query: leaders to organizers

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Sun Sep 28 21:36:49 CDT 2003

{ed:  Larry contributes to the conversation in this installment.]

From: Larry Yates <lamaryates at igc.org>

This whole thing requires a pretty complicated typology to really get 
it. I think a lot of organizers have much of that typology in their 
heads, but getting it on paper is a different story.  

My evolution may be helpful in showing some of this complexity. I 
have added my typology type thoughts in parenthesis.  

As a child of a professional, in 1968 I broke from my expected 
career (typical of organizers, not leaders) and became an activist 
and eventually a collective member at a local SDS office -- at a 
primitive level, I was an organizer, working mainly with high school 
students who were from my background but a few years younger. 
However, they could be expelled from high school and I couldn't. 
(leaders are personally at risk on the front lines day to day, 
organizers not in the same way). As the movement died down in 
the mid-70s, I got involved in cooperatives and then neighborhood 
work, where I was a leader (direct personal benefit -- my budget, 
my diet and my home all gained from my activism -- typical of 
leaders, whereas organizers have indirect benefits from their 

I moved from being a leader in my neighborhood to being a 
citywide leader, during the same period that I began to make a 
living with social justice related work. (Organizer acting as leader -- 
also, I was white in a majority African-American organization, also 
very common among organizers, though hopefully less so as time 
goes on. I started becoming anomalous somewhere in here)  

When the citywide organization had a staff crisis, I tried on the 
Executive Director job. Big mistake, partly because I had already 
been a leader in the group, partly because I am not a good street 
organizer. (It turns out I do much better organizing networks of 
organizers and activists.)  

All of this was definitely affected by the surrounding economic and 
political climate. Had SDS not collapsed, had there been more 
nonprofit jobs, I would probably not have detoured into being a 
leader to the same degree. (not that I regret it - on the contrary.)  

Since the rest of my story is national, it gets into some very 
different typologies, of less general interest. Except of course as 
long as we let national nonprofits act like they do, mostly with little 
interest in organizers and leaders except as cannon fodder, that will 
have direct impact on our local and state work. But that's another 
rant. (And yes, I am still looking for consulting gigs with some of 
you wonderful national organizations...)  

Larry Yates

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