For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
Whether you are organizing in your own neighborhood, another neighborhood, your entire town, or one nearby, you'll need to recruit other people with whom to work. This chapter will discuss recruitment into your core group. For us, a core group means dykes who more or less agree with each other on basic strategies and goals, meet regularly, and plan actions. They don't do all the work of the group themselves, but they take responsibility for seeing that it gets done.
In Coeur d'Alene (pop. 28,000), four dykes started a new Avengers chapter.
In Sandpoint (pop. 5,000), a youth group was formed to address lesbian/gay issues, and 30 people showed up for a snowy street theater demonstration.
Following are some tips and guidelines we have found useful for recruiting to your core group. Many of these points focus on how to find dykes, what to say once you've found them, and how to get and keep them involved once you've met them. We assume we are writing to a lesbian audience. However, whatever your background, personal identity, or political affiliations, we're sure you can use creativity to apply these suggestions to your own situation.
1. Learn when to trust your stereotypes and when to throw them out the window.
Whenever we thought someone might be a lesbian, we went up and talked to her to find out. We were almost always right. In Lewiston, Idaho, two members of LACROP were hanging out in a local straight bar when they noticed two butch-looking women sitting at another table. They introduced themselves and started a casual conversation. These two lesbians showed up for the Lewiston literature drop a few weeks later and next thing we knew, they had helped found Lewiston's first lesbian and gay organization.
While stereotypes can be marvelously helpful,they can sometimes throw us off track. If we rely exclusively on narrow, over-represented stereotypes of how a dyke looks and what a dyke does, we can miss the fierce proud dyke right under our collective oblivious nose. Don't necessarily ignore the femme-looking lesbian barmaid at your local straight club. Remember also that dykes in different cultures and geographical communities may have different styles and ways of recognizing each other and may therefore be overlooked by organizers from a different region, culture or community group.
2. Brainstorm about where to find dykes, and go there.
Lesbian/gay bars are one obvious starting point in the search for dykes, if you've got them. In many areas, there is a social division between "activist dykes" and "bar dykes." Setting up literature tables, actively canvassing bargoers to see if they're registered to vote, or just shooting some pool to get to know people can help bridge such a gap. If there is no lesbian/gay bar in your area, find out if dykes travel to the nearest one on weekends. We've found that in many rural areas, lesbians will travel a great distance to go to a dyke bar now and then-it might be worth your drive.
The Oregon Rural Organizing Project has had great success finding lesbians in domestic violence shelters. Many small towns have them, and they're usually full of progressives plus a high percentage of lesbians. In northern Idaho, we didn't have the opportunity to check this out (there was one domestic violence center in the entire 300-mile area), so we had to come up with other hot-spots. Some social service and political organizations are likely to include dykes who are already active to some extent, such as AIDS organizations, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapters, and unions.
Case your local bookstores, coffee shops, seed and grain stores, bars, Unitarian and Quaker churches, women's centers, universities, the streets, fairs, carnivals, malls-you get the picture. In Idaho we hung out in food co-ops and political meetings, scoured the yellow pages for likely-sounding businesses (it's not as hard as it sounds-woman-owned and progressive businesses will start to jump out at you), flyered the hell out of girls dormitories at local colleges, talked to organizers on the Nez Perce and Coeur d'Alene reservations, and just hung out for hours on the streets and in the bars of small towns.
In Lewiston, Idaho, a teenage fag took us into a theater rehearsal of the local high school, where we discovered several more young fags and invited them to a pizza party. Our newest recruits started by showing up at the pizza party, then came to the Lewiston literature drop.
3. Ask supportive straight people.
Even closeted dykes often come out to the supportive straight people in their lives. Anti-homophobic straights are sometimes easier to find than lesbians and gay men-especially if they're politically involved and outspoken about gay and lesbian rights. If they're straight they have nothing to lose, while some queers feel too vulnerable to be outspoken. In one rural county of Idaho, we had the name of a straight married couple who had been active against homophobia. Although they were hesitant about helping the Avengers, they agreed to have a visit with two of us. We had coffee in their house and camped out on their lawn. Just as the sun was rising and we were about to go home empty-handed, we heard a knock on our camper door. We were presented with a piece of paper with the name and number of a lesbian in a tiny mining town nearby (they had called her first to get her permission). We called immediately and made a date for lunch.
4. Use the lesbian grapevine. When you find a group of lesbians or even just one, get phone numbers of friends and ex-girlfriends. Find the networks-political and social groups, house parties, businesses, women's music scenes, and women's land. The vast majority of people we've worked with have been found through these types of grapevines.
his is your big chance: you get to walk up to as many women you want and you don't have to worry about saying something stupid. You have an idea, a passion, a concern for yourself and for others, so you spread the word about what's going on and what this girl can do to help. Your intelligence will overwhelm her, your inspiration will energize her; women will be giving you their phone numbers left and right. Whew!
It actually can and will happen that way some of the time. But some days, perhaps the first ten women you speak with will not share your enthusiasm. Just remember: dyke activists are out there and we're waiting for your call. Don't be discouraged by the women you don't convince. Relish the ones you do.
