Most of the folks affected by these issues – poverty, violence, homelessness, joblessness, etc. – never enjoyed the privilege (which should be a right but isn't in the USA) of higher education, and the League is especially adept at reaching out to the noncollege crowd. In fact, Executive Director Biko Baker just posted a great manifesto, if you will, concerning the hurdles faced by college-educated activists in their well-intentioned attempts to do community work in this milieu. His "Top 5 Ways To Know You’re Not Really Working With Noncollege Youth!!" is an eye-opener, and he gave us permission to repost it.
Over the last year or so, there have been more and more groups claiming that they work with noncollege youth. This is sort of bitter sweet for me. While the need in this community is tremendous and there is more than enough work to go around, the truth is that not all groups are created equal.
Many of the groups claiming to serve noncollege youth have absolutely no business mobilizing poor communities. But because of their positional power, or because of their relationship to beltway insiders, they often times get resources to do this very tough and often times unrewarding work, when they should be deferring to other organizations.
So, in an effort to clear the air, and serve low income communities, I have a decided to drop this list of the “Top 5 Ways to Know You’re Not Really Working With Noncollege Youth.”
1 You don’t have a hood or barrio pass!
Let’s keep it real, not every group has what it takes to canvass in low income communities. There is a real art and science to mobilizing voters in low income neighborhoods. Trust me, you can’t just pop up in a neighborhood and get respect. You have to earn it. And word to John Mayer, hood passes aren’t earned easily.
2 You are more about promoting your organization than the community!
Lot’s of groups spend way more of their resources on branding and visibility than mobilizing their constituents. That works for some constituencies, but to really get folks from noncollege communities to turn out, you have to really be about organizing. Low income communities only respond when they see a real commitment to organizing and local leadership development. You can’t move folks with a bumper sticker or t-shirt.
3 You skip town when the election is over!
It’s okay, most organizations do it. Heck, LYVEF has even had to close up a shop or two when money has gotten tight. But that can’t be your M.O. Noncollege communities need deep, long term investments. You can’t get the respect you need to really mobilize people if you are only in town every other year. Community folks know when organizations aren’t in it for the long haul.
4 Your whole strategy focuses on online work!
Word to the New Organizing Institute, I love online organizers. But there is no way that you can mobilize noncollege folks if you only use an online strategy. (Well, unless you are Worldstarhiphop.com.) Low income folks need to be able to look you in your eyes to see if you are legitimate. Online organizing is a great tactic, but it CANNOT be the end all be all of your strategy.
5 You’re feeling a little intimidated by this article.
It’s ok. I’m here to help. As I said above, there is more than enough work to be done in this community. If you really want to serve low income communities, come holla at me. I am more than willing to connect you to a group in your city or region that is doing amazing work. Trust me, they exist.