Episode 4: Building Power with Doran Schrantz
Power: Who has it? How do you get it? How do you use it to move institutions? And what does it have to do with building politics? Doran Schrantz, Executive Director of ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota, describes for George how building relationships is key to power-building. From supporting neighbors as they move from victimhood to agency to building teams and identifying alignment with powerful players within institutions, building power starts with knowing ourselves — and being able to grow and learn as we keep building relationships with the people we organize.
Doran Schrantz is the Executive Director of ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota. The two organizations are statewide, community-organizing vehicles for faith communities, barber shops and beauty shops, and childcare centers. They are vehicles for people of faith and values to create racial and economic justice in Minnesota, using a leadership development and grassroots organizing model.
At age 21, George Goehl walked into a soup kitchen to eat. Over time, he became an employee – first washing dishes and eventually helping run the place. Three years later, he was struck by seeing the same people in line as when he first arrived. He began to organize.
Today, George is the director of People’s Action, a multiracial poor and working class people’s organization. He leads one of the largest race-conscious rural progressive organizing efforts in the United States.
Following the financial crisis, George and National People’s Action mobilized more people into the streets than any other organization to demand accountability, help win Financial Reform, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and secure mortgage relief.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN, MSNBC and others have covered George’s organizing work.
George Goehl: Hi! I’m George Goehl and this is The Next Move, where we’re talking with the organizers about the craft of organizing. Today my guest is Doran Schrantz. At the end of the day, the issue is power. It’s not healthcare, housing or climate, it’s power. And to win on the issues, the fundamental thing we got to change is who has it. People power, money power, political power, and cultural power. For more than two decades Doran Schrantz has been squarely focused on the project to building power with lots of other people through organizing. She dedicated a huge chunk of her life to doing this with one organization, ISAIAH, a Minnesota faith-based organization that she directs. She also leads Faith in Minnesota, a political home for people of faith in the state. When did you become an organizer? Not like when did you get your first organizing job, but when do you feel you’re like, “Oh, I think I’m actually an organizer.”
Doran Schrantz: That’s a great question. I learned about organizing and began to think I might want to be an organizer when I was living in Chicago in late ’90s. But I learned about organizing when I… so I lived in Logan Square, you must know where that square is. So I lived in Logan Square and there was this coffee shop that was across the street from my apartment. And I was in there ranting about something political and this guy came up to me and he said, “Hey, I’d like to do a one-to-one with you.” And I said, “I have a boyfriend.” I live with my boyfriend. So he was like, “No, no, no, no. I’m an organizer with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.” So I was like, “This is so interesting.”
So I actually met with him and then at the same time, I was working at theater, and at the time, I think I was trying to turn theater into organizing, but we did this thing where we interviewed people who were political asylees. And then I remember thinking like, “Will this change power?” And I was really, really invested in an idea of who had power? Where I grew up in Iowa, I grew up in a town called Ottumwa which was very class divided. We had meat packing and most of the folks where I went to elementary school, their dads worked at Hormel, and it was this brutal year long strike. I remember people losing their jobs, I mean, I really grew up with that consciousness of just like, “What happened in the farm crisis, what happened to the meat Packers? What happened to my town as a result of that?”
It was basically boarded up by the mid ’80s, there was no downtown. By the time I was in high school, it was a really despairing experience. So this question about power really mattered to me, because part of what I thought about was, “Is there some other way to change the story? Why did it happen that way?” So when I met somebody who did organizing and then I started reading about it, there was a couple of things that were most compelling to me. So one was, this is an explicit conversation about power. Who has it? How do you get it? It also was super practical, it was like, “No, there are actually steps you can take to get more power.” And then secondly, I was so moved myself around the nature of the relationship at the center of community organizing.
So it’s not that we have power to go influence something or I personally have power or you have power by knowledge and then you go advocate for somebody else, it was like, “No, we together.” It’s like instead of a gradient downward, it’s a complete with, power with, and I thought that’s what’s going to save democracy. My 27 year old self was like, “It’s that, it’s the nature of that relationship, of public relationship, people taking real steps to build power, that not having enough power is the problem.” It’s not about not knowing enough or not being smart enough, it’s there’s not enough democracy and people don’t have enough power. And if people would have more power, maybe the story would be different.