There are several approaches LACROP has used in recruiting dykes for political action. One way is to be explicit about why you're there right from the beginning. This is a good approach if you're giving a talk to a group of people. We've asked many groups and institutions if we can speak at their events-not just other lesbian/gay groups, but labor, anti-racist, and grassroots community-building organizations, as well as technical schools and community and four-year colleges.
When we plan a presentation, we think about how we can make our projects sound exciting to the group. We've learned to avoid the common activist trap of throwing guilt trips at people. Nothing turns folks off faster than threats like, "Everyone needs to participate in the phone tree this weekend, or we're not going to win the vote!" No matter how important your project is, if it sounds like drudgery nobody will come. Have options. Offer invitations like: "We're having a literature drop this weekend, and then a pizza party afterward. You're welcome to come to either. . . ." The Palouse Lesbian Avengers and LACROP held a "dance in" at a local straight club in Moscow to which many young dykes and fags came, some from the university group and some without specific group affiliations; after they came dancing many showed up on our doorstep the next morning to join the canvass. And they kept coming back, trying out whatever project needed help at the moment. It's not politically immoral to sell your work-oriented events by having something fun to go along with them. Remember that you're trying to get people involved for the long term; if you can get them to a pizza party now, they may come to a literature drop the next time.
An alternative to up-front recruiting is an indirect approach. This involves introducing yourself casually, trying to bring people into the activist community rather than getting them immediately signed up for a specific task. Walk up to someone who might be a dyke, or call a number someone's given to you. Say anything to get a conversation going. Talk about corny lesbian movies. Talk about corny straight movies. Make a date. In one town, we called up a woman we had heard of, said we wanted to meet more lesbians in the town, and asked her out for coffee. We say we're with the Lesbian Avengers somewhere early in the conversation, but not as if it's the only thing that matters in the world.
Throwing social events (which can double as fundraising parties) is a great way to make personal connections. We had a house-warming party when we first arrived in Moscow. Dozens of local dykes and fags came, the majority of whom we had never met, and many who had never even met each other. Everyone there had a chance to meet new people, and we kept a guest register (aka mailing list, phone tree, or little-black-book) by the door. The names and numbers we gathered at that party were an invaluabe resource as the campaign progressed.
1. Get over yourself. The possibilities for coming across like a patronizing jerk are endless. You may be talking to someone who doesn't know about your project specifically, but who has tons of activist experience and has just been taking a break. You may be talking to someone involved in a different political group from your own. You may be talking to someone who's been following activist politics (maybe even your own activist politics) for years and has developed arguments on a variety of issues. Don't assume anything. Don't say things like "Have you ever wanted to be an activist? Have you ever heard of direct action? Have you ever considered coming out?" Remember that every dyke you meet will have valuable knowledge and experience that you don't have-whether it's about the area or culture she lives in, her own activist history and ideology, or her life as a lesbian in a context different from your own.
If you are not from the geographical area you're organizing in, don't make seemingly harmless, well-intentioned jokes about the town/state/neighborhood you're in, even if the people who live there do. It's not a good way to break the ice. We believe that concerned and genuine activists have the right to go to-and will be welcomed in-different geographical communities. But acceptance within them is not something to be taken lightly.
2. Pay attention to other people's passions, not your own. Find out and seriously consider what ideas people have for political organizing. Figure out what excites people before you try to excite them. If someone's not comfortable dancing in the streets, tell her about your phone tree or door-to-door literature drop. If she's bored silly with mainstream politics, propose the dance-in. Come up with a wide variety of ideas to offer which fit in with what the other person is bringing up. As always, it's helpful if you have several diverse projects going on at the same time-like a visibility direct action, a door-to-door canvassing effort, and a weekly radio show.
3. Make friends. Don't think that the first few times you talk to a dyke you've worked hard to meet that you need to immediately talk about politics. One of the biggest reasons people get involved is because they're excited by the prospect of an activist community. Someone may have been waiting for something like your project and the community it generates. Spend some time getting to know her and maybe she'll eventually just ask to come along to a meeting or show up at an action.
5. Expect tons of setbacks. People will be hesitant. The majority will never get involved at all or will get involved in a different group. Some will get involved, change their minds, stop coming, and maybe even later they will come back. Some will agree to come out by attending an event or an action, and then not show up. Be patient, and let each organizer come out of the closet or get involved at her own pace. Remember that for every one dyke you help mobilize, there will be many others who can't or don't want to get involved. It's worth the effort.
It's also important to remember that once people do get involved, they will have different amounts of time and energy that they are willing or able to focus on the group. If groups or individuals start demanding 100% of everyone's energy, they will end up losing valuable part-time activists and burning everybody else out.
All these strategies shuld eventually get you enough dykes for a core group.
Then it's time to start meeting and to build momentum. This is an exciting
but delicate time for a budding activist group. To keep your core group
intact through this strenuous time will require you to be able to resolve
conflict constructively and take care of one other.
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