On October 20th, we celebrated the birthday of our Senior Organizer, Mr. Khalid Hudson. Although we are in the thick of election season, COVID-19, and a whole host of other important issues, it is important to remember that relationships are at the core of everything we do with Together Baton Rouge.
There could be no stronger testament to the strength of these relationships than the celebration we organized for our Senior Organizer. Phillip, Abel and I came up with the idea to gather a group of leaders from our member institutions via Zoom. One member, Ms. Dorothy Thomas, exhibited her baking prowess by preparing Khalid’s favorite 7-Up cake! Despite his only being in Baton Rouge for a relatively short time, over a dozen leaders from throughout the city gathered on Zoom and expressed their gratitude for the support and guidance they’ve received from Mr. Hudson.
This raises the question – why do we focus on relationship building? When Saul Alinsky began the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and, after that, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), he was largely focused on issues-based organizing. Although he brought diverse groups together around certain community issues, once those issues were resolved, that was it. As a result, many IAF organizations dissolved after a few years once their organizers left and there was no longer a common cause to fight for. Since then, IAF organizations such as Together Baton Rouge have become much more focused on relationship building as the main avenue for achieving long-term change.
How does relationship building make for better organizing? First and foremost, it allows organizers to identify leaders – people who can continue the work once they move on to their next assignment. Secondly, it builds deeper connections that bring people together beyond any single issue. When people share their stories, their motivations, and their pain with others, it builds a powerful bond. It is relatively easy to organize people around issues, but understanding why they care about the issue is equally important. These personal stories work as a powerful tool for change. Sharing them opens up a space where others can comfortably tell their own stories, where you will often find someone, or a number of people, who are dealing with the same challenges as you. Gather these stories together, and they become captivating testimony that can be used to hold public officials accountable. It is one thing to know that an issue is hurting a community in the abstract, but entirely different to personally see and hear about the pain and frustration that the issue creates for actual people sitting across from you
On a more personal level, the relationships and the camaraderie we build through organizing provides us with energy to keep us going. Organizing is hard, slow work, and oftentimes you will face defeat far more often than victory. Without others to rely on, this burden becomes unbearable. In Social Work, we preach the idea of self-care, which is the intentional use of time to take care of oneself. This can take place through simple activities, such as taking some time away for social media, exercising, etc., but it has to be intentional. For example, sitting and watching TV passively is not self-care; although it may be relaxing, it is rarely done with the intention to take care of and better oneself. Without proper self-care, social workers, as well as organizers, can become burnt-out and ineffective.
This birthday celebration was much-needed self-care not just for Mr. Hudson, but everyone involved. Our leaders have all been putting in extra hours leading up to Election Day, so taking time out of the workweek to joke around and reminisce was the perfect way to get our minds off of things. Yet none of it would have been possible without the relationships we've built along the way.