Category Archives: Organizing

Talking Organizing in Atlanta

New Orleans  Having not flown in months, I was curious what was up in the airways.  My 6:15 AM on a Saturday to Atlanta was the first flight out of New Orleans.  That was already strange.  It used to be one of many.  Where was the 5:28 AM to Houston?  The 6:00 AM to Chicago?  The early flight to New York?  Nowhere, that’s where.  The next surprise was that everything went faster.  I was the only one in the TSA-PRE line.  They screen for temperatures at the gym, but not on the airlines.  Better have a cup of coffee at home, because there was nothing open anywhere in the airport.  Not leaving at least.  Only Chili’s coming back.  It was a ghost town.  On Delta, zones were on the boarding pass, but the boarding was by rows, back to front.  Bringing back the old school, and I liked it.  When the bell rang on landing, I jumped up.  I was surprised that everyone ahead of me kept sitting down.  Social distancing, I guess?

But that was all about what’s up in the air, the real takeaway from Atlanta in my meeting with folks about organizing there, is the on-the-ground benefit of being in the same room in a different city taking part in the valuable cross fertilization of ideas that comes from face-to-face-mask-to-mask conversations.   I’ll give you a couple of examples to prove the point.

  • Talking about the long lines in Georgia polling stations and the similar problems around the country in Louisville, Milwaukee, and elsewhere, a constant refrain in the excuses of election authorities is that the reduced number of manual polling sites was because they didn’t have the poll staff willing to work. Anyone who has ever voted has seen the crew at the polling stations.  This is like the waiting room of a Social Security office.  The ones without gray hair are political cronies making an extra day’s wage complete with donuts for breakfast and fried chicken for lunch.  Talking to my colleagues and new friends in Atlanta, here was an idea for a quick campaign:  an organization should mass file names of “volunteers” willing to be trained to handle the polls in November so there would be a full force.  Who could turn that down?  In states trying to run from the mail ballot, it matters that we have as many open polling locations as possible!
  • In cities like Atlanta and Memphis where the rent amnesty is ending July 31st, local activists are predicting a tsunami of evictions. In New York City on July 1st for example they are expecting 50-60,000.  In these cities the new big landlords are connected at the hip to huge Wall Street private equity companies, so it’s a twofer.  In the wave of resistance now, how about a mass protest and campaign to block the landlords from filing to evict that puts pressure on courts and civil sheriffs to refuse to process evictions?  Supplemental unemployment will still be good, so the troops are out there.  Given the massive support of grassroots donors this day for new activism, it might even hit a cord and raise some money.
  • Training? People are suddenly desperate for a way to up skill for this moment!

See what I mean?  The back and forth of listening, discussion, and synthesis is not something that the Hollywood Squares of Zoom is best at handling.  As hard as it always is, and as virtually impossible as it is now, there’s a reason that organizers have to travel to get closer to people who want to make things happen and help them along.  Atlanta was calling, and it was hard not to pick up the phone.  We’re open for business again!

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Campaigning in the Time of Covid-19

Atlanta     Every six months or so in recent years we have been pulling together community, labor, and political organizers, mostly in Europe and the United Kingdom, to share perspectives and organizing experiences.  Until the pandemic, we had met several times in Amsterdam.  Now we convened on Zoom with fewer people in a more compressed time frame.  None of this building informal relationships and partnerships.  Now it was “just the facts, ma’am.”  These dialogues had tried on various names, but for now we called it The Organizing Factory.

There was discussion of the importance and impact of the Black Lives Matter movement which was engaging.  In a nice surprise some of organizers had backgrounds behind their faces on the Zoom screens congratulating ACORN on its 50th anniversary.  Nick Ballard and Kat Wright reported on their success and growth in the UK during the pandemic where we have won stays of eviction for tenants while adding seven branches in new cities and growing by 6 to 7% over recent months at a faster clip than before the shutdown.  I knew those situations well, so I took the most notes on two campaigns in the Netherlands, one at Schiphol Airport by the union, FNV, and the other designed to block rent increases, engaged by various chapters of the Socialist Party in the Netherlands.

Every year the government and the real estate industry in Holland get together to determine the level of rent increases throughout the country.  Shrewdly, the SP, rather than tackling evictions or rent debt as ACORN has been doing, moved to block any increases in rent in a 0% increase campaign. The large, activist chapter in Groningen in the northeastern part of the country presented their efforts which had helped lead the campaign.  There had been extensive social media and contact work in the effort during the shutdown, but there had also been actions on the city council.  Everyone appreciated their props in the campaign.  One was a bouncy house for children, common at US big time birthday parties, with SP colors and logo, that they had rolled out in 50 cities.  They hadn’t won yet, but most organizers would judge that in this economy and pandemic time, their odds are good.

Running a campaign to organize airport workers at a time when travel is the exception rather than the rule, airports seem empty, and planes are ghost ships, would seem a hard slog, but the FNV organizers had managed it well.  They had developed a tight plan and realistic metrics allowing them to measure their progress step by step on a timeline.  Sharing the results, they had blown through all the goals except for one meeting.  They had made more than 1000 contacts and gotten information from a high percentage.  They had done a car caravan action at the airport with over 100 cars.  Their membership goal had been 100 new members over the first three months, and, impressively, hey had enrolled 235.

Lot of lessons to learn, but for organizers it isn’t a widget factory but a high-speed laboratory producing power by proving where there is a will, there is always a way.

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