Organizing is a Funny Thing
by Brittany Barton
I’ve been in the world of organizing for about four months now, and I am constantly awakened by the abilities that come out of me when I am in this arena.
Coming from a southern background as a woman of color, a lesbian, and the youngest member of my family, I was often put down in life. I was told that I would be that which conformed to the rest of the same system that spends so much time lessening people. My favorite was hearing that I could be a social service worker, but never was I told that I could be powerful.
I’ve noticed during this last semester of school – going through various organizing trainings, meeting with college students, having one-on-one meetings, and building a base at Loyola – that the first time I’d mention power to someone, each and every person would freeze. Power is seen as something that weakens an individual, as the means of corruption, and as the evil of all evils. Yet, when we think of important figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Saul Alinsky, Cesar Chavez, we don’t think weak, corrupt, or evil. These were everyday people acting for justice, acting powerfully for a cause, pulling people out of the pits and empowering them to be leaders of just causes, and that’s the ability to act. That’s power.
In my organizing, theoretically, I’ve created pictures in my mind of massive numbers of people walking through the doors of an important figure and putting so much tension on them that they had no choice but to change a system. I’ve envisioned impoverished families, exploited workers, members of gangs, and the wealthy community alike coming together, united around a single issue to effect change.
When I do organizing, I quickly learn that those theoretical visions are much easier than the nitty-gritty work of sitting with each person to hear a story of pain, oppression, and lack of opportunity that once occurred in an individual’s life. This work is emotional, political, freeing, energizing, and fast-paced.
I feel when I organize. I feel sympathy, empathy, anger, happiness, energized, complete, and incomplete. Ask me what I felt four years ago, and I would have had to point to a poster board displaying pictures of emotions.
In organizing, I speak these emotions. I learn when I am organizing. I am constantly learning about influential politicians, and those that aren’t so influential, I’m learning about the 99% battle against the 1% and how to politicize myself in this arena.
I work hours and days that I would never considered giving to the world of the system, the world that I once knew as social services. In the world of organizing, I am free, yet pulled in every direction, but, as tedious as this sounds, this passion gets me out of bed each morning and makes me move like I’ve never moved. It puts me in spaces so uncomfortable that I never imagined I’d ever take that step forward in life to bring myself to such a level. The challenges that I’ve encountered in the four months of organizing have transformed my life all because I was finally told that I could be powerful.