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.

radical softness**

i decided to capture some images that represent softness vs. passivity, as well as some of my own personal journey in understanding the ways in which i love and the ways in which this country hates.

distress-v10
titled: Distress in AmeriKKKa.
fire-v1
titled: ConFlagration.
neoliberalism-v-3
titled: White Feminist Neoliberalism.
revolution-v1
titled: First Wine, Then The Revolution.
weapons
titled: Our Weapons, Our Bodies.

**”radical softness” as coined by Lora Mathis with inspiration from their photo-sets; http://loramathis.com/post/140474165618/on-radical-softness

My Vision, My World

I often find myself angry at the world, angry at the barriers and obstacles that remain in the way of surviving, let alone thriving. It lights a fire in my belly, pushing me forward. Other times, it burns me from the inside out. I hold space for this anger. I let it rage, and I nurture it. The day I let go of that anger is the day I become complacent in the world the way it is today. In This Bridge Called My Back’s 1981 Preface, Cherrie Moraga speaks of “the passage.” She says, “the passage is through, not over, not by, not around, but through.” My journey to radical and transformative love and joy is through, and guided by my rage.

My mother and my loved ones wonder if I ever let myself feel joy and happiness. They can read the lines of desperation and fatigue on my face, weighing my eyes down. I wear my thoughts, my feelings, and my passions in my skin. My mother always told me that I was an empath. She saw from an early age that I felt things deeply and wholly. When a friend was in pain, my body would mirror the aches of theirs. Today, when I read of another Black boy murdered in cold blood, I feel it to my bones. Again, in This Bridge Called My Back’s 1981 Preface, they say, “A 14-year-old Black boy was shot in the head by a White cop. And, the summer is getting hotter. I hear there are some women in this town plotting a lesbian revolution. What does this mean about the boy shot in the head is what I want to know.” I am frustrated with the inability of my communities to feel and understand the urgency and the pain that is felt by those closer in relation to Blackness.

My revolution is that of transformative love, compassion, and justice. Revolution cannot and will not be reached without this collective care and understanding. In “Are All Raza Womyn Queer?”  Dr Anita quotes Gloria Anzaldua and Keating, saying, “Enemies of the past may no longer be our enemies, and the allies of the past may no longer be our allies.” Throughout my journey for community and empathy, I have found this to be painfully true. Our progress is frozen by cruelty and apathy. Even within our own affinity groups, we find problems and disappointment. Our movement shows such little care and love for each other. I understand the anger, and I understand the distrust. I exist in the anger and distrust. However, as Maxine Hong Kingston states, “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” Our movement must be able to hold multiple things to be true. Our movement must move through the anger and distrust and find compassion and care for those that are moved to the work as we are (or perhaps, not).

I know I struggle to find this compassion and care. There is not always an understanding or acceptance of all that I am in movement spaces. Holding my Whiteness with my non-Whiteness, the way in which I may be read as heterosexual and cisgender, the ways in which I hold academic privilege and more, I am often doubted in spaces, and rightfully so. However, I hold multiple things to be true. In Beverly Yuen Thompson’s writing around Bisexual and Biracial women, she states that “worlds construct me in ways that I do not even understand or I may not accept the construction as an account of myself, a construction of myself,” I have the right to take up space in an effort to heal and make change. I also have an obligation to create space for those less able to exist in the world so wholly and completely. “For although some of have traveled more easily… All of us have been victims of the invisible violation which happens indoors and inside ourselves: the self-abnegation, the silence, the constant threat of cultural obliteration,” is stated in This Bridge Called My Back’s Children Passing in The Streets (p. 3).

My revolution is transformative love and compassion. This love and compassion is conditional. It requests that we make an effort to understand and to engage in empathy for our siblings. It requests that we make space and take space when needed. It requests that we support and hold each other through the anger so that we may fall upon the joy. It requests that we hold all of these contradictions to be true. After all, the universe is large. Thus, our revolution and our hearts must be as well.

“trivial” triggers

“Triggered” has become a buzz word. I’ve heard older and more bitter populations tell us millennials to stop being sensitive or to put away our teddy bears. Even in social justice spaces, trigger warnings are undervalued, with triggers and their validity being questioned at every turn. When the general public is already so unwilling to provide content warnings, how do I explain the spiral that a song sends me into, or the sight of a brand of liquor?

How do we handle “trivial” triggers, when even our most aware populations cannot handle overarching content warnings?

A few months ago, my friend brought over an alcohol bottle, glass, and bag that he had been gifted. The moment he set it down on the counter, it’s like I was teleported back in time to the night I was raped. Present day, I feel the taste of the liquor rise up the back of crownmy throat accompanied with bile, and rest on the tip of my tongue. I can’t shake it.

I say nothing.

I do nothing in fear of being told I’m too sensitive.. I commiserate, cry a little bit in the bathroom, and move on with my life. I let myself have fun and enjoy the night. I drink a different booze and avoid the bottle’s gaze.