George Goehl: Who were similarly people that broke it down for you?
Doran Schrantz: There was a man named Reverend Emmett Mosley, my first job in Chicago, I came in as a young… I don’t know, organized. And he came in as somebody who had a bunch of experience organizing, particularly faith-based and neighborhood-based organizing. And he and I really, deeply related, I think partially because I was so hungry and so interested, he really spent a lot of time with me. He drove me out to Gary Indiana to talk about their campaign that they had done to try to literally save the post office because of all the… It was, “Can you take me to a public meeting?” He had all kinds of conversations with me about the politics and power dynamics of south Chicago and Chicago and black and white communities, his involvement in the Harold Washington campaign, like the era of that time in Chicago with Harold Washington.
I just still remember driving in his car, like you go to some church someplace, so you’re going to some community hall and it’s so granular and I’m so scared, and he’s talking me through, then you do the meeting and then afterwards you sit in the car and he breaks down for you all the things you did wrong. It was like that, he was like that with me. How stupid I was about race or about this. I was so curious, so curious about me, so invested. I felt like I could make a mistake or I could learn, he was very encouraging, but really, the seriousness of the craft, like how he took the craft and how seriously he took developing an organizer was really instilled in me.
So I owe a lot to Reverend Emmet Mosley of Chicago. And then there was a woman who I love, I haven’t talked to her in years, her name was Kathy Duvall. She was totally hardcore in the left of labor in Chicago. She schooled the shit out of me on labor and old-school labor and like, “What was labor really about?” And she would yell at me because I’d be like, “Yeah, but do you always have to have a union?” And she was like, “Damn. Democracy in the work place.” So she was amazing, I spent a lot of time with her and asked her a lot of questions and she also really invested in me. And it was from there that I actually came to ISAIAH, where I work now. I’ve been here for a very long time, but I came because I was very intentionally looking for a place where I could apprentice.
So I thought about organizing, this is very serious, the level of seriousness that I must take my relationship with myself as a political person and the care I need to be equipped to take wishful relationships with other people, around the stakes of a question about power, where people are going to risk things. They will risk themselves, they’ll risk their relationships, so risk real things like the men in my town risked everything to go on strike in Hormel. That’s serious business and I want to take it deadly seriously. And ISAIAH had a reputation even back at that time of like, they really take development organizers very seriously, so it was Pamela Twiss, Jay Schmidt, Paul Marincel and I. One-on-ones with them and they offered me a six month internship, I was definitely going to go back to Chicago after those six months, and it’s been 17 years.
George Goehl: What was it about you that was hungry? I mean, not everybody wants to apprentice at that level.
Doran Schrantz: I think, for me, part of the craft of organizing is that when people become political you become that thing, it sounds to me, you are, it’s something you become. I’m a mix of flaws and undigested experiences and pain and suffering and fears and insecurities and desires and what does it mean to form that into being a public or political person? And some of that is about getting cleared by your own story. So the context of the town that I grew up in had this landscape, it’s a landscape of despair and nothing’s possible, and then in my own house, my parents struggled with substance abuse including opioids. And my dad was married before he married my mother, so there was eight kids in total in the mix. There was a lot of pain from that previous marriage and divorce.
My mom had been to Vietnam in order to pay for school, she ended up on the front lines in Vietnam, actually doing frontline battlefront, civilian casualty. So the things that she witnessed and experienced are pretty horrific, so she always had post-traumatic stress disorder. So there was a kind of undigested pain in my household that internalized as shame, which I actually think is true for a lot of “white families” I’m putting that in quotes and the experience I had with my parents’ struggles and my struggles in relationship with them was one of exile. So we didn’t fit in anywhere and people wouldn’t let their kids play with us because my parents were real messy. And then my experience in that whole context was one of wanting to escape, and then secondly, I simply felt invisible, like there’s just so much going on in my family and I was neglected.
