Train Young Organizers

This piece is part of the Prospect's series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here.

A lot of times, political organizers end up in New York City or San Francisco or Washington, D.C. We often forget about the rest of the country when it comes to developing leaders or building institutions. I initially came into politics as a canvasser for the Working Families Party in New York. We were trained to talk to all types of people and got a well-rounded perspective on our issues and how to present them in the most effective ways.

But this kind of education isn’t available everywhere. We need independent organizations in every state. The Midwest Academy and the Highlander Research and Education Center train organizers, but we have nothing like them in most states and localities. By 2016 and 2020, several more states will have become majority-minority, and we need to be able to shape that change. 

We have to develop the capacity to educate people politically, to train potential organizers, wherever they may be—in colleges, in high schools. We need the financial resources to pay people to organize and to develop their skills over time. I’m now training students and youth in Florida. From the 1960s through the 1980s, there was a network of left organizations with preponderantly young members. We need them again today. I’m 24, and I see a lot of people in my generation who are just hopeless or apathetic. They see attacks on Social Security and Medicare and conclude they have no future in this country. 

We need to establish state and local networks to train young people in civics, in community organizing, in the importance of local government. Many of the people I meet don’t understand that; federal elections are everything. But they ignore, we’ve ignored, the slow takeover of local governments by the right. We need to place more emphasis on leadership development for young people, as the right does. When people come out of college, we should be ready and able to train some of them to be candidates, to be community organizers. 

I couldn’t afford to go to college. I got my political education in the Working Families Party and in organizer and leadership training groups. I got to know young people who are organizers for other groups or who are on staff for elected officials. We call each other; those relationships last. We need that. The left has broken down into separate interest groups. We have to find ways that we can work across them, ways we can unite.

Read the other pieces in this series:


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