Activism Writing Blog

“Lessons From An Organizer’s Life” by Jeb Middlebrook

community organizing

The following are lessons I’ve learned over the past eight years of helping to build an all-volunteer organization that can recruit and mobilize white anti-racist people, in solidarity with people of color, to challenge and transform institutional power towards racial and economic justice.

1) The way in which you recruit matters. If you are interested in recruiting white people who want to dialogue, hold dialogues and workshops. If you are interested in recruiting white people who want to organize, engage in organizing actions, events, and campaigns. These tasks and groups of people may overlap, but they may also be different. If there is limited time for you to engage in both approaches, choose a method of recruitment that will meet your movement goals.

2) People power requires organizing. The hard truth of social movement building is that you need to talk to people who are not already engaged to grow people power. With anti-racist work that is seeking to recruit and mobilize more white people, you will have to talk to friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers who are not already involved. This means preparing and engaging in new conversations with new people with recruitment and mobilization on the table.

3) There is no substitute for action. Talking about anti-racism and solidarity with people of color is different than engaging in anti-racism and solidarity with people of color. Both are important, and talking can prepare for action. However, in my experience, none of us ever feel “ready” to engage in anti-racist action, and can learn tremendously from doing. Talking AND action, I’ve found, builds people power at the same time as building consciousness.

4) Show rather than tell. Convincing white people to actively think through and challenge institutional privilege that they benefit from can be a daunting task. Telling someone about these ideas and process is helpful, but showing them means letting an experience do much of the work for you. Attending activism events for racial justice led by people of color or white anti-racist organizing events (with those you seek to involve) can move people politically at the same time you are helping build the movement.

5) Recruit where your constituency lives. Bringing the politics to the people is much easier than bringing the people to the politics. Many community-based organizations identify a strategic neighborhood or area of the city to focus on, as a result. Strategize around who you are recruiting for what people power purpose, and figure out where they live. Bring the cause to them by meeting in their neighborhood and homes to connect the movement to their daily lives.

6) Beat the street. Eventually, in order to expand your people power you will need to get into the community. This involves surveying people, knocking on doors, and getting a pulse of the people. The best way to get new people involved is to meet them, with an honest interest in their thoughts and hopes. Social movements are nothing without people’s own thoughts and hopes at the center, so structure your efforts in outreach with always asking people what they think/want.

7) Lead with questions. Often activism is assumed to be a list of demands. What most people don’t realize is that demands are answers to questions that community organizers first asked people in the community. Asking questions allows for a true grassroots approach to building people power, and allows the people you are recruiting to develop buy-in and be key players in the formation of the demands and direction of the campaign.

8) Formalize your efforts in a campaign. A campaign involves identifying community needs with questions, recruiting those people you’ve talked to, and collectivizing the thoughts and hopes of those people into demands for soliciting public support and buy-in. Many racial justice campaigns by people of color are already running, and a strategic analysis and discussion with them about the role of white people in the campaign can build powerful multiracial movements!

9) Movement building is relationship building. Strong movements are based on strong relationships, and this involves being in one another’s lives beyond just meetings. Share conversation, meals, walks. Integrate social time, processing time, and get-to-know-each-other time in your organizing work. It will pay off. Because when the going gets tough, you’ll have people to lean on, trust, love, and share support. And you’ll be able to move through the difficult times together because you care.

Jeb Middlebrook is an academic, artist, and activist residing in Long Beach, California. He can be reached at

Audio & Video Blog Research

California Sociological Association Roundtable: “Race & Space: Evictions, Homelessness & Imprisonment”

I organized and presided over this roundtable at the California Sociological Association including panelists: Oliver John Baptiste, Sociology, California State University, Dominguez Hills, with “Factoring Socioeconomics and Court-Documented Eviction History: Rental Sustainability in the New Market”; Corina Diaz, Sociology, California State University, Dominguez Hills, with “Borrowed Space: Perceptions of Chronic Homelessness in Long Beach”; and myself, Jeb Aram Middlebrook, Sociology, California State University, Dominguez Hills, with “The Sound of the Police: Listening to Criminal Justice.”

Activism Blog Education Solidarity Institute

White Anti-Racist Organizing Since 1960, ed. Sharon Martinas & Cile Beaty, 2010

Published online by the Solid@rity Institute, 2011
Table of Contents | Note from Editors

Activism Blog Organizing

University of Southern California responds to #USCHANGEMOVEMENT with letter and action

This is the result of people power… #USCHANGEMOVEMENT

Academics Blog Research

Interactive, digital article on prison music in SoundingOut!

Here is a link to my interactive, digital article, “Prison Music: Containment, Escape, and the Sound of America” published in SoundingOut!, a national sound studies blog/journal in 2011. This article is a teaser for my upcoming book project of the same title.

Academics Blog Research

Chapter published in book on Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing

Here is a PDF of my chapter, “Rhyme and Reason: The Making of a White Anti-Racist Rap Group” for the book, Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing (2010), that details the development of a rap group, AntiRacist 15, that I participated in from 2003-2010.

Academics Blog Research

Article published in American Quarterly: Journal of the American Studies Association

Here is a PDF of an article I authored, The Ballot Box and Beyond: The (Im)Possibilities of White Antiracist Organizing,” that was published in the June 2010 issue of American Quarterly. In this article, I argue for a centering of multiracial racial justice organizing in studies of race and ethnic studies, and the stakes for white anti-racism in theory and practice. The work was drawn from my Ph.D. dissertation and current book manuscript, Organizing Race: Antiracist Activism and Multiracial Movement-Making.