Building a Movement: Part 4 of 4

Changing the World: Skills of an Organizer

By Dustin Washington

In my final blog post, I want to outline the skills and traits a strong organizer should internalize. I have included thoughts on organizing from The People’s Institute, Van Jones and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

The ability to educate others.

As organizers we must first educate ourselves on the issues impacting our communities and our world. We must have a strong grasp of the historical and contemporary construction of Racism and other manifestations of oppression. It is not enough for us to just have a baseline understanding of oppression. We must commit to a continuous practice of keeping up to speed with various policies and trends that affect the constituencies we serve.

As we engage in a lifetime of study, we must also develop communication skills so we can help our constituencies better understand the world around them. Knowledge is truth and truth leads to a community demanding better conditions.

The need for a long-term vision.

All too often we as organizers engage in the addictive but futile behavior of running from crisis to crisis, but never investing the time to plan. It is incumbent upon organizers to take ample time to develop a strategic vision of where we are taking our work, and the tactics that will get us there. We must also build in an ongoing commitment to honest and objective reflection upon the work we do.

The forces of oppression we are up against surely take time to plan, and we must also. Having and articulating a shared vision will also hold all participants in an organizing effort accountable to the collective goals.

From Van Jones’s Noah Principles

Deal with our inner demons.

As organizers we are not immune to the soul damaging impacts of oppression and trauma. We all too often tend to bring our past baggage, pains, hurts and unhealed wounds into our work in ways that often stir turmoil and destruction.

We MUST develop mechanisms in our collective organizing that not only encourages healing but demands healing. We all need to focus on our diets, our spirituality, our physical health and our unaddressed emotional scars as a path towards collective liberation. As Dr. Kimberly Richards often says “when you organize from your pain, pain is what you produce.”

From Kingian Non-Violence

Change systems, not people.

Dr. King believed it was misguided to focus on removing certain people from power or addressing individual acts of evil. Instead, we must focus on changing the nature of systems that allow individuals to act in oppressive and anti-human ways.

Transform our enemies.

We must never demonize individuals. We must always hold the potential for people to become better. To create the Beloved Community we must see that everyone has the potential to change. When we demonize another of God’s children, we demonize a part of ourselves as God is in all of us.

One tactic Dr. King suggested was for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the “other.” If we were socialized differently or born into a different class or race, we probably would act in very similar ways to that which we object to.

These are just a few thoughts on what an organizer should internalize. If you want to learn more, please visit us at or


About the Author: Dustin Washington is Director of the Community Justice Program at AFSC and Core -Trainer with the Peoples Institute NW.

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