Organizing one-on-one is essential, but what is organizing one-on-one?

Organizing one-on-one works, but what is one-on-one organizing? In fact, what is a one-on-one? A one-on-one is a conversation that one person schedules with one other person in an organizing context. 30 minutes to an hour, in the other person’s home, a coffee shop, etc. The Midwest Academy defines six parts of a one-on-one:

  1. Be Prepared: Think about what you know about the person, run through the next five steps. Take some notes. Call/text to confirm–getting stood up sucks.
  1. Legitimize Yourself: A one-on-one flips the script. After some casual conversation, set the tone that this isn’t just two people hanging out.

If you don’t know them: “Thank you so much for taking time today. As I said on the phone, I’m Anne and I’ve lived in Louisville since 2013 working with faith congregations. Recently, I’ve been meeting with folks to talk about our personal experiences with healthcare, especially with all the changes coming. I had a great talk with [mutual friend] Donna last week, and she suggested I talk to you because you’ve been a nurse. I’d love to hear about how you decided to become a nurse!”

If you know them: “I know this is different from our usual thing, but I was really shaken up by the election, especially with my health and the healthcare changes coming. So I’m talking to friends like you who are affected, too, about what’s going on and what we’re doing next. So, how are you holding up?”

  1. Listen: “Draw people out, identify their self-interest, clarify their concerns, establish rapport. If you are whizzing along telling your story, you won’t be able to do any of this.” –Midwest Academy.

Ask why questions, ask for stories, share of yourself (⅓ sharing, ⅔ listening). Pay attention to what motivates them: their “self-interest.” Here are four categories of self-interest:

“I want,” what they want/don’t want for a good quality of life: “I have 60K in student loans.” “My mom has Alzheimer’s and it’s been hard.” “I don’t feel safe when I walk home at night.”

“I believe,” a value that drives them: “Everyone deserves a second chance.” “God calls me to love my neighbor.” (Ask: Where does that belief come from?)

“I am/want to be,” an identity: “I’m a leader,” “I’m someone people can count on” (You may infer this. If they told 8 stories about their kids, is being a parent is an important identity? Yep!)

“I love/respect,” a key relationship: family, a group, a role model

  1. Agitate: Many people won’t describe their feelings about a sick parent as anger. But should they feel angry if their parent lives in a nursing home with crappy facilities because the good facilities cost too much? Yes! Here’s your job:
    1. Connect those self-interests, the way they want the world to be: (I want to be debt-free, I want everyone to have a second-chance, I want to be independent, I want my kids to be okay)
    2. …with all the things in the world that purposely make that hard: (student loan companies, the prison system, not getting paid enough, unsafe schools, etc.)
  1. Get a Commitment: So, here’s what we’ve learned:
    1. We want things.
    2. Systems are set up to make getting those things hard, and we’re angry about that.
    3. What now? Let’s go home feeling fatalistic! Nope.

This is the moment of hope! “This problem is real. It hurts both of us. So we’re going to solve it. Here’s the first step: are you in?” Join a committee, come to an action, get together Saturday to plan next steps. (Have an ask in mind ahead of time!)

  1. Follow-Up: Call them, remind them about the next thing, check in on how they’re doing. Encouraging people to share their pain, connecting it to a giant system of exploitation, promising them that you’ll fight together to end it, and never calling back is a shitty thing to do.

That’s the outline. Getting good means practicing. I have a great job that makes me do 10 a week and I still have surface-level one-on-ones. I still chicken out on asks. But I’m way better than I used to be. So here’s my advice: pick 5 interesting people and do a one-on-one with them, and go from there.

There is nothing in the one-on-one outline about privilege. White people, men, cis people, etc. have privilege. But organizing around privilege is lower-hanging fruit organizing. If we help a white person recognize the extent of their privilege, they will feel guilt that may push them out the door to a protest, or to their checkbook, to the verses in Scripture about feeding the hungry. All of these actions are good.

