Montreal Twenty of the ACORN Canada organizers gathered for the annual Year End/ Year Begin meeting. Brought low by a bad post-Kenya cold, I missed the first evening’s reports from all the offices, but I didn’t have any trouble catching up, as I listened to the panels, workshops, and reports by various organizers of the year’s progress and the exciting plans for the coming year.
Highlights were easy to find:
- At first, I was confused when I saw a chart listing KW, but that was a new office Kitchner-Waterloo that was roaring forward along with Calgary, just opened the year before. The lead organizer there led the staff in signing up new members.
- A Toronto field organizer had transitioned to communications and gave an extremely comprehensive report sorting progress on various platforms and spikes here and there, led by Hamilton, as she persistently pounded the message home that all of this would be better if more strategic and planned rather than reactive and episodic. We can look for great things in the coming year, if she has her way.
- It might seem like a simple thing, but organizing faces some of the same challenges as other enterprises, so it was real progress that all offices were staffed. There was literally an interview for the one short-handed office during the lunch break.
- Perhaps most importantly, but also underlining this trend, when the award for the office with the most turnout over the year, the winner was Toronto with over 2600 at meetings and events. Head Organizer, Judy Duncan, noted that this was a record for Toronto in the 20-year history of the organization. Now that’s something to be proud of.
The story in Toronto is actually more than that, because it underlines an important, but little discussed part of community organizing, and that’s the importance of taking the time and effort to reorganize when it’s needed. Organizing is an organic process, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that from time-to-time groups need to be revitalized. Some of the local organizations in Toronto are almost twenty years old and still active. Different waves of members and leaders come into the organization depending on the issues and campaigns and are graphed onto the members and leaders in many cases that date to the beginning of the local groups.
The organizing staff is a different matter, but not totally. Often younger, some stay with us for decades and make the work a career. Others make different life decisions at various breakpoints, 30, 40 or whenever, or come and go with life changes when parents age or children come along, occasioning life and work revisions. In Toronto over the last year, the entire staff had to be almost rebuilt from scratch with new organizers now assuming different roles in outreach, field operations, and even communications, all of which were managed masterfully by the head organizer to success. I can remember in the early years of ACORN turning to the most senior staff person after myself at a similar juncture and saying, “I’m not sure if I can keep rebuilding the entire staff over and over again.” I was wrong. That’s the job. Doing it well, that’s an accomplishment. Reorganizing is vital in organizing. Renewal is important in reaching higher levels. It’s part of the process, not a sign of failure.