Working with the Rainbow Hub on Next Steps

Sofia       The Rainbow Hub in Sofia, Bulgaria, is a nonprofit founded several years ago by three small organizations that came together to combine their work and rent space for offices and activities, making it the center of support and advocacy for the LGBT community in the city.  After the earlier showing of “The Organizer” there, they had arranged a session on campaign training for a half-dozen of their staff and key activists.

Last November they had been a key organizer of a march on human rights for women in the face of the failure of the Parliament to approve the Istanbul Convention of the European Union.  The convention or agreement between the member countries was a straightforward condemnation of violence and domestic abuse targeting women and girls, hardly controversial it would seem, but in fact the convention has become a lightning rod in the Bulgarian culture wars.  The Bulgarian Prime Minister Minister had been diddling over the convention until his term as EU president had ended.  The Bulgarian Constitutional Court had ruled the convention unconstitutional in the country teaming Bulgaria with Slovakia as dissenters to the convention which they saw as a stalking horse for same-sex marriage and recognition of alternative genders.

The march and rally had turned out 400 and now nine organizations had come together with hopes of putting more than 1000 on the street in early March.  Though my scope was working with the team on the follow-up campaigns after the march, it was impossible to avoid discussions of the march preparation as well.  Details matter, so we ended up discussing the critical importance of lists to organizing, the need to get commitments on turnout from each partner organization, the call and outreach plan whether via phoning or contact work or social media, and more.  It became quickly evident that much of the planning was not so much deep organizing as reliance on Facebook and similar tools, which also led us to a productive dive into the importance of organizing and expanding a reliable and identifiable base for the Hub and others, rather than an amorphous advocacy program.

Embracing our base, we were then able to have fascinating strategic and tactical discussions about campaigns ranging from equal pay for women to status and pay issues for feminized professions to finding organizing handles for emergency shelters, day care, and kindergarten programs.  Some of it was slower going as they educated me on the legal regime in the country, the bureaucratic morass and impotence of regulatory and investigative commissions, and traditional cultural barriers raised frequently against all aspects of their work with women and the LGBT community.

As always, the dialogue led us down interesting paths from targeting oppositional neighborhoods with direct contact and doorknocking programs to increasing the visibility of Rainbow Hub activities.  By the end everyone seemed ready to embrace the importance of organizing and a continual program of direct and collective action, but we’ll eagerly await future reports before measuring the progress of a fascinating several hours.

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Answering the Hard Questions about Movements and Organizations

New Orleans    In Lafayette, Louisiana after the screening of the documentary, “The Organizer,” a question was phrased differently than I heard in New Orleans or Woodstock, New York, when I fielded questions after people watched the movie, but despite the sentence construction, the sentiment was much the same.  A woman asked, given the excitement and ongoing activism of the Women’s march, how to explain that despite her support and commitment, she felt uncomfortable because somehow it still fell short of the mark.  She wasn’t convinced anything would really happen or, in other words, that the results would equal the anger, solidarity, and enthusiasm of the marches and protests.  Wade, what do you think?

Gulp!   I answered in a round about and constructive way, so that I could get to the real problem that she was pointing out:  a movement is not an organization.   There is nothing like the magic of a movement.  When that lightning strikes, I run to it, not away from it.  The soaring demands for change, feet in the street, voices rising, makes the impossible probable, makes the hard to achieve winnable.

At the same time none of that happens without marrying the energy of a movement to organization.  I don’t see the impulses as competitive, but as complimentary.  The impetus for movement may be spontaneous or in modern vernacular, viral, but the work that builds the infrastructure underneath a movement, whether organizing marches, formulating demands, or making sure the buses arrive and depart on time is very much organizational.

I can’t speak to the Women’s March and the organization steering the events over the last year.  Reportedly, they are moving the energy nationally towards voter registration and mobilization and the midterm elections.  Local groups are trying to consolidate the energy into organization in some cases aligning with the national coordinators and in some cases in different ways.

A poignant story written by the gymnast and now lawyer and mother who triggered the investigation of sexual abuse of young girls and women by the Olympic team and Michigan State University doctor that led to his recent sentencing of between 40 and 175 years is a good example of this problem, as is the back-and-forth around the #MeToo moment and the efforts of Time’s Up! to scaffold an organization to the energy.  Rachel Denhollander’s story of her lonely plight and her isolation from her community when she made the charges are a story of heroism, but also underline the need for an organization to protect victims, support the fight, and make the change.  The dissonance between #MeToo victims and Time’s Up on the other hand indicates that grafting an organization on a movement moment isn’t easy, because it must be as inclusive, militant, and effective as the times demand.

It was easy for me to answer the question that organization has to follow movement, nothing about building an organization is easy though, so I in all honesty I cautioned in my answer that marching can be a lot easier than building an organization.

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