So as I came into adulthood, I had deep empathy for people not being seen. And the thing is, I wanted to be seen and was scared to be public. So there was a hunger I had myself for becoming political, becoming public, knowing who I was, wrestling with this question about power, about being public, about being political, but having agency, not being just smothered by the circumstances that you live in. And I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I believed in myself, I had a lot of fear and stuff, and when I started thinking about what it meant to be with people, what I realized is I want to be on this path.
I’m not doing this for somebody else. I’m angry, I’ve suffered, I know what it feels like to not have power. I know what it feels like to be lost, I want to learn what it feels like to reclaim my agency and life, and that has something to do with power, and it has something to do with the way that I relate to other people, like the other people and this public relationship, like building that I’m not outside of it, I’m in it and I’m doing it with other people. And when I learn how to do it and I’m actually deeply asking those questions of myself, then I’m going to have enough capacity to invite other people into that same path.
George Goehl: You don’t develop that clarity overnight, of your story and what happened and like how when organizing do we help people understand their story? What do we do? How does that work?
Doran Schrantz: Because we all experience in different way, and if you’re black or you’re brown, or you’re an immigrant or you’re a woman or you’re a man or you’re working class or middle-class or upper-class, they are all situated differently. I want to acknowledge that that is a thousand percent true. That being said, there are some building blocks about how a human, who has experienced powerlessness, comes into a relationship with that and crosses a bridge into a path of flight, becoming more agentic. I want to change this and I can. That’s a giant thing to decide it’s possible. It’s like an act of faith, it’s a journey, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating, it’s all those things.
But a huge part of what gets people to the place where they might want to cross that bridge to become public or do something in the world or be a leader as in our lexicon, is connecting their story, their private pain that’s been made private and going public with it, that it’s a communal problem, it’s not just an individualized problem, which is itself a liberating experience. And so the questions, I think that a lot of you have sat in a one-on-one with an organizer in all kinds of different traditions of organizing. A lot of what’s going to happen is you’re going to have somebody asking a lot of why? Where do you think that comes from? When did you learn that?
You don’t skip over the clues that they give you about things that have caused pain, because people leave breadcrumbs for you and you open the door instead of walk by it. And it’s like my drive to be public or to lead is deeply connected to the meaning I make about my experience. But we need space and time and coaching and people to help us draw those connections and actually overcome shame, overcome fear, overcome insecurity. That’s actually where the transformative part, I think, of organizing happens, is in that conversation. Over and over and over again, it’s not one conversation.
George Goehl: Exactly. I wish it was that easy. I’ve been thinking about what you described in a one-on-one, like we steer people towards some uncomfortable stuff and also done well, I think people start to recognize what a gift we’ve brought by asking those why questions.
Doran Schrantz: Right.
George Goehl: Well, I got to ask this. What were some organizing teachings you learned in your early days at ISAIAH that you’re like, keep coming back to?
Doran Schrantz: What happened for me in the first three months, is I was asked to do 15 one-on-ones a week in three different inner ring suburban congregations. The first challenge was like, I have to actually pick up the phone and cold call people and I just have to do it every day and then try to convince these people to meet with me for coffee or at church or whatever. And then I was supposed to write up, but I really learn about this person in the conversation, it was a very rigorous template and then what did I learn about myself? What risks did I take? What didn’t I do? And so I took that pretty seriously and I wrote up the reports and then I would meet with two senior organizers once a week, for two hours, where they had read every single report that I wrote and then they would come at me.
And it wasn’t mean, I don’t mean come at me and really go there, like really unpack, like why did I say this? Or what did I think about that? Or why do I think that I avoided this part instead of that one? Or why was my tendency to keep having like abstract political conversations instead of learning more about their story? Was I curious about other people? Was I afraid? So it was those kinds of conversations and I remember early on, there was a moment where I had met with this woman and she was a little do goodery. She was a staff person at the church and she was do goodery and kind of looked down on people, like from my analysis, I was like, “She thinks she’s helping people, she really looks down on them.”
