A POLITICAL ORGANIZER’S GUIDE TO IDENTIFYING RED FLAGS

It’s true– no organization or community is perfect. But some can get downright toxic if you let some things slide. Here is a small but comprehensive list of certain dynamics that may be bringing your group down:

1) When there’s one person in your group who’s so loud and commandeering, that nobody wants to call them on it. Especially not when they’re wrong.

Sure, you might be more outspoken than the rest of your buds. (I know I am.) But there’s a problem when there’s a person so authoritative, that people become too intimidated to question them or amend anything they say. Some say it’s because they don’t want to cause any rifts, others say they’re afraid of getting yelled at (or worse). This is done more out of fear than respect. When one person always has the floor and calls the shots, it sets an unhealthy dynamic in a group. Regardless of your organizing principles, whether you elect leaders or work without official hierarchies, your group should always work on being more collaborative. It’s always important to check in with everyone about the balance of power. If someone’s talking a lot, take the initiative and invite other, more wallflower-type members to step up and share. If you are the loud one in the group, you could even be unintentionally intimidating others. Take a step back, and listen. If a person gets upset or defensive when asked to step back, set aside 15 minutes at the end of a meeting or an event so the group can collectively work on balancing discussions and responsibilities. Emphasize that it’s not about “fixing” this individual, but about working more collaboratively. That’s why it’s a group/organization– not So-And-So and Their Band of Lemmings. 

 

2) When everybody loves offering ideas, but nobody wants to sit down and do the work.

I’ve been there, and maybe you’ve been there too. You stay up late at night, maybe by yourself, or alongside a couple other poor unfortunate souls. The other 20 people in your club have decided to do Some Big Spectacular Event– and yet they haven’t shown up to help write the presentation or reserve a space for the event! This is bad news, bears. You may be enabling slack-tivists who might love the image of your group, but hate doing the work. And yet, there could be a few causes for this that have nothing to do with laziness: are you sure the entire group is invested in the issue at hand? Did people agree to work on this event, or was it a couple of Loudmouthed Lauras who decided to take it up? How does your group decide on projects?

3) When the ratio of white people to people of color in a group is severely skewed. Also applies to groups where men outnumber women, straight people outnumber queer people, when cis people outnumber trans or genderqueer people. 

Different issues are just going to attract different groups of people at different rates. However, if you’re in a group that organizes around gender issues, and all the people in this group are straight, white and cisgender women? Then you have a problem. While there is no single formulaic way to do outreach, take stock of whom your group seeks to help out, and who your group speaks for. Be really honest. Who comes to all of your events? Where are your events usually located? Are there other groups who reach communities that you and your group do not? Get in touch with other groups, find some common ground, and partner up with them on something cool like a protest or a fundraiser. Who knows? If you do a good job, you not only have good contacts, but you’re building solidarity across cultures.

4) When a group’s idea of “diversity” means finding a single member of a marginalized community– and using that person’s presence in high-visibility events, pressuring them to speak for all of “their people,” and then ditching them when they critique the group. 

I think we really need to nix the idea of “diversity” and invest in better representation of marginalized groups and their interests. When people in your group are more concerned about preserving the group’s identity than working to help people, especially the members of their own group, you really have to question their motives. “Diversity” only pertains to appearances, but it doesn’t really speak to the issues of other communities. Having a quota like “we need [number] people of color” in order to appear inclusive is just plain poseurdom, and it’s really objectifying to those of us who come from marginalized communities. Not just that, but it’s exhausting for us! Stop that. A better way to go about it, is to take Suggestion #1 and LISTEN to these members of your group. Find out what their needs are and where they could see improvement. And hey, if you happen to be the “token” in your group, please speak up. Let them know if it’s stressing you out, and you need them to do better. Maybe try Suggestion #3. If Suggestion #3 doesn’t work out, and they continue to fall back on you for social justice points: just leave! Do some research, use social media as your guide to find a group that’s geared more towards your interests. 

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