It occurred to me this week, as my 2.5-year-old was being particularly demanding, in what I call the ‘audacity of toddlerhood’–you know, the expectation that the world does, indeed, revolve around them and that Mommy and Daddy only exist to meet their every need–that I have learned a lot about the importance of relationship as a motivator for human behavior, which is at the core of community organizing, from being a Mom.
Students and beginning organizers often lament to me, “How come I can’t get anyone to show up/make calls/take action?” “Why aren’t people more energized?” They often think that the need a snazzier flyer or better food at the meeting or some other cure-all to move people beyond our solitary existences and get us engaged in revolutionary collective action. The real fix, of course, is simultaneously much simpler and much, much harder than that. What really moves people are relationships.
Think about it. There are people for whom you’d do just about anything, because that’s how important your relationship with them is. It’s the relationship with my kids that pull me out of bed in the middle of the night, that compel me to constantly clean up after them, that give me the energy to read “Go Book” dozens of times a day. And while our relationships with those with whom we’re organizing certainly are not equivalent to the relationships that one has with one’s own child, what is common to both experiences is that, in the end, it’s really the power of the relationship, more than anything else, that pulls us beyond our own preferences or comforts to engage in action with the other. After all, why else would I be just as committed to my kids when they’re sick or whiny or generally difficult as when they are darling and happy and loving? It’s not the slickness of the presentation or the glory of the victory, really, that initially pulls people in–it’s that we all long to connect with others in meaningful ways, and organizing (as parenting!) is a way to do that.