So I wrote this whole thing that was very critiquing her and also trying to show how insightful I was. And so I think it was Pamela, I think she said something to me like, “So you just think you’re better than other people?” You didn’t find out anything about this person, all you did was judged them. And therefore that whole conversation was about you and not about that person. And I was flabbergasted, horrified and knew it was true. I just remember things like that, where it was like, “Oh, I can’t do my job if I’m spending all my time judging other people. Their job is to organize them, not to judge them or figure out if they’re right or if they agree with me or if they’re good. My job is not to figure out if they’re good and that is such a powerful and searing lesson, and I think really essential for good organizing. Like, as you become a good organizer, you just don’t… that’s just like you would never sit across from a person the way that I, at that, time sat across from that woman.
Another moment was, I sometimes tell this to new organizers, there was a woman I met with, she was very taciturn, she was very Midwestern. I was trying to get her to open up and really talk to me, and I remember sitting at her kitchen table and she had one of those, if you’re from the Midwest you know this, she had one of those plastic table cloths that have pineapples on it, and I have looked at that table cloth my whole life. It was like sitting with my grandmother, people I knew in Iowa where you’re like, “You have the fluff salad and the little smokies in the crock pot.” It was like that.
And I remember thinking to myself, “How did I end up back here?” I was challenged by it, I almost I had the instinct to run away, it’s like I’m back with the same people. I meant to leave this and now I’m back here. And later I was thinking about it and I thought, “If my commitment is to organize people, then I absolutely should be with the pineapple tablecloth.” Because democracy should live here too and these are the people I should organize. So those were a couple of searing moments at the beginning that I think have anchored me.
George Goehl: They’ve clearly stuck with you. There were like five or six community organizing networks that were dominant for a long time. What was faith-based organizing as you were coming up? What did that mean?
Doran Schrantz: It really stems from the idea that there are mediating institutions in civic life, and mediating institutions really matter. So there are places where people have social capital, they gather they have civic life and churches are one of those places. They’re incredibly, especially 20, 30, 40 years ago, incredibly important institutions. Secondly, the idea was these institutions have people in them who are organic leaders in their communities. They’re leaders in the church and there are things that tie those people together that are values based. Most faith based organizing has been multi-faith the whole time, I mean, it’s never been explicitly Christian, although it’s a lot of Christian and in particular Catholic tradition, that faith-based organizing comes out of, but it was values-based and that’s been an incredibly powerful thing to tap and I actually think it was a precursor to a lot of what I would argue is very values-based organizing that’s happening now.
It’s like there is an ethics, there is a sense that we have to be better. And so whether you’re talking about the civil rights movement or the Black Lives Matter movement or you’re talking about the immigrants rights movement, all of those movements have something embedded in them that is about, there is a moral higher ground. And I think that is incredibly important, too actually fertile for constructing politics, especially in America, like to have a moral vision. We see manifestations of it now, like William Barber and the poor people’s campaign, they would definitely see themselves as secular and definitely not Christian, but a lot of the… you can move mentally it seem right now, it’s totally rooted in a moral vision and a demand that all of us live up to that moral vision and an urgency around it.
In some ways, for all of the kind of stodginess of some of faith-based organizing from the past, there always was this thing you could tap into, that was a story, a deeper call, deeper sense of connection and a drive for a role urgent imperative. And I really appreciated that about faith based organizing. I personally did not grow up in an organized religion, we were kicked out of the Catholic church. I was baptized Catholic and then my parents were not allowed to come up to the alter in the town of Iowa at the Catholic church. So I mean, when I said this thing about being exiled, it literally started right there when I was in [inaudible 00:23:17].
George Goehl: Is that how you pin your one-on-one with a priest, is that story?
Doran Schrantz: I actually did have lots of explicit conversations with Catholic priests about that. A lot of what you’re doing when you’re organizing in the church-based context too, is like, “Let’s explore the contradiction between what the scripture say and our moral call and how we act and what we’re doing.” What are we doing? So yeah, I’ve had a lot of organizing conversations with clergy and religious leaders that are about agitating around the contradiction and wrestling with it and struggling with it. And also recognizing, you know what? It is hard to move an institution, which is also the thing I really loved about faith-based organizing. I mean, you don’t get to pick your people when you’re doing that, You have an institution that you have to move.
So it’s a little more like defined set or workplace organizing, you have to find leaders, you have to have a strategy, you have to have a power analysis, you have to like think really carefully about who your champions are, who you’re building a co-conspiracy with. And then really developing a set of leaders to not just run out and do an action, but develop a set of leaders to be like, “We are going to steward our path in this institution, we’re going to move all thousand of these people.” That is pretty sophisticated, it’s hard and fun, exhausting sometimes, but fun. And then the other thing that’s always been untapped potential faith-based, you can move a thousand people, you can move a town.
George Goehl: Right. You might be able to build a relationship with somebody in the institution or even the leader of the institution and get them to show up and speak at something.
Doran Schrantz: Yeah. But the real trick of it is not, can you pluck people out of it to go be activists in your thing? The real trick of it is can you get beyond the activists in that place and start moving the base of that institution?
George Goehl: Okay. Well, two questions on this. What are some steps that happen in moving an institution? And then what are some things you’ve learned and maybe that are even like life in recent years around getting those different institutions which probably don’t see eye to eye on all things to work together?
Doran Schrantz: I mean, it’s not like there’s a recipe book, but you do… If you’re really serious about organizing an institution, this process of doing one-on-ones to find the leaders, and a lot of faith-based organizers will tell you that when they have the first meeting with the clergy person and you always ask them, “Who are other people I can talk to?” And they give you a list of 10 names that are always the wrong 10 people, inevitably, not the people you want to relate to, because they happen to be the people on the social justice committee who are not the most powerful people in the institution. And they’re not necessarily the people who can move other people.
The better step is to like, you’re trying to get into the next ring of people and then your identity. You’re starting to rebuild a team and relationship with the leadership, whether it’s the parish council or the pastor of the staff to say, it’s like a process of unlocking, “Can you build enough alignment of interest that you end up unlocking it so that you have an established base in that institution?” And it’s a lot of relational, it’s a lot of power analysis, it takes a long time, I mean, it’s not quick and dirty, it takes a while. But once you have locked in an institution, it is one of the most sustaining parts of an organization, it’s like that church or that Islamic center is always going to deliver 200 people or if you need to generate 500 phone calls in St. Paul, you know the 20 people that have to get aligned to be like, “Yeah, let’s make that happen.” This is how a thousand calls got made in five days.
George Goehl: So you’ve described moving individuals and you’re moving institutions and definitely all of it grounded in power, and we do this to win things and change things. What’s a fight you guys have been in recently or in now that you’re really excited about or a favorite campaign story around fighting to win something.
Doran Schrantz: So the thing that I’ve been most driven around in the last four or five years is, “Can you make these organizations,” meaning base building, grassroots, really grounded in people and their development, all of that stuff, not boutique and politically relevant. Can it drive politics? Because if we care, if the idea, which I think is really important, that multiracial democracy is ultimately the giant fight we’ve always been in. It’s like, “Can we build a political practice that is relevant and can wield political power?” And there’s so much about the electoral industrial complex that disincentivizes the sense of political agency and power in relationship to real people. And I think one of the problems, one of the reasons we’ve ended up where we’ve ended up, is that everything is atomizing people, turning them into consumers and people mostly have the experience that politics doesn’t work, so fuck it, and fuck it gets you Trump.
I mean, whether it’s like I am so off at the system or whatever or like, “I’m unwilling to take a gamble on this asshole.” I mean, it’s like there are actual white supremacists and white nationalists and then there’s been both people dropping out because it doesn’t really work, like what does it deliver? Like I deliver my vote and what does it do for me? And I think that is a terrible crisis. And it produces these bad things, it’s like a cycle instead of a virtuous cycle, and the vicious cycle is producing terrible, terrible things. So how do we build a politics?
So in the last four years, it’s like we built a C4, but the real question was, can we take this thing that we have and is growing and new people are coming into it, but this thing that we have and wield it in politics in such a way that we’re forcing the party, we’re forcing candidates to… Not just that we’re voting for X, Y and Z to give us stuff, but we’re actually building the politics and we’re influencing the way they do politics so we’re at the center of it as people. And so Faith in Minnesota, the first foray we used, I mean, not every state could do this, but we use the precinct caucus strategy which is built for organizing, it is built for organizing. So how do you infiltrate it?
