For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
Working Together and Taking Care of Each Other
Working on an initiative campaign is an intense experience. The emotional and political intensity is exacerbated by the tight time-frame, which has been predetermined by an outside force. Usually anti-initiative groups form in response to an initiative which is already in the works; they see the day of the vote as the end of the campaign. If an out, direct-action, grassroots group can form way before an initiative is filed, and can plan to continue to work after the day of the vote, then all the work of that group won't be riding an a single situation. But no matter how far in advance you plan, there is no denying that a lot of work will have to be squeezed into the few months between the time when the initiative is filed and the vote. And lots of things you could never have anticipated will happen during that time.
When people work together under such pressured conditions, whether or not they also live together, they spend a lot of time with each other. The positive side of this experience, for most of us, is that it is exhilarating to be with like-minded people working for something you believe in. There can be magic in that experience. But there can also be a down side. The work can seem overwhelming, and getting everything done in time can seem like the only important thing. "Success"-winning an initiative vote-can seem like the only goal and no one will want to be blamed for a "failure." Group members can feed off of each other's pressure-the more everybody else works non-stop, the more you feel you ought to, too. It can be hard to put your foot down and take a break (even though of course you'd work more efficiently, afterwards).
Under these circumstances it is easy to forget that you are human beings whose needs do not disappear just because you're working together on a specific time based campaign. It is also easy to forget that there is more to this work than what happens on the day of the vote. As a group and as individuals working within that group, you must find ways to work collectively with a minimum of tension, and ways to take care of yourselves within and outside of the group. Paying attention to these concerns will make a huge difference in how you feel about the whole experience both while it is happening and after it is over. It can make the difference between a group falling apart or staying together.
Here are some thing you can keep in mind to make the experience more positive than negative:
1. People have different personal styles. These are not likely to change over the course of a campaign. Some people are always on time; others are always late. Some people work best under pressure; others do better with advanced planning and time. Some people are sticklers for perfection; others do things with a broad stroke. Unless a person's behavior is offensive or irresponsible, learn to live with the differences and let each person do things in a way that is comfortable for her; you can take comfort in knowing that as a group you will have many different strengths. If someone is offensive or irresponsible, talk to her about it directly rather than grumbling to someone else behind the scenes and heightening tensions by forming cliques.
2. People have varying amounts of time they can put into political work. If you expect everyone to put in the same amount of time, and expect that amount to be lots of hours per day or week, you will limit the numbers of lesbians who can be involved in the group. On the other hand, if you figure out how much time different people can put in and organize tasks and responsibilities accordingly, you can insure that most will be able to contribute to the work.
3.The LACROP model is one in which each lesbian is a part of the decision making process-each member helps determine what should be done and how. It is not a model of leaders and followers. Our approach can be very trying. It can take a lot of time to make group decisions, while there are also some decisions which have to be made quickly without lots of time for processing. And, while planning collectively is important, constant meetings don't work. They are exhausting; people stop paying attention; they take time away from other work. Try to find ways to keep meetings to a minimum without sacrificing collective decision making and communication. Figure out which kinds of decisions should be make collectively and which can be made individually. Keep each other informed of what you are doing or have done; try also to respect the judgment of group members who have put time and energy into a specific project and have independently made decisions based on that expertise. When you are attempting to reach a group decision, listen to each other. Each person should be willing to give up her individual position if it is based on her preference and not on her political or moral opposition to someone else's ideas.
4.Sometimes people want to say how things should be done but never take responsibility to make things happen. Or, they show up once in a while and want to change everything that's already been decided. The temptation to tell them off is great. But it can never hurt to listen to what someone has to say, even if they haven't been around as consistently as someone else. They may see something with fresh eyes that has the rest of you stymied. On the other hand, it is sometimes more reasonable to stick to a plan everyone has made and is happy with-especially when a deadline is near-even if a new idea is a little better. Save it and do it the next time rather than put everything into a spin. Also, while it is not always necessary for someone to do the work for an action in order for them to suggest the idea, people do have to show a willingness, in general, to take responsibility for work and to be active to some extent if others are going to be willing to accept their input.
5.Figuring out who will do what is not easy. Some people are good at certain jobs but would prefer not to do them. Few people want to be stuck doing the same thing all the time. Other people avoid certain kinds of work because they don't know how to do it, think they won't do it well, and don't want to fail. There's no easy answer to any of these conditions other than to keep them in mind when you're splitting up work. You might pair someone who knows how to do something with someone who doesn't . Or if one member of the group is particularly experienced at something-writing press releases or making flyers-she can do a workshop for everyone else. One of the exciting things about working in a grassroots organizations of lesbians is the exchange of leadership, information, and skills-especially where tasks to which women don't traditionally have access are concerned (like sawing wood for lawn signs, or taking credit for leadership and hard work. . .). Try to expand everyone's skills and try not to let anyone get stuck doing something she hates or feels uncomfortable with. Above all, make sure to share the jobs that are boring or tedious. You can flip a coin for the ones with all the fun and glamour.
6. Speaking in public is something many people are nervous about-especially women. We think we need specific expertise or have to have a certain kind of style. We're afraid no one will listen to us or we won't be able to make ourselves understood. Or we don't think what we have to say is important enough to demand someone's attention. Speaking to the media or to the public is a skill almost anyone can acquire by just doing it. Specific suggestions for practicing public speaking are discussed in Section 4B, Media. Our point here is that as activists you are entitled to make your voices heard. Encourage each other to believe that.
7. People need time and space for themselves away from a group. Allow each other that time and space without guilt or intrusion. Sleeping and eating are not luxuries if you intend to be able to keep going. Creating a schedule in which you are constantly sleep deprived, eating on the run, or surviving on junk food (unless that is your preference) will make you all irritable and tense. Respect the boundaries that people set, and don't require explanation or justification for time away.
8.Do some things that have nothing to do with the group of the campaign, individually and/or collectively. Go to a movie; have a meal together. Read the book you've been carrying around for weeks. Buy the paper and skip directly to the crossword puzzle. Take a walk. Take a hot bath. These are not extras. They are necessities in order to maintain the energy and outlook that organizing requires.
9. Split your work into attainable chunks.
Take note when you finish one specific item. With amorphous
and endless work, it's hard to tell if you're ever getting anything done.
Know that you are, but that if you keep going till midnight every day just
in case, you will definitely stop getting anything done. 10) Remember to
tell each other that you are doing good work. Sometimes we can get so focused
on what else needs to be done that we never take time out to appreciate
one another. With all of the pressure coming at us from the world outside
our groups, we need to be there for each other in this way. Inset mental
health dinner-needs to be input
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