Real higher-hanging fruit organizing pushes people who already see themselves as privileged to see themselves as harmed. This works whether they articulate privilege by saying “I benefit from the harmful forces of white supremacy,” “I’m #blessed,” “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps,” or “I am white and proud.”

It starts with agitation! What do you want your life to look like; what systems are stopping you right now? A bad healthcare system? A culture that teaches you to be afraid of people of color all the time? The privilege conversation doesn’t allow room to say what you want. Only when you do that do you recognize how comparatively little you give up when you check your privilege and enter into movement work.

To have good relationships with Black leaders here in Louisville, I have to give up some privileges that I really like, like dominating meetings and bossing people around. But that’s peanuts compared to what I gain: relationships that reflect my values and who I want to be–a friend and support, not a white lady on the bus clutching her purse.

If acknowledging privilege pushes us to read the world differently, good agitation pushes us to imagine the world anew: to envision what we, individually and collectively, want our lives to look like. It doesn’t encourage guilt. It doesn’t encourage racism and scapegoating. It encourages anger: anger at systems, not people of color.

Guilt fades, anger doesn’t. Here’s how to get to anger: admit that you want your life to be different. Admit that you want your mother not to have Alzheimer’s. Admit that you want to feel more when you walk into church on Sunday. Admit that you want respect. Look hard at what system stands in your way. Start there.

(Photo Credit: Resilience Circles)

From Louisville and beyond, organizing one-on-one is essential


Organizing one-on-one – a conversation that one person schedules with one other person in an organizing context – works, but, as Mariame Kaba says, if you’re preaching organizing, show the receipts from when it worked. So here goes:

Receipt #1: Last week, I had a 1-1 with a white leader to talk about my organization’s new healthcare issue. First, I asked her about what privilege she had related to healthcare, and she had this eloquent statement about having good insurance because of having education and a job with good benefits, “but so many aren’t so lucky.” All 100% true, all coming from a 100% good place. 0% new information.

I wasn’t going to motivate her to step up more based on something she already knew: I needed to push her to see herself in a new way. So after the privilege thing, I asked how she is harmed by our healthcare system, and she had no idea what to say. No idea. I will not tell the details of this 1-1 to respect her privacy, but here’s the spoiler: she is harmed. She is a victim of a crappy healthcare system just like the rest of us. But it was hard for her to say that, because no one likes seeing themselves as a victim.

I have tried this on myself, family, friends, and other organizers. All of us easily talked about the advantages we’ve had, and all of us tried every trick in the book to get out of telling stories about when we felt like a victim, when we feel scared and angry and hopeless.

NO SHIT. Who likes talking about when you were a victim? I like talking about when I’m awesome and productive and #blessed. Isn’t it just easier for us white people to let the people of color do the work of being victims and send them a check?

Receipt #2: Last year in Louisville, we started challenging people in 1-1s about their own stories around affordable housing, not just how sad homelessness is. That was work. At first, no one – black or white – wanted to talk about their housing problems: embarrassing stuff about their adult kids living in their basements, affording assisted living, crime in the neighborhoods that they had lived in their whole lives.

As of today, we’ve collected 500 stories about affordable housing from across the county. All of a sudden, if you had an adult kid in your basement, you knew a dozen other people who did, too. So that experience of telling your story wasn’t one of complacent privilege, and it wasn’t one of embarrassment. It was one of anger: at a city who would let an affordable housing crisis spiral this far out of control.

We told those stories, over and over again, at our congregations, to our public officials, to the media, and we won $2.5 million for our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. And we’re going back this year for $10 million annually, because our people – black and white – were in no way satisfied with $2.5 million. They had too much skin in the game.


