Below is an excerpt from an article originally published in The Nation on July 28, 2022. Read the full article via the link below. Written by: Eoin Higgins
Political organizing is challenging work. You’re expected to keep up with the metrics and goals of your parent organization while convincing people, one by one, to help you push political leaders to make positive change. All the while, climate change continues, justices and Republicans strip people’s reproductive rights, and the news from Washington is relentlessly bad. It’s no wonder organizers are burning out.
Fatigue is a major challenge facing organizers around the country, according to new polling from the group re:power. The poll, conducted by researchers Sam Gass and Maya Gutierrez, surveyed 349 organizers from across the country, asking them to list short-, medium-, and long-term concerns. The poll found that burnout, low pay, and institutional barriers to seizing power make up a trifecta of issues facing organizers at all time scales.
Karundi Williams, re:power’s executive director, says the poll should be understood as a devastating critique of the state of organizing. “We’re losing organizers, period, from the movement because of burnout,” she told me. “It’s a big fundamental problem.”
Polls don’t often focus on organizers, and even less on women of color in the space, Williams said. The goal of the survey was to bring their issues to the fore so that organizations can learn how to better serve them. After gathering responses on the online survey, re:power used demographic breakdowns to isolate topics and areas of concern for women organizers of color. The disconnect between power-building work and lived experiences is contributing to the broader burnout problem, she said, and “BIPOC women and Black folks were specifically pointing to the reality that the material and conditions of their lives aren’t changing no matter how much they’re doing this work in organizing the organizing world. So that stood out to us.
Instability is not just a short-term problem among organizers. It leads to compounding problems with how political organizing works for the public and for staff. While a majority of the re:power poll’s respondents said they expected to still be in the field within six months to a year, only 32 percent believed they’d still be organizing in five years—a serious brain drain. Staff turnover presents organizers with more hurdles to overcome, leading to inconsistency both in the office and on the street. It’s hard to convince people of your mission when the faces of the movement keep changing.