Community organizers do far more than just organize protests. "We seldom
actually win a thing off of those," says Richard Winslow. He heads the Michigan
office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. "We believe
more in finding an issue that people are concerned about and winning a victory,
not just squawking about it."
Community organizers rally groups and resources around issues. The issues
could be large ones like globalization and homelessness, or small ones like
playground safety. Organizers knock on doors to canvass for money, new members
and signatures of support. They lobby politicians, appear in the media and
organize events to raise awareness.
They work for parties and political action groups, community groups, non-governmental
organizations and even government itself. This can create a dilemma for community
organizers because that relationship may limit their choice of actions.
The job has no specific physical requirements. And it is open to those
who suffer from physical disabilities, says Winslow. "I have an organizer
who is blind."
But good physical stamina helps for a number of reasons. For one, community
organizers may have to walk long distances during rallies, or when they are
canvassing for support and money. Another reason is the fact that working
hours vary significantly. Evening and weekend work are the norm.
"This is not a [9-to-5] job," says Winslow. "This is something you do 24
hours a day."
In October 1996, Margaret Hancock co-organized the Metro Days of Action.
It was a two-day protest against social spending cuts by the government.
She and her staff began planning in the spring. And as the rally drew near,
the hours grew longer. "In [the] months of September and October, it was flat
out from early in the morning until 10 in the evening, or whenever an organizational
meeting was over," she says.
Community organizers tend to work in areas and neighborhoods with questionable
reputations. That means they must also be safety-conscious.
"We don't go out into la-la land," says Winslow. "We are going into the
worst neighborhoods, where people need to get organized the most."
Community organizers also encounter the risk of physical harm during rallies.
The anti-WTO protest in Seattle in 1999 showed how quickly a peaceful protest
might swing the other way. Another job hazard community organizers must face
during rallies or other events is the possibility of arrest, which may lead
to a criminal record.
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