(Editor’s note: With this, Anne joins other organizers to launch a series on organizing by organizers, where we will collect and share organizing and organizers’ experiences as well as skills. In her next intervention, Anne will explain what exactly a one-on-one is. If you want to share your experiences as an organizer or explain a key organizing skill, contact Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Center for Community Change)

Calling On White People to Organize Other White People

For many white folks the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States elicited shock, disbelief, confusion, and outrage. Conspicuously missing was the realization that the impossible had long been possible and that many of us either weren’t aware of or didn’t want to acknowledge that. For many waking up in a Trump America, it was never in doubt as to whether or not the seemingly impossible was possible. The country was founded on stolen land and genocide, whose system was designed from the start to protect the interests of the wealthy, landed, slave-owning white males who created it; centuries later that system continues working as planned. Deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States are biases, prejudices, rationalities and tools of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They were here long before the 2016 election, and won’t be addressed by voting in a new administration. So, where do we go from here?

With the holidays upon us, many articles are suggesting how to avoid the ‘difficult’ conversations with family members at the dinner table, how to sidestep `those’ issues. What we need now is not a guide on how to sidestep conversations, but rather a path for engagement. The answer lies in organizing.

Bob Zellner, son and grandson of members of the Ku Klux Klan, recently shared his experience organizing for civil rights deep in Mississippi in the 1960s. When he and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were told, “You can’t organize in Mississippi,” they replied, “Okay, that’s where we’re going, we’re going to Mississippi, because yes we can organize there and we’ve got to take this terror of lynching away from the enemy. We’re not afraid, we know that we may die, but we’re going to go ahead and do it anyway.” Using a model of organizing he was taught by Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, Zellner recounts, “So we were working with [Ms. Hamer], and she says to us, ‘Well a lot of these people you have to work with them on a material basis: They need a job, and they need their kids to be taken care of. And so whatever they feel about race, that’s secondary to whatever they need.’ We extrapolated that to, if people need a good union, a good strong union, they’re going to have to work Black and white together to get that.”

This isn’t new, and doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. Organizers have long been implementing strategies to organize in spaces that are often written off as impossible to reach or too entrenched in their ways. Having a strategy, being able to actively listen, drawing connections between shared experiences, speaking to matters of material needs, and allowing others to engage critically with what you’re discussing rather than turning the conversation into a tirade or a lecture can plant a seed. Instead of responding, particularly in anger, delegating the response back to the person you’re speaking with can allow them to articulate their positions – maybe for the first time – and reflect. Challenge them to see how their story connects on a broader scale with stories from communities of color and other marginalized communities.

A key point of differentiation to focus on then is, how do you benefit? For instance, white neighborhoods get better public services, more affordable housing and less segregation could threaten that. Are you willing to give that up for your vision – of more affordable housing, quality education, healthcare, or whatever the issue may be? We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know that our communities need to be radically different than they are at present and that much work needs doing. In the era of the endless election cycle, it can be hard to break free of the idea that a candidate for elected office will be able to deliver sustained and meaningful change for a community. More than ever, we need to be affirming that movements for justice and dignity are not leaderless, but as Barbara Ransby says, leader-full and that we are the vanguard of change we seek for our futures.

Mariame Kaba, an organizer, educator, and writer whose work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development writes, “I really am 100% in favor of white people stretching their hands out in love & solidarity with their white cousins. Please go to it. What you should not expect is for me to do this? It makes no sense. A Black Muslim woman traipsing to West Virginia to organize white folks there is bonkers. It doesn’t make sense at all. White folks, yes.”

Building these relationships is most effective when done on a local level, addressing something issue-specific, and where a relationship is preexisting. While the work of engaging white people on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, and so much more can be mentally exhausting, emotionally damaging, and physically perilous, white folks are in a unique position to leverage the privileges and powers that we have been the beneficiaries of under white supremacy to engage with the difficult work of organizing our own communities. If it’s a starting point you need, look to your own community, be it municipal, familial, faith communities, student organizations, coworkers, or other forms of association.

This is a call to engagement, not disengagement; to strategic action; and most importantly, to organizing. Begin educating yourself and those in your community on the building blocks of organizing. Attend trainings – and if there aren’t trainings available where you live, collaborate to bring them there. White folks, we need to be doing the hard work of organizing our families, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers – regardless of who won in November – the work has always been there, and continues to call us to do it.


