query: hiring organizers
colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Sun Nov 5 21:18:11 CST 2000
[ed: thanks to Doug, Nathan, Marshall, and Shannah for their thoughtful
replies to Ben's query.]
From: "Doug Hess" <DHess at frac.org>
I think that many organizing networks feel that they have the model
sufficient to do A LOT more than they are doing, if only they had more
organizers. This makes sense, after all, the people, potential leaders,
issues, etc. are all there.
However, the one other thing that is not there is the money. While local
groups do an amazing job at grassroots fundraising, I bet many groups can
not keep full time organizers (or keep them from moonlighting, and we all
know that's happening) after a year or two. There needs to be away to
It maybe that community groups themselves simply are not asking foundations
for enough in terms of salaries. Do organizers even have a conception of
asking for the funding, benefits, salaries and budget for yearly additional
training that other professional groups have? Do we value organizers
enough to demand this? Promote this? Do organizers value themselves and
each other enough to ask for this?
Food Research and Action Center
Senior Policy Analyst
1875 Connecticut Ave, NW #540
Washington, DC 20009
ph. 202-986-2200 ext 3019 (NOTE CHANGE)
From: Nathan Henderson-James <caacornres at acorn.org>
I think there are a number of issues at work in the difficulty in
recruiting. One of the biggest is that while everyone knows about lawyers
and doctors and consultants and environemental engineering and whole hosts
of other professional jobs where one can "do good" no one ever enters
college or completes high school and says "I'm looking to be an organizer."
As a profession, in which one can gain a background in college or
apprentice in out of high school, organizing really doesn't exist.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Some of the major ones include the
de-emphasizing of organizing by unions, the largest consumers of such
talent; the lack of coverage of the profession by the media; the general
lack of knowledge of the various national and regional organizing networks
(for instance I didn't even know DART existed until 3 years ago); and the
basic non-existance of any large-scale coordinated recruiting programs by
any of the networks. The only people who showed up to the various career
days I attended when I was in college were canvass operations. And when
professors gave recommendations no one ever mentioned any organizing
outfits, not even unions.
All of which means we have to develop our own talent. Sure organizations
need to develop comprehensive college recruiting program that incorporate
campus visits, lectures in classrooms and the development of networks of
sympathetic professors, but in the interest of both organizing in general
and low-income people's organizations in specific, we can't rely solely on
We need to tap the resources of those we are organizing. There is much
precedence for this in the history of social justice movements. The great
wave of unionization in the 1930's wasn't accomplished on the backs of
recent college graduates. It came from people who grew up in movements or
who got involved through their workplaces, unemployed organzining, or their
involvement in various activist formations like the Communist and Socialist
Finally, we need to be committed to large-scale, well-thought-out,
tightly-run training and/or apprenticeship programs whose aim is to turn
out well-trained organizers to take the many positions opening up in groups
like ACORN, the IAF, Gamelial, and DART. The TICO program in NYC is a good,
if small scale, community-based model and the AFL-CIO's Organizing
Institute is an interesting union-based example.
I know this doesn't help Ben's immediate problems, nor does it clear up
thorny issues like who pays for all this and who reaps the benefits, but
since we are all suffering from the lack of organizers hopefully these are
suggestions we can implement for the long-term.
PS We also need to think about being on television. In a culture in which
the average person watches 4+ hours per day, if you ain't on TV, you don't
exist. What if instead of ER or LA Law, there was a show called "The
Organizers". I know it won't happen, and I'm not sure I'd like the
consequences if it did, but the power of TV to give visibility and shape
people's perceptions is real. It would help us immensely to have some
Nathan Henderson-James, Development Director
California ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)
3205 Farnam St. Oakland, CA 94601 resgeneral at acorn.org
510-436-5690 voice 510-436-6395 fax http://www.acorn.org
When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before
the white men came, an Indian said simply "Ours."
-- Vine Deloria, Jr.
From: Marshall Ganz <ganz at wjh.harvard.edu>
We seem to have had a positive experience here in Boston, especially
between my classes and Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Boston
Youth Organizing Project, and a few other groups. I think the key has been
creating a real bridge from "school to work".
