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.