(Photo Credit: Kairos Center)

Feminism and Love: We Shift

“The act of ‘falling in love’ can serve as a ‘conduit’ or impetus for the action necessary to challenge oppression.”
-Chela Sandoval, paraphrasd by Maythee Rojas

As borders are not separated from all of us who construct them, the cracks in the borders do not merely take off a weight so that we can breathe more easily. When we see each other in new ways, we, too, shift: our convictions are tested, our lived experiences are re-interpreted, and we are confronted by the fear and promise of transformation.

To talk about the borders is to talk about fear. To talk about responsibility or liberation or love is to talk about fear. Even in the supremely brave act of love, we fear that every word can be misinterpreted, every action misguided, every relationship threatened by the realities of our bordered lives.

Thus, we must respond to this fear in “the language of lovers [,which] can puncture through the everyday narratives that tie us to social time and space.” We can write the borders in the language of our own stories. We can challenge the borders out of responsibility to and love for one another. And we, ourselves, can shift.

The language of love represents a radical change from the language of the everyday, for it challenges the comfort of our abstract principles, the familiarity of our homes, and the constancy of our very selves. It throws us into relationships that force us to confront our privilege and our prejudice, our fears and our doubts. It calls us to “de- and re-center,” to be transformed by one another, to find a home amid all manner of shifts.

To create a home in our bordered world is to live each day with the inescapable realities of separation and oppression and to be called every day to common struggle. Our feminist struggle is not common in the sense that the oppression we face or the liberation we envision is the same. It is common through our dedication, first and foremost, to one other.

After a night at Occupy Wall Street, Manissa McCleave Maharawal “biked home over the Brooklyn Bridge and I somehow felt like the world was, just maybe, at least in that moment, mine, as well as everyone dear to me and everyone who needed and wanted more from the world. I somehow felt like maybe the world could be all of ours.”

Love imagines that possibility; that the world does not belong to an intangible universal but is home to all of us, sharing our stories, challenging our borders, and bravely committed to the responsibility and the joy of loving one another.


(Photo Credit: Racialicious)

Feminism and Love: Borders Shift

“Each one of us here is a link”
Audre Lorde

Filled with love, our greatest tool is the ability to look across the border, acknowledging its existence, and into the eyes of another person. I ask you to teach me what the border means for you; I will teach you what the border means for me, and we will, together, recognize how we are linked across and beyond it. In that moment, the border begins to shift.

This is love; more than sympathy, more than compassion, more than solidarity, this is responsibility to another individual. This is the “slow, attentive mind-changing (on both sides), ethical singularity that deserves the name love,” a commitment to see, understand, and change the world—and ourselves— together.

To be a feminist is to be attentive. To be a feminist is to change one’s mind. To be a feminist is to be responsible to one another, to listen and to question, to learn and to teach, to criticize and to celebrate. To be a feminist is to refuse the comfort of our own borders and to struggle together to make the borders shift.

Such responsibility can be painful, exhausting, and can seem hopeless. Manissa McCleave Maharawal from Occupy Wall Street writes, in response to the first draft of the Declaration of Occupation:

“Let me tell you what it feels like to stand in front of a white man and explain privilege to him. It hurts. It makes you tired. Sometimes it makes you want to cry. Sometimes it is exhilarating. Every single time it is hard. Every single time I get angry that I have to do this, that this is my job, that this shouldn’t be my job. Every single time I am proud of myself that I’ve been able to say these things because I used to not be able to and because some days I just don’t want to.”

We, too, are called to talk about privilege, starting with our own. We are called to argue and to question, even when it hurts. And we are called to love so fiercely that we keep trying.

“No matter how hopeless that undertaking might seem,” and no matter how exhausting it can be to pry open a tiny crack in the border with your fingers, this is what love asks of us. When we love, we notice even the smallest of blessings, every shift in which “words…blades of grass” can push through.

To challenge the borders through love is to recognize that no matter how small the shift, it is seminal; no matter how hopeless or painful a moment, there is the possibility for transcendence.