George Goehl: Well say what that is, make no assumptions. Can you say what that is?
Doran Schrantz: So what a precinct caucus is, is a very weird arcade system, but it’s beautiful. So it said a party endorsement process is such that there’s a very local unit and everybody goes to that local unit and you start the process of deciding who’s the party going to endorse at the precinct level, then the precinct elects people to the next level and the next level elects people to the next level. So in order to influence an endorsement, you can flood people into that caucus, you can train them to move to the next level and we can have a collective strategy through it that’s our base, we’re not loyal to the candidate, we’re loyal to our base. We are loyal to our agenda and what we’re trying to build and we’re going to leverage that to actually have a set of asset or not just issues that are also how they do politics.
So we’ve had asks around like, “We want you to address race head-on.” We think addressing race head-on is what it means to fight Trump, that’s how you win. We want you to focus on voters of color, even in a place like Minnesota, because we think that’s how we win. We want you to talk about a bold agenda. We want to talk about the solutions that meet the crisis that our families are in. We think that matters, we’re making people believe that this democracy can work and if they believe in it, then they’re going to keep engaging in it, but it means you got to get in that game with us. So the first foray we had, it sounds small, but it was quite a feat. We ended up with 11% of the endorsing convention for the governor in 2018 and no one was getting that endorsement without our block of votes.
So the drama was can Faith in Minnesota hold their block of votes? And nobody thought we could do it and we absolutely did it. And we wielded that block of votes for we negotiated, we shaped campaigns, we made them do researches. We really flanked them through the paces. It really shaped not just who got elected, but we shaped the entire discussion. We shaped the campaign season and our people absolutely believed that they had done that. And then that year, we actually elected a set of our own people to the state legislature. We didn’t even mean to do it, but people realized like, “Oh shit, we have power in these senate district conventions, maybe I’ll run.” So then they ran and we endorsed a set of people that of people that came from our base and then they went and now those people are playing significant role in the state house.
They are leading committees, they helped form this thing called the Minnesota Values Project, which is essentially elected official, power organization, labor space, that’s really not only thinking about issues, it’s thinking about what’s our strategy together? What’s our governing strategy? Which is completely amazing, I mean, I’ve been doing legislative work for 15 years, like this political work and we’ve never had this kind of relationship with the people leading the house. So some of them are our people. That has been so transformative in terms of, if you go back to the originating part of this conversation, do people feel like they have power and that what they do matters?
So even in the era of Trump, that was so terrible, everybody in our organization feels more powerful and knows that they made a difference. And we have more people who are more engaged, we have more super leaders, more volunteer organizers who I really call, like a real base has hundreds of volunteer organizers. That was a such a powerful experience for all of us and a very powerful experience for me personally, it’s just been really amazing, really, re inspiring about what this work can be about, and it’s such a huge fight, like how we make politics work for people is such a huge fight.
George Goehl: That’s amazing. It sounds like a just huge leap in power.
Doran Schrantz: Hugely. Well, that’s true too. We did good work and people recognized us, but we have a lot more power, like a lot more power, like a shocking amount more power.
George Goehl: Yeah. Which is especially amazing for and for folks that don’t know ISAIAH has long been considered one of the most impressive community organizing, faith-based organizing institutions in the country, pre-getting into elections in a real way.
Doran Schrantz: Yes. And boy are we happy that we helped elect Keith Ellison.
George Goehl: Yes, right?
Doran Schrantz: Electing Keith Ellison to be attorney general in 2018 has everything to do with what happened in the George Floyd verdict and I think people understand that. It’s not everything, I mean, the movement made that happen, all kinds of things made that happen, but it sure helped to have Keith Ellison as your AG.
George Goehl: No, exactly. I mean, I feel like you and I grew up in an organizing sector that was basically designed to win the best thing possible in the existing political and ideological landscape, and what I see in front of us is so different than what I used to be able to see, actually and largely because of moving into elections.
Doran Schrantz: Yeah, totally.
George Goehl: So to ask questions, organizers, we get so many organizing axiom, what’s your favorite and why?