The first step, from my point view, was to create courses that attract
students eager to find ways to translate their values into action. We have
three venues in which we do this: undergraduate "community action research
project" seminars in the sociology department; a semester long graduate
course on organizing at the kennedy school that draws from public policy,
divinity, and education students; and a short module on organizing that is
required of two year masters students here. They are all theory and
practice courses in that they require students to engage in real world
organizing projects, their experience of which provides the "data" for our
work together - and they require critical reflection in writing, in
presentations, and in discussion - as well as reading.
The second step has been internships, but internships under the supervision
of people on the "same page" -- former students, teaching fellows, or
other organizers committed to providing support for students eager to
learn and who see them as possible recruits for the field, if not for
their particular organizing project. In this regard, our collaboration
with the IAF here has been especially productive in that it has provided a
real world venue in which numerous students have been given an opportunity
to see what it really feels like to work with others to make things happen
-- not as an individual volunteer providing personal service but as an
apprentice organizer engaged with others in acting to solve problems.
There are many groups out there that claim to want student interns, but
few are prepared to give them the support they need to take some real
responsibility and become productive at it. It has been particularly
difficult to find good union placements, although I think institutionally
labor has a vital interest here.
A third step has been a number of part-time or temporary arrangements that
have made it possible for students, upon graduation, to move right into a
work environment where, again, they will have the mentoring they need to
have a fair chance of success -- often, also, in community with peers who
are facing similar life choices, challenges, etc. By the way, this refers
both to recent college graduates and to older graduates of professional
schools such as KSG or HDS. Reflecting on my own experience, one reason I
was drawn into organizing was the excellence of the early mentors I had
both in SNCC and with the UFW. Contrary to myth, many of us were not just
"thrown out there in the ocean and told to swim".
Finally, these part-time arrangements have begun morphing into full time
jobs - at least for some. And those in them have formed a loose network
among themselves to support each others work, consider new opportunities,
and so forth. Also, former students have also begun to organize their
own organizing classes at other educational instituions in the area, in
various religious venues, and so forth.
I don't think the problem is a lack of motivated young people. I think,
rather, the problem is the failure of institutions who should have an
interest in their recruitment, training, and development creating the kinds
of bridges from school to work that they can find their way across.
From: "Shannah Kurland" <shannah_k at hotmail.com>
I'm very concerned about the assumption these comments seem to carry
that the primary place where organizers come from is colleges or
universities. Sure, sometimes that happens. But my experience
recruiting, hiring, training and developing dozens of organizers and
interns over the past several years from colleges, from our membership,
and from various other places, is that colleges haven't been and will
never be our richest pool of organizing talent.
To generalize from that experience, I've seen a few advantages to student
recruits (more experience writing and reading analytically, better work
management skills, and often more life mobility) and an equal or greater
number of potential disadvantages including less familiarity with the
issues, a tendency to analyze situations and people according to
artificial academic formula, and sometimes a difficulty recognizing or
accepting the many forms that wisdom comes in.
I am by no means knocking the value of a college education - when a
person with organizing instinct and drive has the opportunity to receive
it, it can greatly enhance skills and analysis. My point is that you're
shooting yourself in the foot if you treat the college campus as your
primary recruiting territory. Worse still, the effects of racism and
capitalism in this society mean that the pool of college students you
would be choosing from is disproportionately white and privileged. I'm
guessing that none of us want to replicate those demographics among the
One last observation - it's a little idealistic to asume that organizing
jobs carry "relatively good salary and benefits, and a respectful,
energizing environment." When $22,000 is a common starting salary
across the country, what does that mean for someone with a family to
support? That's below the living wage standards that many of us fight
for. And as exciting as it is to be able to combine your work with your
passion and beliefs, it's not a great thing for a single mother of two
to work 60 hours a week on a regular basis, or for anyone with health
conditions to feel the stress that comes from working in our
underesourced, underfunded organizations.
I'm not trying to be negative; there is plenty of good news to report.
At DARE we've been blessed with an incredible team of talented,
dedicated people drawn from the membership, local high schools, and yes,
a few college students. The National Organizers Alliance has done
wonders for the field by creating an employer-paid pension program.
Programs like MAAP and TICO have institutionalized opportunities for
leaders to try out the transition into organizing as a career. I'm just
suggesting that building a pool of organizers is both easier and harder
than simply scouring the colleges like a Wall Street recruiting firm.
DARE Direct Action for Rights and Equality
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