(Image Credit: Huffington Post)

Feminism and Love: We Live in a World of Borders

As we share our stories, we learn that the platitudes of the universal may mollify us, but cannot truly unite us. We live—and love—as individuals in a world of borders. We do not look for words; we look for one another and, all too often, instead of finding one another, we find the borders of geography, history, and language, of our genders, races, classes, ages, and abilities.

These borders break our hearts. This heartbreak stems not only from distance of geography and difference in language, but the militarization of that distance through histories of oppression and discourses of misrepresentation. It sits lodged in our chests in times of strife and times of change, when we are held back from marching together, from talking and working and loving together.

However, even in hopelessness, we choose how to respond to that heartbreak. We can deny the realities of our borders and our actions to proclaim, as in the first draft of Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration of Occupation, that we are “one race, the human race, formally divided by race, class…,” that, in the words of Manissa McCleave Maharawal, “all power relations and decades of history of oppression” have not left a mark. But we are scarred by oppression and defined by our survival, and we have constructed our own stories of pride and love within the borders that we have come to call our homes.

The pain we have felt in our bordered lives, the despair we have known in our separation from one other and from ourselves, and the distance we have come to expect when approaching people from whatever we construct as the other side, have created anger in us, anger that cannot be forgiven for an empty universality. But we have survived within those borders; we have lived in them, grown in them, loved in them and past them.

In understanding the borderlands as living places, we defy the assumption of their immutability. We challenge both claims of all-encompassing universality and fears of irrevocable difference, for we know that life inside our borders is not universal and it is not enough. Thus, we “learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it,” to commit ourselves to liberation and to love.

(Art Credit: Ana Teresa Fernández)


Feminism and Love: We Love as Individuals

“This is her home
this thin edge of
barbwire.” –Gloria Anzaldúa

“Love, excruciating love, let that be the first step”
Mahasweta Devi

Love introduces us to each other and to ourselves. I love because when I speak to another person, or read or hear her or his story, that other person speaks to something within me and no other word seems to fit. In that moment of connection and introduction, love teaches us about mystery and the limits of our own knowledge, and, in doing so, creates our understanding of the world and of ourselves and leads us forward in motion.

Love locates me to myself as an individual, an individual with a swooping feeling in my stomach and an ache in my chest, a smile on my face and tears in my eyes, an individual who sometimes laughs at unexpected times and inexplicably cries. The gift of feeling my own individuality is also innately political, as it directly contradicts assumptions of infallibility.

To be individual is to be fallible, to take up a limited amount of space and to have been touched by a limited number of lived experiences, to be beautifully distinct from a concept of ideal or intangible forms. To be individual is to be shortsighted and misguided, and to have the will to keep moving. Nowhere is this fallibility more clear than in love.

In the all-consuming sharing of oneself, love teaches us what it means to be delineated and outward- looking as finite individuals. To embrace that individuality is to embrace mobility, to refuse the comfort of a universal in order to draw closer to one other.

Through these introductions, we learn that we cannot tell one another’s stories. I have my own stories to tell. Yours are so precious in your voice that I must not appropriate or replicate them through my own narrative. To hear a story – shaped by complexities of structure and influence, memories of love and pain, and experiences of personal and community identity – is to not understand it fully. When I cannot find understanding, I search for love, which serves as a testament to my commitment to the story—the real story, not just the parts that I can grasp.

As feminists, we are not only called to stand for the ideals of equality and opportunity. We are called to commit to one another’s stories and our common struggle. The struggle for justice, grounded in love and guided by our diverse narratives, confronts borders through the immediacy of our lived experiences. It fills the abstractions of equality with the promise of our stories.

It is that embrace of the interplay of stories that defines love as political will. In the realization of these stories’ complexity and the refusal to fragment or simplify them, love becomes an inspiration, a challenge, a comfort, a meeting space, a hope of autonomy and an understanding of injustice. Love teaches us to meet each other, to refuse to be satisfied with a half-hearted appropriation of anyone’s story, including our own.


(Image Credit: Feminism and Religion)