Organizing with Heart

By David “Dawud” Lee

Over the many years that I have been doing organizing work, the one thing that I have noticed to be invaluable to such efforts is the ability to connect with one another on a personal level. Whether we are engaging in fundraising efforts or doing some other essential grassroots work, we must learn to connect with each other beyond the clinical manner that so often takes place in organizational circles. Personally, organizing has always been about building lasting relationships that can lead to other things beyond the particular project that we’re working on at the time. Quite often friendships are developed that will most likely lead to us caring about each other and developing family-type connections. This is usually a result of profound degrees of honest communication taking place throughout the process of working together. Moreover, we must understand what it means to truly share power while maintaining the utmost respect for each other in the process of working to accomplish short and long-range goals.

One thing that I have found to be problematic over the years is hierarchical leadership designs because they always seem to lead to abuse of power and authority. Power-sharing relationships, that include sharing responsibility and information, are critical to the survival of any organizing efforts because this creates a natural system of checks and balances. There will always exist people with bad intentions, so it is vitally important to check such people before they have an opportunity to cause harm to other people working with them. We can witness from the current set of situations taking place around the country how power imbalances lead to abuses of power in far too many instances.  Therefore, our organizing efforts ought to be about power sharing and exploring new ways of connecting with one another, not going about the business of repeating the same types of mistakes that have been taking place for centuries. This means that we must be able to build honest relationships with the ability to teach each other the things that we need to know, and not feel ashamed of not knowing a particular thing because if we were building the proper relationships there would exist no feelings of shame for not knowing a particular thing. Organizing is about building the sort of relationships that allow us to operate as a family circle, and even strong families have disagreements, but how we deal with those disagreements is critical. We must be able to always see what is in the best interest of the collective, not the individual when it comes to group-related actions.

The best leaders are those who can see the talents that each individual possesses and who know how to utilize those talents rather than trying to make everyone into clones. The uniqueness that we all possess can strengthen us if we properly engage each other. The goal should always be to start our organizing off with respectful relationship-building possibilities. Now, this is not to suggest that we cannot accomplish goals without utilizing these perspectives, but from a personal standpoint I have always found it useful to grow relationships while engaging in the political process of organizing. Also, it is important that we keep our expectations inside of reasonable limits so as not to put too much pressure on ourselves as we go through the steps of building our movements. This means that we should have both short and long-range goals that we are continuously working to achieve and should set a time frame for achieving the short-range goals. This can help us to develop a system of evaluating progress to see if adjustments are necessary. This does not mean that we cannot build toward loftier goals as we get stronger, because we can, but we should be reasonable because it is important not to burn ourselves out early in the organizing efforts.

Some of the divisive tactics that we should definitely stay away from are those that degrade other people in an attempt to self-promote or pretending to have all the answers but knowing full well that no one person has all the answers. Hording information to make yourself look good and others bad is counterproductive; engaging in any sort of dishonesty with one another; and all forms of narcissistic behavior should be avoided like a deadly disease. Success should be shared collectively, and work should be done collectively, and if people do not understand what their roles are, they should not feel ashamed to ask questions, nor should more experienced organizers feel uncomfortable with respectfully approaching someone with less experience and giving them some critical advice. Intentions mean everything when doing this sort of work because you will automatically know if someone has bad intentions versus the person who is just trying to be helpful.

A critical part of what I am not advocating means that people must take the time to also engage in some essential areas of self-development, because if you’re not disciplined and do not possess some degree of consciousness, then the things that I am now speaking about, you will not be in a position to accomplish. We are trying to build selfless movements that can liberate us all, so we must know what we want, and how can we know what we want without first knowing who we are as human beings? No matter what racial or gender background you come from, you should understand what you’re bringing to the collective table and know how to maintain your discipline in situations where trust is required of you. Thus, character development is important in organizing because we need to be able to trust each other. If we continue to skip over these small things, we will continue to build organizations and movements on feeble foundations.

Organizing with heart is something that I consider to be germane because our building efforts are about family, community, and how to make our lives better! The heart symbolizes love, and love should always be at the core of what we are working to accomplish. Some people are only engaging in politics and economic development for personal reasons, and they have shown themselves to be working against the betterment of the collective. To organize with heart is to heal each other as we work to create a better world for us to share with one another. How in the world can we organize with heart if we allow our egos to stand in the way of our collective progress? We are not working to emulate the patterns that currently exist because we can see they have proven to undermine collective sharing and building of power, so our building should be predicated on a foundation of love and respect!