Organizing as Leadership Practice

Durham For All’s emphasis on leadership development has been one of the most inspiring aspects of our work.  One definition of organizing that D4A uses is drawn from the public narrative framework that I mentioned in my previous blog. “Organizing as a leadership practice based on accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty,” the training materials state, “identifying, recruiting and developing leadership, building a constituency around that leadership, and transforming the resources of that constituency into a source of the power they need to achieve their purposes.” Our organizing is stronger because of this commitment to build leaders and relationships. I have grown through the mentorship and support I have received as I work on our campaigns and communications with other member leaders and staff.

Conducting long interviews with Member Leaders as part of my work supporting D4A’s digital organizing and reflecting on my own experience, I recognize how D4A’s approach to developing leaders positively impacts our lives and strengthens our organization.  One colleague shared with me that for a long time, she doubted that there was a place for her in movement work because she didn’t think she fit into a narrow idea of what it took to be a leader. She told me that at D4A there has been space for her to wrestle with doubts. She has learned that we all have a role to play in organizing and building political power. We build the skills and analysis we need to achieve our goals by participating in D4A’s Leadership Academy and receiving mentorship and coaching from staff organizers. These trainings and our regular practice of working together help us better understand of how unequal systems impact us and our communities.

One-on-one meetings are a core piece of D4A’s relational work. I have the privilege of meeting with a staff member at least once a week to reflect on what I have done that week and to plan and refine my next steps.  When I first met D4A neighborhood organizer Ociele for a one-on-one, she shared a powerful story of why she does this work and asked me questions about why I was interested in becoming more involved.  We talked about my experience working as a field organizer on the 2008 Obama Presidential campaign, my commitment to public performance and activism that deepened when I lived in Brazil from 2013 to 2019, and how the tragic murder of city councilwoman Marielle Franco in 2018 set me on the path to move back to North Carolina to work for social justice in my home state. After asking questions to help me further my reflections, Ociele invited me to join the D4A member leader team and the training team for our phone banks last fall for the 2020 federal, state, and local elections. Now, I’m on the training team for the 10 to Transform campaign phone banks, building on what I have learned and taking on more leadership in our work to shift resources from policing to community care and safety.

My colleagues shared similar journeys about their experience in regular one-on-ones with staff organizers. They spoke about how important it has been to them that Ociele holds space to ask questions, share concerns, reflect on mistakes, and refine actions. Our work together is possible because we prioritize strengthening our relationships and following through on our commitments to the campaign and to one another. At a recent phone bank, Ociele quoted Black Lives Matter organizer Mary Hooks’ ‘mandate for Black people in this time’ to remind us to “be willing to be transformed in the service of the work!” Our regular meetings and commitment to showing up for the work and for one another make this kind of transformation possible.

D4A’s approach to leadership allows for many different types of leaders, inviting us to draw on our unique strengths rather than insisting we all adopt a specific leadership style. Thanks to D4A’s ethic of welcoming and care and their commitment to creating conditions for member leaders like me to organize together, we are able to grow as individuals and as a team working toward a common purpose. We are invited to recognize our capacity for leadership and to act in accordance with it, taking consistent collective action toward strategic goals.  The blend of visionary and practical action keeps us committed to building and executing campaigns to transform our city into a Durham for all.

Courtney Crumpler is a second-year student in the MFA in Dance. Her research situates protest performance, political organizing, and popular education as embodied praxes. Courtney is excited to deepen her work with the multiracial and cross-class progressive movement Durham for All, moving toward a vision for a Durham with homes, education, economy, sanctuary and democracy for all alongside some of the most inspiring and talented organizers she knows.

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