Doran Schrantz: We’ve invented some of our own organizing axioms over the years, we joke it’s now a new part of the canon. So a new part of the canon is crossing the bridge, from victim hood to agency, and that everything we’re doing is about crossing that bridge to agency and then an organizer’s entire existence and everything about the organization is about crossing a bridge. We have to have a bridge crossing culture everywhere. Anytime anyone encounters any aspect of anything in the organization, is it helping them cross the bridge? And if it’s not, then we have to fix it.
George Goehl: That’s so good. What is one of the first things you teach a new organizer?
Doran Schrantz: We’ve been building this curriculum over the last actually four or five years and part of it is there’s an organizing bootcamp that we do. And we start with, there’s lots of ways to have power. You can be a lobbyist, you can be rich, you can run for office, you could do any number of things. Those are ways to have power, but that is not your path in this job. Your only way to have power is by how many relationships you can build, and the problem you have to solve is how you have power with people, and people are terrible. So it’s like people are a mess and everybody’s going to say that the people that they’re specifically supposed to organize, can’t be organized. There’s something unique about those people that make them un organizable and no organizer worth their salt would ever say that about any people. If the people aren’t organized, it’s because you’re not organizing them.
So you have to decide, is this the kind of path that you want yourself as a path to power, like a path to having an influence where you are entirely dependent on how much of a collective set of relationships, how big of a base you can build. And the problem with building that base with people is definitely people. So let’s talk about the very concrete things that we do to move people, any people, but you can never say, in this organization, ever say that someone can’t be organized. Some group of people are so special, they’re so unique, they’re too rich, they’re too big, they’re too middle-class or too poor or too black or too brown or too much immigrants, they’re just refugees, they’re too rural. Everybody is, “It’s too Midwestern, it’s too East Coast.” If you hear yourself saying those things, then you’re actually in a place of insecurity about whether or not you can do that and that’s the thing you should be wrestling with instead of blaming the people you’re supposed to be organizing.
George Goehl: Yep, yep. I’ve loved this conversation and I feel like… and you and I have talked organizing and other stuff here and there, but what I see and hear in your life is someone that’s been on a quest to understand, get right with and build power for a long time.
Doran Schrantz: Yeah, it’s true.
George Goehl: It’s really cool. Well, thanks for doing this.
Doran Schrantz: You too George.
George Goehl: So much to take away from this conversation. What I hear in Doran’s story is a constant deepening of her understanding of her own path. Reflecting on her experiences from new angles and coming back to those experiences that have not yet been digested. And that’s what we do in organizing, help people know their story, not the stories that others have written for them, but their true story. And we do this person after person, through one-on-ones, training, reflection and through experiences that we create. And I believe becoming a really good organizer requires becoming a better human being, hungry to understand our own shit and to work with it. And we all do this in different ways. Prayer, meditation, therapy, journaling and relationship with others.
I don’t think it really matters how, but we need to do the work or we can only be so helpful to others in doing the same. Organizing whole institutions, not the leader of the institution, but the whole institution, like what becomes possible when we are able to move an entire congregation or an entire town? Within those institutions, find the organic leaders. As Doran said, many will not hold positional power but have networks, are followed by others and are currently untapped leaders in the fight. Doran said, “My job is to organize people. My job is not to figure out if they agree with me, my job is not to figure out if they are good, my job is to organize them. And if my job is to organize new people, I absolutely need to be with a woman with the pineapple tablecloth because democracy should live there too.”
Who represents the person with a pineapple tablecloth in each of our lives? To where each of us taking democracy that it doesn’t already exist. You can learn more about the work that Doran is doing with ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota at peoplesaction.org/next move. You can find Doran on Twitter @DSchrantz.
This podcast was produced by People’s Action and The Mash-Up Americans. It is executive produced by Amy S. Choi and Rebecca Lehrer. Our senior producer is Sara Pellegrini, our development producer is Melissa Lo, production manager, Shelby Sandlin.
- How can we reclaim public spaces for the public good? Doran tells us how in this video interview and article with Jonathan Heller for The Forge.
- Doran co-wrote this piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review about building political bases with Michelle Oyakaw and Liz McKenna.
- You can learn about ISAIAH here and Faith In Minnesota here.