The Questions Bulgarians Ask about Organizing

ACORN ACORN International Community Organizing
Valentina Gueorguieva introduces The Organizer at Rainbow Hub

Sofia       In a task of herculean proportion, Valentina Gueorguieva, my program fellow in community organizing, had translated the entire documentary, “The Organizer,” into Bulgarian and managed to embed the captions in perfect timing sequence into the SRT file.  Sadly, I only know the rough outline of the technical requirements that I’m describing.  A perfectionist, she was disappointed that she had not had time to finish the last three minutes that ran during the final pieces of Lucinda Williams’ great song, “The East Side of Town,” that plays in the fading minutes of the coda before the credits, so there were English subtitles there.  Amazing to witness!

And, it mattered, which made Valentina’s work worthwhile.  Though most of the more than two dozen viewers spoke English fluently, many stood or came closer to the screen in order to better appreciate the full nuance of the English translated in their native language.  It was a testament because of the seriousness of the crowd that gathered at the Rainbow Hub, an organizing and social center supporting the LGBT community in Sofia.  Besides the LGBT activists several were community organizing fellows, others were anarchists that were part of the Fabricka center, there were environmental and Roma activists, feminists who are engaged in organizing an upcoming rally, colleagues of Valentina from her university, citizen participation and anti-corruption activists, and others, including a teacher in the Teach for Bulgaria American spinoff, all of whom had come to get a better grip on ACORN and most importantly, organizing.

Bulgarian subtitles

It is always fascinating to me that the questions are almost always ostensibly about ACORN and its experience, but really about whether something similar is possible or practical in the local context, which in this case was obviously Bulgaria.  My favorite questions were once again on proud display.  There are always several that attempt to probe the nuts and bolts of how the organization was built underlining the hope in so many audiences that they might see a film that looked under the surface at the methodology.  Then there are the ones that ask how they can do this in their city or country, and I try to find them later to urge them on and follow-up.

The more difficult questions, but also ones that I have come to expect in our polarized politics and tense relationships among each other, marvel at the diversity of ACORN’s leadership, especially African-American women, and whether such a miracle might also be possible through the community organizing process in a segregated and divided community like Bulgaria, still battling traditionalism and unresolved discrimination against the Roma.  A penetrating question about the prospects for labor organization in Bulgaria and elsewhere that offered me an opportunity to continue to promote organizing informal workers clearly arose from an analysis of the weakness and conservative nature of the Bulgarian labor movement.  This was a political and activist crowd, so they were critical in their questions about the influence of foreign donors and the un-accountability of the nongovernmental organization crowd in contrast to ACORN’s membership dues base.

I knew some of the moral of “The Organizer” story had hit home when the final announcement, with a bouquet throw to the message in the film, was an “ask” for donations from the crowd to support the Rainbow Hub.  That’s progress worth the work as well.