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Transformative Organizing Theory Panel

Transformative Organizing Theory PanelOrganizing Upgrade is excited to be able to share the video of one of the many exciting sessions that took place at the 2010 United States Social Forum in Detroit: Transformative Organizing Theory: Conscious Organizers Seek to Build Anti-racist, Anti-imperialist Politics Rooted in Working Class Communities of Color. Sponsored by the Labor-Community Strategy Center, this session was based on a piece by that same name written by LCSC’s Director, Eric Mann, an excerpt of which can be found here on Organizing Upgrade and which can be purchased from the Labor-Community Strategy Center here. The session opened with a presentation by Eric Mann, which was then followed by responses from five other experienced left organizers (many of whom are also Organizing Upgrade contributors): Steve Williams, from People Organized to Win Employment Rights, Ai-jen Poo from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Cindy Wiesner from Grassroots Global Justice, Ng’ethe Maina from Social Justice Leadership and Patrisse Cullors from the Labor-Community Strategy Center.  The room was packed, demonstrating how important these types of  strategic dialogues are for left organizers today.

Mann opened by presenting transformative organizing as a left model model of organizing which is “characterized by a militant opposition to racism, war, and the abuses of the U.S. Empire, strategized by a broad array of people who self-identify as revolutionary, radical, liberal, and progressive.” He argued that transformative organizing (1)  transforms the system itself and is in revolutionary opposition to the power structures of colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism in its current form, which is imperialism; (2) transforms the consciousness of people who participate in the process of building organizations, struggles, and movements; and (3)  transforms the organizers themselves as they stand up to the Right, reach out to the people, and take on the system.  Some of the panelists responses included:

AI-JEN POO (National Domestic Workers Alliance) in response to the idea that “Transformative Organizing becomes truly transformative in the heat of battle:” When I think about transformative organizing I think about change on multiple levels. There’s the change that you’re trying to make in the system, the way that it works. And you’re also trying to transform the movement to be more dynamic. And you’re trying to transform your own organization to be stronger, and then to transform yourself, to learn, grow, be better in the world, be better at what you do. And to me the best container and vehicle for these types of transformation to happen all at once in different ways is through campaigns, through fights.

PATRISSE CULLORS (Labor/Community Strategy Center) in response to the idea that “Transformative Organizing requires the leadership of society’s most exploited, oppressed, and strategically placed classes:” I grew up as a working class, queer, Black woman, in a single-parent household. My father was in and out of prison. There was addiction, him and my brother-basically my family’s life is typical of Black working class people. And that positionality in this country is supposed to devastate us. It’s supposed to make us feel like we cannot do anything, debilitate us, and unfortunately, it’s done that successfully to some of us. But what it means to be a transformative organizer is to bring this politic into our communities and explain to them that actually your experience is exactly what we need to fight this thing.

Video clips of the panel are below and on the LCSC site.  Check back over the next several weeks for a written transcript of the panel.

Since there was not enough time for all the questions raised during the workshop, LCSC will be continuing the discussion through an email list, which you can sign up for here.

Transformative Organizing Theory Panel:

PART 1: Eric Mann (Opening Presentation) & Steve Williams (Response)

PART 2: Steve Williams (Response) & Cindy Wiesner Response

PART 3: Ng’ethe Maina (Response) & Ai-Jen Poo (Response)

PARTS 4 & 5: Patrisse Cullors (Response), Eric Mann (Closing Comments) and Q&A coming soon!

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