Interview with Community Movement Builder’s Organizing Director Jasmine Burnett.
I’m Jasmine with Community Movement Builders and I’m the organizing director.
How would you define “organizing”?
Organizing is the practice of bringing people into a particular project and helping them build capacity and progress towards a particular end goal. For CMB, it’s connecting with Black people in the Pittsburgh neighborhood specifically and in south Atlanta generally to work to build a liberated zone. The central point of all organizing should be figuring out how to politicize people and meet their needs and to make sure they are gaining as much from organizing experience as much as the project is. It isn’t just about getting people to contribute labor to reach that end goal, but having people be leaders in the movement themselves. We have to make work and movement as attractive as possible by meeting their needs (Liberation Programs).
What is an “organizer”?
Being an organizer is a lot about facilitating that process. There isn’t one process or methodology for being an organizer. Organizers essentially meet people, get to know what they need, and strategize ways to work collectively with them on their needs. Working-class Black people have been taken advantage of by electoral spaces. These spaces will come and ask for folks’ participation in canvassing and voting without giving anything in return. A good organizer has to figure out how to get people involved without exploiting them for their time, but also building a sense of commitment to a particular project. Organizers must have many conversations and meetings and do relatable political education to resonate with people. Organizers also provide forums for people to talk together about what they want to organize around. Last, the goal is to create several organizers and a community-wide level of engagement so that there isn’t a dependence on one or two people.
What do you think is lacking in today’s movement organizing?
There aren’t enough organizers in today’s movement. Capitalism and exploitation take away free time, so it’s challenging to get people to organize. The movement has to find ways to get people to take their free time and use it for organizing. When you meet people’s needs along the way it makes them stressed about fewer things. The Democratic Party has done a great job of absorbing many people who would otherwise organize for liberation. The Democrats have an infrastructure and they tell people they only need to come out to vote every 4 years as political expression. This doesn’t require much of people. Our liberation movements need to figure out how to make a compelling narrative and how to get people involved.
How do we ensure we are inviting to people but also maintain consistency and commitment?
Having food, transportation, childcare, and other needs met will help in that effort. We need to make sure that the burden of participation is as light as possible. People are also looking for community so it’s ok for us to create structures of discipline and accountability. When you meet people’s needs, the space is more accommodating and people are more likely to participate and accept expectations. In order for the work to be successful, we have to clearly communicate our expectations and be honest with people as to why a certain level of regular work will be necessary for victories and eventual liberation. Every four years isn’t gonna be enough.
How do we maintain accountability in our organizing spaces: interpersonal conflicts and making sure people are showing up?
To have accountability, we must have a group of people to be accountable to. Many organizations aren’t accountable to anyone because they aren’t a part of a community to hold them accountable. So in order to have accountability, you have to have people to be accountable to have a process of accountability. Any process, whether it’s restorative justice or some other form of accountability, has to be built prior to any disagreement or conflict. If it isn’t built beforehand, people may feel some sort of bias or feel like they are being pulled into something they didn’t agree with. There will always be conflict and tensions in organizing, but having a process beforehand will make getting through that conflict a lot easier.
The road of an organizer is long, and it isn’t easy. We cannot always expect short-term wins. Even if it takes 5 years for something you thought should have taken 6 months, that is a part of the journey. Anyone who wants to be an organizer must learn these lessons. Organizing isn’t for people who want easy wins, quick turnarounds, or quick solutions. Building a community doesn’t happen overnight and we have to be in it for the long haul.
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