For Stressed Out Organizers: Asking The Right Questions

For Stressed Out Organizers: Asking The Right Questions
At the DePaul University encampment in Chicago, students demand freedom for Palestine. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

In this moment of mass mobilization and widespread repression, it’s important for organizers to reflect on what we are building together and what leadership means to us. I wanted to share some questions from the Let This Radicalize You workbook that I think could be useful to activists and organizers who are steeped in struggle right now. Mariame Kaba and I created the workbook to accompany our book because we recognize that while Let This Radicalize You is full of lessons from seasoned organizers that we hope will aid you in your journeys, having space for your own thought work around movement issues is also crucial.  

As young people hold their ground in student-led encampments and practice other forms of resistance, I know that organizers are grappling with tough questions. I highly recommend checking out the workbook, which was designed to help you think and imagine your way through times such as these. You can order a hard copy of the workbook or get a free PDF copy here.

Self-Reflections for Organizers/Leadership Inquiry: 

Good leaders are accountable to a community. This list of questions Kelly created can serve as a tool for organizers to check-in with themselves about whether they are practicing accountable leadership.1. Who am I accountable to?

2. What community consents to my leadership when I assume it?

3. How do those interactions function?

4. Am I sure the people I'm accountable to have a traversable path to intervention/interruption/dialogue, when they feel differently than I do?

5. Who helps me reel myself in when I assume harmful attitudes, or replicate structural oppressions, internally or externally?

6. Who do I turn to for counsel/support in holding myself accountable when I have caused harm?

7. Do I acknowledge that we all both experience and cause harm?

8. Do I believe that mass movements are grounded in relationships, and if so, am I working to build those relationships, or simply attempting to enforce ideas?

It’s always helpful to think about our work in a broader context too. Mariame participated in a mutual aid workshop that was organized by the Highlander Center on May 14, 2020. This was a couple of weeks before George Floyd was killed by a cop. It was interesting to reflect together on the questions below because just a few short weeks later our social context would drastically shift. This underscores the importance of consistently assessing how our movements are doing. Think about our current movement context. How would you respond to the questions below:

How do you describe the “new normal?”

What have we [activists/organizers] built in this moment?

  • Infrastructure
  • Non-material infrastructure
  • Relationships
  • New ways of meeting people

What are the threats/crises?

  • New
  • Existing
  • Foreseeable 

Where should we maintain our work? What should we move forward with?

Where should we build/invest/create for the next crisis?

What is our story?


Final Thoughts

I hope you found those excerpts generative. If you are looking for a group activity at a protest site, perhaps circling up and asking some of the above questions together might be useful. 

I developed my leadership inquiry exercise many years ago, for my own use, long before I ever thought to share it with others, because I found myself taking on leadership roles more often than I had ever expected. I needed a tool to help me check in with myself, to make sure my actions were in alignment with my values, and that I was staying accountable to other people rather than getting wrapped up in my own ideas or bogged down by black-and-white thinking. We don’t always know what the moment will demand of us, but a willingness to be accountable to a larger group can keep us grounded amid shifting conditions. I hope the questions in this newsletter can help you orient yourselves a bit in this time of crisis and dissent. This is a time for collective thought work. To build together, we must learn together.

Mariame and I have been deeply touched by photos of encampment libraries that have included copies of Let This Radicalize You. It means so much to know that our words might be meaningful to people who are participating in the current struggle. We know that many of you are being vilified in a manner that we discuss in the book–that you are being defamed and mischaracterized for your efforts to disrupt genocidal violence. Many of you have been accused of violence for defending the sanctity of life. Such propaganda should be expected in these times, but the inevitability of these assaults does not make them any easier to bear. 

I want to say that I see you. I know that you are uplifting the truth in the face of vilification, repression, and threats against your future. I know that you have weighed your sacrifices against the atrocities people are suffering in Palestine and that you have chosen to act in the name of love, life, and decency. I want you to know that I am proud of you and that I believe in you. I and many others are here to support you and build with you, in this moment and beyond, as we demand freedom for Palestine and a just world for us all.

I would like to say more to students engaged in campus organizing right now. You can expect those thoughts in a couple of days, as I am still formulating them.

On a personal note, my medical leave is officially over, but I am still weary and struggling a bit. I am doing my best to pace myself as I return to my day job and to the work of organizing. I hope you all appreciated the book excerpts from AK Press that I published while I was away. I found them deeply enriching and I am so grateful that I was able to share them with you all. Taking a break amid so much tumult and tragedy was not easy, as I constantly felt the urge to do something. I had to steadily remind myself that we do not work for our movements. We constitute our movements. To be strong for our movements, I needed to heal. So, I forced myself to take some time. Now, I am back, but not yet moving at full speed. Still, I am grateful to be in a position to contribute again, whatever that might look like.

If you were hoping for a must-read list today, I apologize. I hope to post one next Friday. For now, please take care of yourselves and protect each other, as much as you can in these times. Our solidarity is our strength, so let’s be strong together.

Much love,


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