By Michael S., member of Red Star Caucus
Organizing is hard and time consuming. DSA has 100,000 paper members but the “activist layer” of people who actually Do Stuff is maybe 1/10 that size. There simply aren’t that many of us, and there’s a lot of work to go around. This results in burnout, I’ve seen plenty of organizers flame out fast and it’s always sad to see good comrades go. It’s especially sad because I see it as preventable. There are many tools out there that can help you do more with less, and books on books have been written in the capitalist management world on this exact topic, but unfortunately a lot of these things get associated with “management” or “the PMC” and discarded since we’re socialists and bosses are bad etc.
I know it’s aesthetically pleasing to reject all things associated with capitalism, but think this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this case. If you want to learn how to be more effective, look at how others make themselves effective and see whether those tactics can be effective for you. There’s plenty out there to help people with these exact problems, and a lot of it is very applicable to our daily tasks as organizers even if it’s used to very different ends. Tools don’t inherently become dirty because of who used them last. To be dramatic: a soldier in the Red Army didn’t automatically switch sides because they picked up a Mauser from a fallen Nazi in the heat of battle at Stalingrad.
This article will lay out some tools to use and habits to form that can help you do more with less as an organizer, allowing you to do more with less time and maybe even avoid burnout. The tools are apps that have made my organizing take less time and be more reliable, and the habits are ways to do the same plus one way to work on building up newer comrades less experienced than you. I try to invent some situations here where I’ve found these tools and habits useful. These are tools and habits normally used in capitalist management, but I think they should only be discarded if there’s a good reason as to why they make one a worse organizer. All tactics should be on the table on the road to revolution, and that includes the tactics used today to scale capitalist structures.
Tools to help you:
Your comrade Emily has emailed you. She wants to do a one on one so you can quickly connect over an event you’re coordinating together. How many emails do you want this coordination to take? If your answer is “one” Calendly is the app for you. You send Emily your Calendly link and she can see at any given moment which blocks you have free for meetings. When she picks a time, Calendly will put a calendar event on both your calendars and automatically populate it with a link to a room in the video chat app of your choice. You’re done! Both of you are automatically sent emails confirming the time, date, and relevant links. All you have to do now is show up.
The paid version of Calendly is nice but if you can’t afford it the free version is still an upgrade over not having it. Here’s a basic video on how it can be used, the crux is that it cuts out all scheduling back and forth, allowing you to see each other’s calendars and schedule meetings in one swift move. If you’d like to meet with more than one person try LettuceMeet or When2Meet. Your time is precious, don’t let it be wasted on scheduling back and forth.
Your org pairs you off randomly with other members to get to know each other every week. Your random pairing this week starts off great with your new friend and comrade Ken explaining that he’s just recently had a kid – congrats Ken! Seems like a big life event, you open Keep, start a new file called “Ken (LastName)” and after writing the date begin taking some notes on Ken’s life. You realize that the two of you are both writing similar resolutions for consideration at the next meeting and decide to just write one together. You promise Ken to get him the first draft in a week, so you switch to your “organizing to-do” file in Keep and add that task along with its deadline. Since your “organizing to-do” file is pinned to the top of Keep both on your computer and your phone this task and its deadline should be front of mind until you end up finally writing it. When you finally go to write this task, you search “Ken” in Keep to find your notes and make sure you’re keeping Ken’s perspective in mind. Next time you meet with Ken, just search his name again to find your notes from last time and add new notes so that you can remember the things that are important to Ken (both personally and as an organizer) as well as give him an update on that resolution you’re writing together. It’s important to value the people around you and remembering their big life stuff is a nice way to show that you care.
Ken’s a new comrade and reliability is one of the most important things you want to model as a leader in your org so you open up GCal real quick and put the deadline you promised Ken into the day you agreed on. While you’re there, you realize that writing this resolution is going to take about 45 minutes, so you look in your GCal, find some time on Monday during lunch and block out your schedule to write that resolution out. That way you’ll have an hour of time guaranteed to get this task done before the deadline hits, ideally a few days in advance so if you don’t finish you can schedule a second time before you owe Ken that draft.
Habits to form:
Make meetings (time consuming) into emails (less time consuming)
Ken’s a new comrade and you want to get to know him, so a meeting is a good call. Emily, however, you’ve known for years. You’ve blocked off an entire hour to speak with her about an event that you know you’re pretty aligned on, was that necessary? You feel the event you’re putting on together is pretty cut and dried. You shoot her an email asking for specific discussion items to see, maybe you can answer her questions in a few sentences over email instead.
Make longer meetings into shorter meetings
Emily responds saying that she wants to know why two panelists you both like won’t be at an event together, but that’s her only question. A bit too thorny for an email since Emily is the one speaking with them both and will need details, but probably not necessary to talk an entire hour. You set your meeting with her down to 30 minutes in GCal instead and shoot her an email explaining why. Do all of your meetings take the maximum allotted time and yet your tasks are still getting done? Look into that! It probably means you’re not using your allotted time efficiently.
Delegate delegate delegate
Ken is new and has never written a resolution before, so passing something big like the first draft off to him isn’t setting him up for success which is why you offered to take it on. That said, you do remember that another organizer, Marlena, has written resolutions before and is aligned with you and Ken on your vision for this particular thing. In fact, last time at the bar she was talking about writing almost the exact same thing. You reach out to her, copy/pasting the notes from your conversation with Ken that you saved in Keep, and ask her if she’d be interested in putting together a first draft pending Ken’s approval. She says yes and you text Ken asking if he’s cool working on it as a 3 person team, he says yes so you hook him in with Marlena and ask him to set up a When2Meet or LettuceMeet for the 3 of you, thus delegating the scheduling task to a new organizer. Having Ken coordinate the meeting has the dual benefit of getting work off your plate as well as getting Ken involved and showing him how these things are done. On top of that, you’re introducing him to Marlena, thus deepening his network within the org. Maybe he’s never heard of When2Meet or LettuceMeet too, what a great teaching moment!
Loads of people begin organizing with a lot of fervor but without much by way of ideas on how they can help. If you know a new organizer or two you should be giving them simple tasks you know they’re capable of. It gets work off your back and gets them more experienced as well as helps them feel involved and bought in. If you’re not sure what they’re capable of I recommend starting them off watching you complete a task once or twice before giving them the task to do and watching them do it so you can offer constructive criticism. A book I’ve found helpful on the topic is called Leadership and the One Minute Manager.
These are far from the only tools and habits that can help you be an effective organizer, and many of them are obvious for some, but hopefully you found something here that’ll be useful for you in your long journey of building DSA or whatever org you’re in into what it needs to be to overthrow the current state of things. Good luck out there.