 

My friend forgets the cup at our house and it sits in the back of the cupboard for weeks. When I open the cabinet for my morning coffee, my heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach. I hint at its presence every time I see my roommates but I swallow down the truth.

Tonight, we were driving to a gallery showing and my neighbor puts on an old song. The day of my rape, my abuser had me listen to it. I remember him sitting at the computer desk and pulling up the YouTube video. Just like before, I am sent back into time, I am thirteen again, sitting on a couch, enamored with the older boy in front of me. Present day, I feel a strange nostalgia, that mixes a longing and a hatred, a fierce betrayal, and an emptiness. I shake myself out of it, and once again, I put on a smile and continue on with my night. I say nothing for fear of interrupting a good time, but the feelings don’t fade away. I keep Him in the back of my mind for the rest of the night.

Once HE’s invited in, He doesn’t tend to leave. If this sounds like a horror movie, it should. Rape is horrible. It is traumatizing. It stays with you. So how do I negotiate spaces in which I can’t disclose the trauma I’m experiencing, for fear of laughter or inconveniencing my loved ones? Even in safer spaces of social justice, we crack jokes at the expense of survivors like me, laughing at “trivial” triggers. We make jokes at the people triggered by foods and street signs, television shows and restaurants.

What does this do for the survivors coping with and experiencing real re-traumatization when faced with those seemingly insignificant reminders or figureheads for their rape/sexual assault?
In our safer spaces, we must expect more of our people. We must demand that a space is made and fostered with survivors in mind. For the general public, we must continue to ask to be included. We must continue to ask for the bare minimum. We must create a change in the culture and lean towards a culture of unconditional compassion and care. Until we get there, my triggers will remain “trivial.” My hurt will continue in silence. We have to open up room for real conversation and accommodation for those who have been traumatized. And we must do so without the qualifiers, jokes, or hesitation.

the painting

Last week, I went to a couples counselor with my partner. Contrary to popular belief, love and life are difficult. No one is perfect. Yada yada yada. You’ve heard it all before. I’m not here to make excuses. I’m here to tell a story.

I sat next to him on a couch that felt both made for one and miles long. While he was filling out paperwork, I looked around the small room until I saw The Painting. The Painting felt like a slap across the face and sounded like the loud laughter of every person who had passed judgment on us before. There on The Painting, was a [hetero and white] couple, embracing each other with a deep kiss underneath a red umbrella on cobblestone streets. Couples-umbrella-love-street-painting-home-decor-wall-art-canvas-art-bar-cafe-Bedroom-Living-Room

My relationship felt like the extreme opposite of whatever fairyland that painter was living in. I remembered arguments and distance, standing on the poorly paved streets of the communities that raised us that we had since left. I remembered passion, freckled with disagreement and confusion. I remembered the decision to seek counseling, as two poor millennials, who loved each other deeply but needed to love themselves more.

When I saw The Painting, I felt mad. I felt like the metaphorical slap in the face had landed and represented itself with the redness in my cheeks and the furrowing of my brows. As I signed the paperwork, dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s, I felt like my love and my life were too difficult and too complicated. I felt like the history and depth of my heart space was too much to be contained in a 6×12 room on a [ironically named] Love Seat.

Yet there I was. Trying to look past the fantasy, the idealization, and the romanticization of messy love and messy relationships. Trying to make my experience and my intimacy fit into the mold of the Happy Blonde White Woman on The Painting.

The thing is, love IS messy for me. Relationships will always be messy for me. I have so much love but the truth is, I love me the most. I am madly and deeply in love with myself, my dreams, and my happiness. I move these things to make room for others and their needs, and I am the one who suffers for it. I am messy. And that’s okay.

I’m just looking for the messy that compliments mine.

welcome back.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for leisure. It’s been even longer since I’ve written something in a state of calm.

Yet here I am typing away while listening to an evening acoustic playlist at my desk.

The last year of my life has been anything but evening acoustic and blogging for fun. It has been filled with anger, organizing, high school, and then suddenly – college and all that it entails. Navigating this transitional portion of my life has proven difficult to say the least.

I graduated high school in August 2015. I was the first of my family to finish high school, walk across that stage, and turn my tassel. It was always expected of me to be the one in the family who would graduate and “get out”, going to some Ivy League far away.

Yet here I am living down the block from my Ma and attending University of Nevada Las Vegas.

My life has changed so much in the last year. I’m no longer just the angry young organizer who let herself be defined by just that for far too long. I’ve learned so much about myself in the past year and little to none of that journey has anything to do with university.

Instead, I have found bits and pieces of myself that were buried underneath this unwavering and exhausting commitment to the “greater good” and all of the multitudes of organizations I had wedded myself to. By letting go of the little things, focusing on myself and my happiness, and learning how to say no, I have begun to build a freer and more joyous life.

I am eager to begin to share it, just as eager as I am to live it, even with all of the obstacles and the bumps along the road.

join me.