Recently, a man told me that because my four-year-old child is a priority in my life, I’m not ready to be a community organizer. This man is the literal leader of a local community organizing community organization. He made sure to tell me that he founded that organization 15 years ago no fewer than three times during our 10 minute conversation.

When he asked if I’ve been invited to their week-long out-of-town organizer training, I told him that I’ve been invited more than once but cannot attend because I have a four year old I won’t leave home for a week and asked if they offer childcare. This man, this leader, this long-time “community organizer”, told me that the organization refuses to offer childcare. That they’ve “tried it” but when people bring their children to a week-long training session, it just “becomes chaos”. That people don’t focus on the work when their children are there. (And by “there”, I mean in the same city but with a childcare provider for most of the day. Just like any other day in the life of a parent.)

A man told me that if I have a partner, I can just “train him” to care for our child so I can attend this training and be away for a week.

A man told me that sometimes people just have to accept that they’re not “ready for this work” if they can’t fully commit in the specific way he and his organization expect.

A man I met at the beginning of a conversation felt comfortable enough to immediately make assumptions about my priorities, my accomplishments, my abilities, and my assertiveness.

A man who calls himself a leader – who actively BRAGS about being a leader – TRIED to make me feel small and unworthy and unimportant.

But that man has made several glaring mistakes.
He thinks that because he’s been able to plow over others throughout his life that he could assume I’d allow him to plow over me.
He thinks it’s acceptable to minimize the contributions of the people raising the next generation of humans.
He thinks mothers are unable to balance the demands of parenting plus working plus capitalism plus organizing.
He thinks that standing above a seated woman and telling her she’s not dedicated enough will deter her from using her power and working for change.
He thinks that his 15 years in this space protects him from having it all crash down around him as he underestimates the power and tenacity of those he’s walked on while building his fragile ecosystem of inequity, maltreatment, hierarchy, and patriarchy.

He’s forgotten – or never knew – what it is to be a leader. He’s not thinking holistically about community. He isn’t aware of this yet, but he is no longer a community leader, because he has lost sight of both community and leadership.

The power of change lies with the people, not the leaders. As long as we maintain the status quo of following leaders for the sake of having a leader, we hold no power. The status quo of leadership doesn’t require trust or even good intention, and progressive change within a community cannot happen without both trust and positive intention.

It’s up to us, the people, to hold any leaders we support accountable for their actions and intentions every single day. It’s up to us, the people, to become the leaders when the leaders fail us, and to relinquish the power of leadership when we are no longer the appropriate person for the role.

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