An organizer’s journey
Volume 112, No. 4April, 2012
Bennett M. Baruch is the director of organizing and supervisor of the union’s single engagement department. If you’re playing a job where you feel disrespected or know that you aren’t being paid fairly, contact Bennett at (212) 245-4802, ext. 141 or BMbaruch@Local802afm.org. You can also call the Local 802 hotline anonymously at (212) 245-4802, ext. 260 to report a job or working situation.
On a late Friday afternoon in June 2008, I picked up the receiver to the phone while getting ready to leave my office for the weekend. It was my good friend Joe, who took time out of his hectic day to give me a call and catch up. After five minutes he made “the ask” – “Bennett, I know you’ve been closely following the primaries since January. I know you’re a supporter of Senator Obama. How about you come out to Ohio and help us win?” I didn’t know the first thing about campaigning or electoral politics (other than the magic number of 270), but at that moment I made my choice and knew that I was quickly moving.
The state of Ohio plays a large role in electing presidents due to the Electoral College. In fact no Republican has ever won the presidency without taking Ohio and its 20 sought-after electoral votes.
My mission was to organize a city of approximately 50,000 people and turn out the vote on Election Day.
I had to inspire the supporters of our campaign to do extraordinary actions like host informational house parties for strangers and make thousands of phone calls. The campaign was steeped in the belief that our message would receive more traction from undecided voters if people from their community contacted them versus someone from New York.
It worked – we increased voter participation in a population that was unmotivated and where displacement and unemployment were rampant.
I was told more times than I can count that it was impossible to get people to volunteer their time, energy or treasure. But in the end, Ohio taught me valuable lessons: to believe in your mission and each other; without action you aren’t going anywhere; and finally, there will always be people to tell you that you can’t.
I was coached well in Ohio and I wanted to harness my newfound experience to effect change on a local level back home in New York City.
I started by educating and empowering the immigrants in the community and my apartment building, which was infested with bedbugs.
Together we formed a tenant association that met monthly and joined a larger community of associations in suing the landlord.
Ultimately my organizing experience led me down a road that propelled me to become more involved in local politics, eventually landing a position as a field director for a City Council race in northern Brooklyn.
It was in this environment that I was able to crystallize the lessons that I learned as a community organizer.
Facing an uphill battle in the polls, my team strategically utilized our limited resources through an unprecedented grassroots organizing effort that consisted of volunteers pounding the pavement each day leading up to the election.
And on Election Day, our effort paid off, as we defeated our opponent by 250 votes.
This experience taught me that the power to effect change relies on the many individuals who want it. If harnessed, the messages and stories of those people can move others to do amazing things. All struggles are won not by any one person, but by the masses.
So far, in my two months here, I have encountered support from great people who also believe in solidarity and who believe in the strength of musicians working together as a union.
I look forward to meeting you. Please come up to the third floor to say hello and share your story.