Fairbanks has been a flourish of grassroots activity since the election. The energy is palpable. I cannot count the number of people asking, “what can I do?” There is an incredibly rooted energy that runs deep within Fairbanks between groups and individuals that have been sharing their energy and emotional capital for years, in some cases decades or generations.
I was with a good friend and longtime community organizer during the election. In my absolute shock she hugged me and asked why I was so surprised and said simply, “Our government was established on white supremacy.” It was so obvious to her that these results were more than a possibility. She had stepped out of her white optimism and was acutely aware of what was new to so many of us.
This moment was one in a series of many that has framed the world around me over the last 2.5 years. It has therefore framed how I approach my work as a community organizer. The question I pose to you is: how do you, and the community you work with, frame how you do your work?
On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, rupturing its hull and spilling nearly 11 million gallons of Prudhoe Bay crude oil into a remote, scenic, and biologically productive body of water. What would you do?
Would you travel to Puget Sound and clean off animals to provide immediate support? Would you work with policy makers to create a system in which to avoid further oil spills in the future? Would you organize community members to develop new structures and address the broader context of the spill? Would you organize friends to create targeted messaging and stand on a busy street corner to let people know the issue or blockade the street?
According to many social movement experts there are four roles to a movement. The helper, the advocate, the organizer, and the activist, (though they are labeled many different things and implement a variety of tactics). If it was hard for you choose only one role it is because you value other roles. This is because each of these roles is vital to an effective movement and our roles are not static throughout our lives or organizational history. The Northern Center, for example, lives in the organizer and advocate space, while Earthjustice lives squarely in the advocate space, and Rising Tide lives primarily in the activist space. The brilliant part of this is that we all work together, directly and indirectly, to push our shared goals forward.
While of course there are limitations and strengths to each role, when you work in coalition valuing each role is imperative to understand the right time to highlight certain roles. Each of these roles, in the world we currently live, need a dose of activism tied into their work. Business as usual tactics are not going to move us off fossil fuels just as business as usual movement tactics are not going to create the change we seek. I urge each of you to uplift other approaches and push a little in the role you normally play.
“We’re in a time when we must choose between what is right and what is easy. And remember… whatever happens, you’re never alone.” – Dumbledore