New Orleans       In responding to questions and answers after the documentary, “The Organizer,” very few questions have stumped me, but some have.  I no longer remember where I was asked this particular question, perhaps in one of the English cities, but it could have easily been elsewhere, an earnest young woman asked me, “What do you do for self-care?”  I found myself tongue-tied for a minute at the unfamiliarity of the question.  I somewhat understood the words, “self-care,” but as I searched my brain for an appropriate answer, I recognized that this was definitely not my area of expertise.

I found myself finally answering that I had stopped smoking 25 years ago, though in all frankness I had to credit a deal I had made with my daughter about her not sucking her thumb in exchange for that promise, and that despite her following through on her part almost immediately, I had had to ask her for several extensions before I succeeded in living up to my part of the bargain.  People in the audience laughed, and I escaped to another query, but surely it was obvious that this was nowhere in the top 20 or maybe even top 50 items on my list of priorities in supervising organizers and other staff in the almost 50 years in which that has been part of my job.

I have never believed in burnout.  I’ve seen people lose their way in the work.  Certainly, people find the work is not for them or that they can’t see the victory at the end of the endless tunnel of struggle.  I’ve seen people adjust their views of their lives of course, but in our community of organizers, I’m not sure I know of a case of burnout or have ever witnessed such a thing, despite the fact that people talk about it incessantly.  Of course, we also talked about work-life balance.  We shooed people out of the office late at night many times.  We had a personal days policy that allowed us to give people a day or two off after a long stretch in an organizing drive or a campaign where they might have worked endless days and hours without a break, but we always argued, or at least I argued, that we “worked until the job was done,” whether that meant a short day or a long one.  It was my job to make sure that the work got done.  It was their job to make their decisions and live their lives when the work was over.  We didn’t meddle much in self-care in any institutional way aside from basic schedules and benefits.

Too often the questions that knock on the door of “self-care” are really embedded in the hope that the questioner can find a rational to do less, making the question more an excuse than about good personal habits.  Not drinking, quitting smoking, realizing that daily exercise is critical to maintaining an ability to do the work and manage the hours, laying off of donuts for breakfast and counting the cups of coffee during the day, having a family, and maintaining love and the loves of your life, going to bed before 1030, and waking up early all add up to self-care in my world.  This is a list of what I do, but not what I say that others must do.  We can’t be in loco parentis.  We have to respect peoples’ own personal decisions as long as they make the measure in the work.

The one item that I do recommend is doing the work within the structure of an organization and a community, because it is impossible to do the work alone.  That’s not just good organizing, but the most important ingredient in self-care in my experience.


Please enjoy Rita Coolidge’s Doing Fine Without You.

Thanks to KABF.



Independent Political Action is Blooming in Columbus and Ohio

organizer screening at the historic Drexel

Columbus     Ohio has been a battleground state for a number of elections, even though it went solidly red in 2016 for Trump and seems southern with a Republican governor and legislature.  Visiting with people in the state capitol, Columbus, as well as spending time in Youngstown, Cleveland and Cincinnati, it is clear that there is a concerted grassroots fight to resist the red tide and turn Ohio around again.

I had met Amy Harkins one of the organizers of Yes, We Can Columbus at the screening of “The Organizer” and heard briefly about the effort and its attempt to elect members of the local school board and city council.  As luck would have it, I met later with Amy and some of the team after they participated in the local version of the March for Our Lives to learn more about the organization.  Like so many, they had founded the effort in the wake of the 2016 election both in reaction to the Trump victory and the inadequate response of established leadership of the local Democratic party and its electeds.  Assembling a group of up to 300 volunteers committed to the campaign, they have constructed an activist base sufficient to poll well in their inaugural efforts when they presented their slate to the voters in local elections.   Their success moved them to form alliances with other organizations in Ohio as well as nationally where they became an affiliate of the Working Families Party and a partner of the Bernie Sanders follow through organization, Our Revolution.

excitement over Nuts & Bolts in Columbus

Most of our conversation about the future concerned the chances to put an initiative on the ballot to change the at-large district governance system in the city to a district form or a combination of district and at-large seats that would give citizens of Columbus a stronger and clearer voice in local affairs.  We talked about the nuts and bolts of such efforts since ACORN has waged several successful fights along these lines including in Little Rock over the years.  In Columbus only 8000 valid voter’s signatures would be required with a full year to gather them, which should be within the capacity of Yes, We Can Columbus itself, but the organization wisely wants to also help build a larger coalition dedicated to progressive political action in the area.  Worth watching for sure!

interviewing and video at WGRN with Bob Fitrakis

Talking to Bob Fitrakis and Suzanne Patzer it was also clear that the Greens are something more than the color of grass in Columbus and Ohio as well and are regularly putting up a slate of candidates, including Bob himself who polled 35,000 votes in a losing race to become the prosecuting attorney.   One of his law partners is running for Governor as well.  Never say never in Ohio because not only is Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and most recently the first director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on the federal level, running for governor as well, but so is former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

All of this anger and activity will move the needle in Ohio, so we need to all stay tuned and support these initiatives and experiments.