted that one of the best ways to achieve this gentleness with ourselves is to “seek out community…They will be there for you…and you will do the same for them.”


Other key ideas to living as an activist


I noted at the beginning that Heather Booth did an excellent job drawing out the experiences of the group, so here are a few of the other ideas that resonated with me the most.



1. Be intentional about time – Every minute is precious to me so I’m increasingly trying to protect my time. This means knowing how I want to spend my time. This goes back to Heather Booth’s idea to strategize a plan/schedule for our relationships.

2. Alone time – I need time to myself to journal or think. The degree each person needs obviously varies, but the idea is the same…take time for yourself. You deserve it!

3. Require vacation time – Organizations should mandate their members take some time off and ideally should support them in this endeavor (i.e. providing funds). Whenever I take a break, even if I really really don’t want to, I know I always come back with much better energy.

4. Say no to protect time – It can be tempting for us to support everyone around us, but that limits the amount of time/energy we put into each project. Think of it this way, you’re still supporting people by letting them know what you can/cannot do at the moment. They’ll be glad to know!




These don’t quite go together as nicely, but they are extremely important!

5. Be clear about values – I know many times we are making choices about what to share about ourselves or our ideologies based on the situation. However, it’s important to have a community that you do feel comfortable sharing with and being clear about your values both for yourself, and your growth as an organizer.

6. $ matters in order to support each other – I have trouble with this one since I would rather not have to worry about money. However, right now it has to play into our thoughts of our work and relationships. Otherwise, a lack of funds may lead to other stresses. Unfortunately, remedying this idea (i.e. finding a position that pays what you need) is not easy.




7. Non-movement friends – Some folks at the workshop mentioned how energized they felt by having different conversations than they had in their work. Also, they noted that having people to talk to who weren’t embroiled in a campaign or intense planning/acting was extremely valuable.

8. Have mentors – Throughout my life I have benefited so much from people who have dedicated time and thought to supporting my journey. Even now I can think of people who make me realize my confidence is already here and I can do this whole organizing thing! Sometimes I forget, but having a mentor can be really helpful in this regard

9. Hold each other accountable for living your values – We need to be honest to each other and make sure we are truly thinking about our actions and their potential impacts. I want to be around people, and I want to be myself someone who have high expectations for each other and hold each other to our own values.

10. Partners/Family engaged in activism who can support each other – This was one of my favorite topics discussed in the workshop! The more we integrate the important people in our lives into activism, the more we learn and grow together. This doesn’t mean you’re each doing the same work, just engaged at some level together.

11. Build an intentional community of support – We cannot do this alone! Over the past 2 years I’ve moved a few times so I know how tough it can be to build this community. But luckily I keep remembering how many amazing people are in my life, even if we don’t live close to each other. It takes time to build/maintain, but this is key!

I hope these ideas were as motivating to you as they were to me! Let me know if you have other ideas, I’m always looking for more!


A Social Change Booklist

Photo: Abhi Sharma via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Abhi Sharma via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve been asked a few times about the books I’ve read that shape my thinking about social change. Everytime I think about it, I’m always amazed by how much these books influenced my own views over these past few years!

Below is my short list of my top 6 books for social change. In the comments, make sure to leave your favorite books or if you have thoughts on these books!


Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy by Rinku Sen


If you’ve been following Organizing Change, you know I’ve mentioned Rinku Sen and this book a few times (e.g. her ideas on long-lasting movements, leadership development, the importance of a values-based ideology, and organizational development).

Rinku Sen’s perspective is the perfect framework for the 21st century, as opposed to relying on the previous Alinsky-tradition. Her analysis demonstrates the need for cross-issue strategies and pushing for long-term culture change over shorter-term victories.

To me the critical message and sentence from the book is that those pushing for social change need to start “increasing our organizing among the people affected and then addressing their issues with sustained campaigns and the addition of research and media capacity.

While the book is laid out a bit more densely than something like Organizing for Social Change (described below), you will find the core skills and analysis we need to make concrete and impactful results through strategic organizing.


Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision by George Lakoff


This is a great addition to George Lakoff’s other book on values-based framing. Don’t Think of an Elephant.

This book builds on those framing discussions and really delves into how we can create a long-term and resilient strategy for creating a positive progressive future.

George Lakoff looks at effective ways to communicate our vision and values that truly represent what we believe and avoiding deceptive/poor tactics and phrasing. He also describes, and gives detailed examples for, the need for cross-issue campaigns (which he calls “Strategic Initiatives”).

It’s a short read, but packed with the essentials on how to authentically communicate for the common-good.


De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century by Elizabeth Martínez


When I first picked up this book, I had no idea how much it would fundamentally influence my efforts here on Organizing Change.

Elizabeth Martínez’s book has not got nearly the attention it deserves. This description of progressive activism and history in the 20th century highlights key movements, while at the same time offering wisdom on better strategies we can take in this century.

For example, Elizabeth Martínez notes that the aversion to incorporating spirituality in leftist circles “has opened the door wide to right-wing manipulation of spiritual hunger.” She offers as a counter, that we should be allowing room for faith and other affirmations of the heart instead of suppressing these essential parts of ourselves.

So if you’re looking to learn from past social change organizing and how we can grow/shift these efforts, then check out this incredible book!


Organizing for Social Change by Midwest Academy


This manual is perfect for understanding the fundamentals and advanced practices of organizers in any field.

The Midwest Academy’s book offers an in-depth look at tactics, meeting with decisionmakers, coalitions, recruiting, leadership development, etc.

Once I combined this book with Rinku Sen’s Stir It Up (which has a bit more analysis of intersectionality/power dynamics), I felt like I had the essential knowledge to take on any organizing situation.


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein


I wrote more in-depth about this book and its implications in my post The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism; however, I think it is critically important to understand how our organizing connects to global structures.

I know I get caught up in a few issues from time to time, but Naomi Klein demonstrates how neoliberalism is a force impacting pretty much everything.

Also, if you read this book and some of the ideas listed in my post above you’ll have a clear idea of some real steps we can take to preventing the spread of the neoliberal ideology and creating a more positive economic framework.

If you like history and detailed journalism, you’ll love this book! If not, well then maybe you can skim a few of the 720 pages!


The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex by INCITE!


INCITE!’s book on the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) was truly groundbreaking since it was one of the first attempts to gather a range of perspectives on why nonprofits (as a system) were not achieving the desired aims.

Here are a few of the main points I took away from this book:

  • Nonprofits now focus most on providing social services, not social change, because that would mean challenging those institutions in power (e.g. government, business, and foundations)
  • Activism cannot be simply “a career,” we must find ways to integrate into our lives
  • Nonprofits often siphon away activists to just become “part of the system,” instead of challenging it to change
  • Foundations and government agencies strived to use the structure of current nonprofits to create/maintain control over social movements/social change work (i.e. so grassroots movements wouldn’t get “antagonistic”/”disruptive”)

Even if you don’t work in a nonprofit, you’ll still should be acquainted with this anthology since its analysis hits on all areas of society.


2 EXTRAS!!! For community organizers!


Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing by DeFilippis, Fisher, and Shragge


A must-read if you’re involved in community organizing. It lays out some of the main faults of most community organizing (e.g. being non-ideological and resisting connecting local work to national or international efforts), while also presenting some ways for improvement (e.g. pushing for long-term social change and understanding the limits of community organizing).

While it leans toward the heavy-duty academic side, you’re definitely going to want to check out this book.


Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group by John Atlas


The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was a highly impactful anti-poverty organization and one of the most proactive groups to ever organize.

This book looks at how ACORN structured itself, the organizing practices it advocated, and the ways in which it was unprepared for deceptive opposition.

It’s going to be crucial to remember the lessons from ACORN if we’re going to develop something at an even more advanced stage.

This is my list of the social change “must-read” books. Leave a comment below of the books that you find essential!