This is the beginning of this piece published in full on The Forge: Organizing Strategy and Practice.
I am an old-school organizer — the outsider who knocks on the doors of strangers, creating a sense of urgency so that people will take action in their own communities. I was trained by some of the best neighborhood organizers out there, in the final years of ACORN and in the first generation at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). The outsider-organizer model fed my strengths — getting the work done — while also fulfilling my desire to remain anonymous and unseen.
Like many organizers who mastered this model, I am white, college-educated, and dedicated much of my waking hours to my political work. And, like many organizers, over the past decade I have been interrogating this outsider-organizer model. The outsider-organizer, not from the community that they are organizing, holds power by nature of their position, though this power is often hidden and unacknowledged. We talk to all of the members about the issues, tactics, strategies, interpersonal dynamics, and action planning what-ifs — giving us power to influence communities that we are not a part of. The outsider-organizer model is a piece of the white supremacy culture that many of our organizations have upheld, as white organizers shape the agenda in communities of color.
I became an organizer because I have a brother with down syndrome, and, as we both came of age, I saw the lack of available support services for him. Believing in the interconnectedness of all of our issues, I worked at multi-issue organizations. Year after year, we organized for money for all kinds of social services in our city and state budgets, but our organizing never prevented the steep cuts to services for disabled people. As an outsider-organizer, it wasn’t my place to raise my own self-interest in fighting for disability services — meaning that my own organizing work did not deliver on what I most needed....