I just marked four years as an executive director. Every day I learn more about myself and how this position within the entire non-profit industrial complex (to read more about that I recommend the Revolution will not be Funded) brings out the worst in me.
Every day is hard in it’s own way. There are too many examples of people dying as a result of capitalism and colonialism and the myriad ways that manifests (addiction, houselessness, chronic illness). Within the non-profit structure – the cozy relationship with electoral politics, the competition for resources/cash, and the celeb status held by some people with my title and the organizations they run – I am reminded at how and why this system was created and how easy it has become- especially with fear of losing money/access means the real reason a lot of organizations -including the one where I work- is all too easily lost/forgotten.
I am also reminded how I started – as an organizer- not an administrator and how I wasn’t paid for that work and how I hustled at a bullshit super capitalist job(s) then hustled for myself. It was hard as fuck – I was always behind on my rent, the gas got shut off but I was way happier and less conflicted and I could be myself- something I really feel I have lost (and continue to lose) in this work.
I’m not as close to leaving as I would like. I don’t want to do the people I work with and for like that (although there are probably some people who want me to leave- which is fine). So in the meantime I need to find ways to be connected to community outside the npic, I need to draw clearer boundaries, and there is a part of me that wonders if I just need to shut the fuck up, put my head down and just work. I’m good at working. Not so much at shutting the fuck up.
Today I was reading Pleasure Activism and was struck at the way dear sister Doctor Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote about the mentoring that was done by Toni Cade Bambara and how those mentees have served as examples to Lex. I was left breathless and a little jealous thinking, oh how I hope someone will write about me in that way but more important than my ego is the issue of mentorship in creating movement.
As I get older and farther from my days as a baby organizer and baby poet, I meet other fledgling activists and media makers and I honestly think my generation, those that are smack in the middle of middle age have done a pretty shitty job of mentoring those generations after us. We are often so caught up in our egos or just our day to day packed as fuck lives, that we forget to take time to share lessons while giving space for new failures (and successes). Often we are so busy wanting to mold the younger generations into copies of ourselves, not recognizing our own errors but also our own stubbornness. There also a healthy dose of fear here – fear of being made obsolete, fear of losing access, power or the trappings of it we think we have under the current iteration of disaster capitalism.
I don’t exclude myself from this criticism. I can name a number of times where I should have shown more patience, more love, more understanding to those seeking to push the movement(s) further, their creativity further. It is something that as of late I am trying to rectify by giving time and energy to younger organizers.
I have written about it before but it begs and is worth repeating, I owe so much of who I am and how I organize because I was mentored. I didn’t call it that when Richie Perez would have me stuff envelopes or learn how to do press releases in between teaching me the basics of protest planning and security and public speaking while handing me books and articles to read and sharing his own experiences but it was mentoring at it’s best. I still ask myself at least once daily what would Richie do or say in this situation I find comfort and courage in his lessons.
But when does the need for mentorship end? Can one be both mentee and mentor? These are some questions that came up in conversation today with a dear fellow mama writer and npic worker when I was lamenting my inability to find a literary/poetic home and the closest I have come is my academic work which is forcing me (in a good way) to play with poetry again on rigid deadlines and within the constraints of assignments. My dear friend, who was seeking advice on navigating a new role she was in, offered concrete suggestions and advice for me. And I will admit I was dismissive of some of her suggestions. They included writing groups that were filled with younger writers whom we both agreed may not get some of nuances of being middle age mamis while wanting to create (for example even as I’m writing this I’m lamenting how I should have been in bed an hour ago since I have to wake up to pack lunch plus there is a sink full of dirty dishes and dinner leftovers that need to be put away). I also was loath to join a writing group with a super popular current darling of the LA latinx lit scene that I just don’t get. Some of this was fear. A lot of it was arrogance but deep down I want(ed) a mentor to help me midwife the dozen of half formed writing ideas and plans that I have been incubating.
In the end my dear friend and I are sort of mentoring one another as we continue to push the boundaries of what women of a certain ethnicity and age are supposed to be doing while also mentoring those who are still coming up.
I heard (read) about this Blog Month thing from Viva la Feminista y dije porque no.
To be honest I’ve been hesitant about blogging because:
A: There are things I would write more honestly about if I knew my pareja wouldn’t read them.
B: There are things I would write more honestly about if I knew people who want me to fail at my new gig wouldn’t read them.
And really the two go together. I don’t feel like my partner thinks I can be a good Executive Director and I know there are plenty of people who don’t want me to be. I try not to talk about my job too much to my partner who nitpicks at my word choice or will question my credentials/skills/knowledge. And I purposely am keeping space between myself/my org’s work and some other people who have a complex history with my organization.
And it’s like I have come full circle, to when I was a young single mom, deep into organizing in NYC but felt a little outside of the circle. I’m not young. I’m not really a single mother since my partner and I live together and I’m not as broke as/living from pay check to pay check. And yet I feel like there still aren’t many spaces for women of color in organizing to be honest about how race, gender, ethnicity, sex, motherhood in our day to day lives interacts with our roles/places in organizing (and especially in the messy, super competitive Los Angeles immigration non-profit world).
So I will try – this will be an attempt at thinly veiled honesty.