We are familiar with the image of activists raising banners with clenched fists. The grim and determined look of street protesters. The dignified posture of influencer dissenters made more visible on various social media platforms.
Yet the significant contribution of the community organizer often eludes our attention. Maybe because we are often in search of archetypes that will resonate with many. It is also more likely that this is deliberately intended – the community organizer understating his/her presence, shunning popular recognition, and allowing other kasamas to speak and appear more prominently in public.
Community organizers are the activist frontliners performing the most crucial tasks in organizing and political conscientization. They are effective because of their organic ties to the grassroots. They speak the language of the masses, they have incisive knowledge of the political terrain, and they command the respect of the community.
It is often through their initiative and lobbying that an obscure parochial concern is given the spotlight that it deserves. This is made possible because of their persuasive campaigning, painstaking mass work, and almost selfless dedication to serve the community.
But this labor of love is usually underemphasized. What is seen is the public pronouncements of civic leaders, the response of public officials, the entry of interested parties which are welcomed to widen the appeal of the campaign, and the coding of all these actions in mainstream and digital media platforms.
Working tirelessly on the ground are community organizers who turned a particular issue into a political question and mobilized the people to discuss, decide, and determine the proper course of action. They are immersed in full-time political work even if this does not yield any pecuniary benefit.
We understand activism through fiery speeches in daring street actions but the struggle is in the details.
Every slogan is carefully studied, every sentence in manifestos is checked for clarity and sharpness of critique, even the size of placards matters. Political actions entail rigorous planning which involves day-to-day coordination and anticipation of sudden shifts in the political situation.
Those who mock activists for holding too many rallies got it wrong. Rallies are few and far in between but we have too many meetings and study sessions.
A mass campaign is not instantly developed. It is a continuous organized intervention linking several political moments that disrupt the seemingly natural flow of History. It renders judgment about our present and offers an alternative future. It directly confronts the structures of power that dominate society. Therefore, no less than a mass movement is required to make activism possible and withstand the conservative backlash.
Who better to explore the fighting chances of the campaign than the community organizer? Embedded in the thick of the battle, bridging the local with the broader political community, and an authentic voice and representative of the marginalized.
Any success is attributed to the extraordinary intervention of well-meaning individuals. But a snag in the campaign is pinned on the performance of community organizers. Worse, they receive the hardest blows from state-backed reprisals. Supporters and advocates can retreat and offer solidarity from a distance but this is not an easy option for community-based activists who must stay to preserve the dignity of the resistance.
This decision inspires others to keep on fighting in the community even if the price to pay is harsher political persecution. Political organizing has its highs and lows but the backbone of the struggle is kept alive through the meticulous work of community organizers.
Even when public attention subsides, especially if it’s accompanied by an ebbing in local activism, the role of community organizers becomes more crucial in sustaining the vision of a progressive politics. When they are blamed by the people they organized for engaging in a lost battle, they persevere in explaining why advancing the Cause requires not just sacrifice but the right attitude in turning defeats into opportunities to strike bigger victories in the future.
But outsider perspectives can demean and distort local struggles. Malicious commentaries can also affect the course of the struggle and how the public will judge the politics of activists. They are often the handiwork of state-sponsored institutions that could not imagine any response to people’s resistance other than to diminish its credibility. There are also partisan forces pretending to be disinterested which hides their irrelevance by echoing the reactionary slander that activists are acting as a shadowy sect with a sinister agenda.
The justness of the resistance is the best rejoinder to perspectives that disdain the right to protest. And no anti-Left political rhetoric, even if produced in the name of scholarship, can tarnish the political legacy of community activists in the eyes of the masses. Neither will it invalidate the necessity of radical struggle.
Other political forces are desperate to be on the good side of history. We are more interested in creating History. Our prospect is bright because our best revolutionaries are there in the grassroots – studying theory, doing politics, and making history every day under the most challenging situations.