Organizing – Steps to Change the World
The video, Organizing Within your Community, was a SNAP presentation I made at the SNAP Conference in 2020. How do you contact survivors and help them forward.
Survivors of sexual abuse have changed the world. We are no longer in the background. Courageous survivors have commanded the high ground through courage, dedication, and endurance.
There is work to be done. We need to reach all those alone and suffering in silence. We start as individuals fighting the institutions of cultural, political, and ideological dominance.
We can organize. We can win.
Here is a video and Powerpoint presentation of a one-hour podcast of the elementary steps of organizing. This podcast aims to advance an understanding of organizing to those with little or no experience in organizing.
I have fifty years as a community and political organizer. I believe that the elements necessary to move from an individual to an organizer are here. There are methods, approaches, tactics, and strategies to bring your community to an organized form.
I welcome comments and suggestions.
Text of “Organize with Your Community”
Organizing within Your Community
A survivor of sexual abuse confronts the largest institution in the world as an individual.
Unless . . . we organize.
The SNAP is an international network of over 30k survivors and supporters, 160 SNAP leaders, and 30 years of experience. Yet, that power cannot be used or exercised without organizing.
We are going to stress the basics of organizing, public advocacy, and mobilizing others.
My name is Tim Lennon. I am honored to be the president of the board of directors of SNAP. I am also the co-leader of the SNAP support group in Tucson, Arizona. I have over fifty years of political and social organizing.
This is a workshop, so I welcome comments and questions. We have time at the end of the session to take questions. I refer you to my blog, Standuspeakup.org, as it has helpful information for organizing.
“Our challenge is to organize the power we already have in our midst.” Martin Luther King
How will we reach those suffering in silence? What steps can we take to help victims? We will discuss ‘how to’ guides for setting up support groups, make contact with those suffering alone. We will discuss the main elements of organizing, developing partners, going public.
Helping one survivor
If you help one victim of sexual abuse, then you have accomplished a lifetime of work. We cannot ask more than helping one survivor! We should focus on the connection with one not be concerned about changing the world; helping one victim is changing the world
This workshop will focus on the steps we can take to help victims. I will discuss ways to set up support groups, make contact, and build a peer network of survivors.
We will discuss three main elements of developing peer support – outreach to survivors, establishing a support group, and developing partners – and will address some of the other challenges of support within a support group, how to go public, the importance of allies.
There will be time for questions.
Where do we start
Core Elements of Organizing
The core of any organizing effort is personal contact. It is not standing on a soapbox preaching to the public. It is not wrapping ourselves in righteous anger on the church steps. It is not an individual effort.
Personal contact and connection is the most important element of successful organizing. True.
One on one contact is the first step. If so, where do we start? Like a pebble in a pond, we start from the center out. We start with contact with our family and friends. We expand that ring and move to neighbors and co-workers. We go to our union buddies or fraternal organization. We go to fellow parishioners or previous classmates. We post on social media.
All of the success comes from organizing from the center out and personal connection. It is fundamental. We have to exhaust that process definitely before we stand on the street corner or in front of city hall.
We establish a core, a foundation, a system of support for future activities. There is no ‘Lone Ranger’ in organizing. That style is called ‘volunteerism’ as it substitutes your ambition for an accurate understanding of popular support.
Change comes from inside, from a person’s understanding that it is in their interest to change. It does not come from outside. You cannot win a person to a new view or idea presenting your truth as the truth.
It is like a preacher being convinced that the Bible is the truth, and if people would just read the Bible, they would become believers. It does not work that way.
Ok, personal connection is key. So that means meeting someone for coffee is a very effective organizing effort. Here again, listening is incredibly important for any organizer. It is a sign of respect. And please accompany any conversation with patience and perseverance.
Our Audience What are the gifts we can give a survivor?
Respect, tolerance, listening, patience are the beginning steps when you contact a survivor. Most survivors, when they first appear, are vulnerable, unsure, scared, angry. Many suffer from the many burdens of their sexual abuse and can include the whole constellation of PTSD symptoms, depression, anger, sadness, low self-esteem, anxiety, and fear. Listen. Give survivors space and respect.
Please understand that a survivor may be a wild mess of emotions. You can give them hope, validation, and confidence with calm reassurance and listening. Listening is the greatest gift.
Sharing your story can act as a way to demonstrate solidarity. It can give them validation. They are not alone; they are not the only one sexually abused.
Sharing can open the doors of acceptance of their story, build trust and rapport. It can provide them with hope.
As leaders, we can share that you can get better, you can thrive. I have been told by survivors who are challenged by their burdens that they are comforted that I can thrive.
How do you go from listening to help?
It can be challenging to receive a call from someone who is distraught and extreme anguish—there many examples of survivors sharing their story and never followup with future contact. Maybe addressing the abuse evokes such horrific pain that they cannot face it again.
I have had many conversations with survivors who have told me they have arrived at the front door of a support group and then turn around. I have had survivors 70 plus years old tell me that I was the first person to disclose their abuse.
According to CHILDUSA, the average age of a victim of child sex abuse stepping forward is 52. I remembered some of my abuse at 43, and memories of the violent rape did not surface until I was 63.
It points to the natural tendency to organize those you know or are familiar with, such as your community and circle of contacts. However, what about all those who were abused outside your immediate community?
We are bound by the culture and community we are familiar with. We must make dramatic efforts to reach beyond that to reach all the communities, such as Spanish speakers and people of color. Other areas of interest are immigrant communities and poor communities. We also must be mindful of LGBTQ communities that are frequently bypassed. All deserve our support and advocacy.
We cannot be passive about our organizing. We need to be aggressive in reaching out to other communities and the organizations that serve these communities. Keep thinking about the statistic that one out of four women and one out six men are sexually abused. That means there are a lot of victims is every community.
And we have seen church hierarchy dump serial rapists on Indian residence schools where they treat the children like candy. The level of depravity and harm is incredibly sad. It happened in Arizona and South Dakota.
We have seen widespread sexual abuse, including adults, in Mennonite, Baptist, and Mormon communities.
As leaders, as organizers, we have a responsibility to reach all those who have been harmed. And SNAP, as an organization, is responsible for allocating resources to support and assist this form of outreach.
Advocacy and organizing top-down, bottom-up
Advocacy and organizing are linked. Suppose you want to advocate for an issue; then, how do you take this advocacy to action? Of course, you can do it as an individual. However, getting widespread support is crucial. So you need to mobilize and organize your support.
On the flip side, organizing without a clear mission, agenda, and strategy leads to confusion, delay, and disappointment.
Advocacy and advocacy can also provide great healing for you and those you address. For others, they understand they are not alone. You, on the other hand, are taking action—you are fighting back. No longer bowed by the abuse of the past, you place the crime on the criminal.
Allies and Sister Organizations
One method for reaching survivors is to go from the center out, as mentioned a couple of minutes ago.
Another organizing process is to build links with sister organizations, including local groups such as a rape crisis center or a regional or national organizations. Let them know that you exist as a resource. Make personal contact, maybe meet for coffee.
Ask to be added to their resource list or list of links. Sign up for their mailing list. Monitor their social media.
Attend their events. For instance, I have set up tables at Take Back the Night marches and rallies. If they have speaker presentations, attend. Review some ways that you can be supportive of their organization.
Police – sex crimes sergeant
Making connections is the foundation of success organizing. Related is the importance of finding ways to collaborate with sister organizations.
The collective power of a community organizing group holds those in power accountable. A collection of strong organizations, working together increases power, visibility, and influence.
How to Organize
There are several elements to any organizing efforts:
~vision, what do you want to accomplish
~address a need or provide an objective
~unifying principle, why does someone see it in their interest to engage and involve in effort
While we enter into organizing as individuals, we increase our effectiveness with organizational support, resources, historical legacy, credibility, authority. This is incredibly important.
Preparation for a support group: Ensure that you are ready to lead a group. It is essential to gauge your emotional well being as support groups can be emotionally upsetting. See if another SNAP leader can join you for a couple of meetings as co-leader to get comfortable.
Find a place: Since we work with a wounded community of survivors, we want to find a place that meets these criteria:
~public space, safe,– library, school, hospital, social service agency
~easily accessible, parking, mass transit/bus connection
~privacy, we share secrets,
Announcement: post on SNAP social media, give to the SNAP office to post on the SNAP website, and email to the local SNAP network. Draft up an announcement, share with sister organizations
Email to local supporters and survivors. Send announcement copy to local sister organizations.
Print out SNAP Support Group Guidelines to read at every meeting.
Public Statements and Events
Occasionally, there are instances where we, as leaders, want to call attention to some egregious crime, and we want to call out a sexual predator, give support to a victim, or criticize the Bishop.
If you are committed to have a press statement or hold a press conference to call the community’s attention, then these are good steps to take:
~create three or four talking points
~collaborate with Zach Hiner, the executive director of SNAP, in the drafting of any press statement previous to any notification
Resources for Advocates and SNAP Support
SNAP has resources for organizers. Check the Resources link on the SNAP Network website. Check link. Go to Resources_for_advocates. There you can find guidance on Take Action, 21 Things People Can Do, and other useful guides.
SNAP has a skilled and dedicated staff, 160 volunteer leaders, a network of 30k survivors and supporters, and over thirty years as an advocacy and support organization. We have tens of thousands of media contacts from around the world. We have a clear vision of our mission and our work.
SNAP has established credibility, authority, experience, and knowledge. The organization has resources to support any local organizing effort.
At any point, you can call on SNAP to step up to help. You are not alone in your organizing efforts.
The Importance of Public Events
I was raped and sexually abused when I was 12 by the parish priest. I buried those memories for thirty years. These memories emerged when I passed by a public demonstration in front of the cathedral in San Francisco calling out a predator priest. I thought: I was sexually molested by a priest as well. That was the start of my process of bringing memories forward; it was a step forward in my journey of healing.
Public events are an effective way to reach those who have never come forward and are suffering in the dark, alone. Most victims of child sexual abuse never come forward.
We see amazing results when the media lights up attention to the topic of sexual abuse. For instance, when one actress called out the convicted rapist Bill Cosby, sixty other victims stepped forward. When one gymnast called out the convicted rapist Dr. Nassar, over 500 other victims stepped forward. When one actress accused Weinstein, she was followed by the stories of 300 additional victims of this predator.
When I went public, fifty years after my sexual abuse and rape, fifteen of my classmates also came forward.
State and National Organizing
There are three major organizing efforts sponsored by SNAP. The success of these efforts has relied on the volunteer efforts of local leaders and supporters to
Grand Jury or Investigation in Every State
In 2002 the Boston Globe Spotlight series exposed widespread clergy sexual abuse. People were stunned. In August 2018, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury reported on clergy sex abuse in six dioceses. Over 300 predators named, thousands of victims suffered. The evidence was clear: what happened in Pennsylvania happens in every parish, every diocese in the nation.
Within days, I (SNAP) called for a grand jury or state investigation in every state. Today, we have twenty-five states that have initiated some form of investigation. We continue to call for state investigations in the other twenty-five states.
Check the SNAP Network website, top banner, for a link to Report your Abuse to the AG.
Statute of Limitation Reform/Elimination
There are state laws that limit the length of time after the crime that it can be prosecuted. They call this restriction, Statute of Limitations. Some are incredibly restrictive, allowing complaints only from those younger than twenty-five.
CHILDUSA, an organization whose leadership has a successful history of reforming the SOL laws. Their research points to the evidence that the average age of a victim of sexual abuse coming forward is 52.
CHILDUSA, SNAP, and many national and local organizations have succeeded in reforming or eliminating SOL laws in over thirty states in the last couple of years. SNAP continues to organize and advocate for reform.
Sadly and tragically, there is a long history of victim shaming of victims of sexual abuse. As the survivors’ movement has been a powerful force in counteracting this shaming.
In November 2018, SNAP and a couple dozen other organizations designated a day for survivors. We called it All Survivors Day. This event is an opportunity to acknowledge survivors and celebrate their courage. Look for the All Survivors Day event near you next month.
Our movement for accountability and reform continues to grow and expand. There are a few exceptions, for instance, the Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Colorado Attorneys Generals. Nonetheless, politicians are far beyond the widespread interest for significant reform of sexual abuse laws. Again, we are working with a group of twenty or so organizations to advance this agenda.
Not every organizing effort is successful. One time I organized a public press event promising a demonstration. The result was that there was more press than demonstrators. I was successful in calling out and reaching the press, but lacking in mobilizing the masses.
And every SNAP leader I know has had at least one experience of calling for a press conference, but you are the only one there. It can get awkward.
Yet our continued legacy of supporting survivors and holding predators accountable has made a safer world.
Bringing one victim forward from the darkness of loneliness and fear is worth the world.
“I have always thought what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership among other people.” Ella Baker, civil rights activist and organizer
A major task of any leader is to bring other leaders forward. Our network thrives on the volunteer efforts of our leaders and supporters. Ask others for help, invite a co-leader to your group, suggest independent projects for those within your sphere.
Your efforts change the world.
November 3, 2020