Friday Dec 01

NORTHERN LIGHT - Organizing to the Music

As I age, the references I make to music while training organizers are recognized less and less. I still use them though. The young staff not knowing the song or band, and then asking about it, can force them to think about the lesson even more. More so, I use them because I enjoy the references myself. They brighten my day. Some of that self-care I’ve been hearing so much about.

A lyric from The Smiths' song "Ask" frequently comes to mind when doing field organizer training. “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you like to”.  It’s sung by Morrissey overtop of Johnny Marr’s guitar playing that always carried the band.

I do know Morrisey turned out to be a bit of a fascist. Regardless, my point remains true: door knocking is not the time to be shy, and shyness will stop you from being the organizer that you want to.

Some people are introverted but can talk effectively when there is a need for it. The shyness I am referring to is akin to politeness: the desire to not interfere or cause conflict. Of course, that is a problem that needs to be confronted by a trainer when talking to young organizers who are afflicted by it. We are teaching people to talk and think like an organizer, which is something that rarely occurs naturally. We train people how they can be charming and a bit forceful at the same time. To be an effective organizer you need to do just that.

My brother used to be really into the Rollins Band, led by the former lead singer of Black Flag. My brother would jump on the back of our living room couch and flip off of it yelling the main lyric - “Don’t talk about it.  Do it!! Don’t think about it. Do it!” - while blaring the "Do It" cassette tape from his ghetto-blaster. I laughed then and I laugh now at the ridiculousness of my brother and the simplicity of the lyrics.

In organizing, simple is good and hesitation is a killer.

For a field organizer, the first door is the hardest one to knock on. The organizers need to drag themselves from the bus stop to the door and knock on that first one. Once the door opens, the conversation will happen and it becomes easy. Don’t think about it, do it! 

For a head organizer, there is no such thing as a bad action. A campaign needs action to survive. If you go big and fail, so be it. Most of the time if you do go big without hesitation - like set a date, time, location and rent a bus - you will be forced to follow the systems we have in place to make the action a success. Don’t think about it, do it! 

My other brother had a Public Enemy Welcome to the Terrordome: Apocalypse 91 poster on his wall. Chuck D preached Black power from the mic while Flava Flav was the hype-man. Everyone who knows PE would choose Chuck over Flav. It’s not a contest. Yet, I tell organizers that they need to learn how to be a hype-man like Flavor Flav while at the door talking to people. 

Organizers don’t lead conversations in doors by talking a lot. Successful organizers lead a conversation by encouraging others to think and act collectively in real time. As flawed a person as Flavor Flav is, he was incredibly adept at listening to the beats and rhymes and jumping in at exactly the right moment to get the crowd, and the group itself, hyped. 

When Flavor Flav yelled “Yeaaaahh Boooiii” after a powerful Chuck D rhyme, it encouraged more powerful rhymes and a louder beat, not for Chuck and Terminator X to stop the song and listen to Flavor. Good field organizers do something very similar when door knocking by adding quick interjections into their raps. Exactly! Now we’re talking! Right on!! These positive interjections invite people to keep talking and open up more about their vision for making change and building collective power. By doing so the organizer is helping the person to talk themselves into joining the organisation without taking the conversation over.  

I have more references and organizer tips but I will save them for the new organizer I just hired. I hope the guy is ready to rock!

JOHN ANDERSON is the Field Director for ACORN Canada. Since 2004 John has helped to develop the ACORN Canada operations in Toronto, Ontario, and British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg.