Rev. Kevin Sauls, Jonathan Smucker, Alva Martinez, Sean Burns

Mobilize. Politicize. Organize.

By: Hossein Ayazi

The panel “Mobilize. Politicize. Organize.” brought together four individuals whose experience organizing prior to and in the midst of the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency afforded them keen insight into effective strategies for political action during politically urgent times.

The panelists, Reverend Kelvin Sauls, Jonathan Smucker, Alva Martinez, and Sean Burns, were asked to address critical questions, such as: What is the value and necessity of resistance? What are its limits? How do we transform resistance into a demand for transformative, long term change? What is at risk, if we fail to do so? How can we use this moment to work towards healing longstanding divides between communities and to break down silos between issue areas? Session attendees also used the panel theme to pose other significant questions, including those related to how we can create an increasingly more inclusive “we” in organizing?

 The central questions, comments, and responses from the speakers were that we need to push ourselves to think beyond a single axis of struggle for a more inclusive “we,” and to work beyond envisioning electoral bodies and legislative measures as the means and ends of discrete struggles. More specifically, and in conversation with 40+ attendees, the panelists drew several conclusions: effective organizing, mobilizing, and politicizing is nonlinear; it requires us showing up fully to our work and sharing our own stories and personal experiences; it requires having those experiences heard and acknowledged; it requires envisioning measures beyond strictly political parties and legislative measures, while at the same time remaining in constructive tension with established bodies; and that what will help drive us through this work is faith in the future, faith in our potential, faith in one another, faith in our ancestors, faith in a higher being, and faith in our ability to transform at the intersection of multiple struggles.

 Particularly striking was the middle ground between the notion that “we shouldn’t do anything electoral, don’t engage the Democratic Party” and that of “you shouldn’t criticize the Democratic Party” posed as a means of addressing the current situation. Also of great interest was the recommended move from finding “common ground” to “higher ground”—where, at the intersection of multiple peoples, struggles, and stories, people themselves are being transformed by realizing what their privileges are and know when they need to step aside so that others can lead.

Noticing a gap in the types of difference addressed, one attendee shared their experience with multi-generational organizing, where older folks had used their experience in earlier struggles (e.g., those during the Civil Rights era) to frame the political struggle in which they were presently taking part. The result was a mis-assessment of the of the problems at hand as well as the most effective methods of addressing them. The panel responded by agreeing that it is the youth that should be leading—“we are not just the future, we are the present.”

 Ultimately, the conversation brought many different people from many different backgrounds—racial, ethnic, economic, generational, religious, and political—yet the goals were the same: to share strategies and build an effective movement against a political party and government entirely unrepresentative of the vast majority of people and their concerns, despite skillfully deploying rhetoric that suggests otherwise. There was no one takeaway, no one solution posed, but rather a conversation about how we can come together across difference.

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