The Problem With Paid Organizing; A Young Person’s Perspective

In my freshman year of college, I was pegged for an organizing position with an election campaign here in my state. I interviewed and was told that I would need to drop out of college in order to secure my position.

A few months later, I saw another position open with the intention to do organizing on campus. Again, it was a full time position with little flexibility provided to those actually attending classes on campus.

I have constantly sought out organizing positions that pay, even if just a small stipend or occasional gift card. My heart and my passion lies in this work, and the organizations around me know that.

I’m often called upon to share my story of self, speak on panels, travel to present workshops, organize protests and press conferences, and reach out to my networks on the drop of a dime. When I turn around to ask for a paid position so I can remain present in the work, *crickets*.

What constantly amazes me about the ways in which the Non-Profit Industrial Complex works, is that no matter how progressive of an organization, labor is always exploited. Specifically, the labor of young people is always exploited and stolen.

When I have asked for positions and been honest with my search, responses like, you just have to be 21, or we can’t possibly accommodate a class schedule, or we just need to have someone full-time, are often the first things I hear. They always say, it’s not that there aren’t jobs, it’s just there aren’t jobs that work for you.

This is simply untrue. If an organization that prides themselves on progressive values, promoting equity and justice, fair pay and employer accommodations, cannot follow through and adhere to their own values, then the work they are doing is not truly liberatory.

The fact is, as Amber Phillips, a dope Black Feminist says, “Young people have got the juice.” Young people historically have led these movements. They have done the work, they have carried the heavy load, they have handled the harassment, and they have powered through the exhaustion.

Meanwhile, organizations say, “You must have a degree if you want a job in organizing, so go to college,” and then respond with, “Drop out of college if you want a job in organizing because we won’t support your development and personal growth unless we’re exploiting your labor.”

This is an ass-backwards way of thinking. If there are passionate young organizers out here doing the work, it is the non profit organizations (NPO) job to find the money to pay them for their time and their labor. It is the NPO’s job to ensure that these young people are not missing meals so that they can remain committed to the work. It is the NPO’s job to stay true to their mission of supporting an equitable world by employing through equitable practices. Find the money. Create the positions. Accommodate the organizers.

These are the same organizations that are constantly asking, “How do we address burnout and retention?”
Start by adjusting your hiring practices.


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