Get Off the Bench and On to the Playing Field: A Guide to Professional Activism

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For an increasing number of young Americans, politics is seen as both a frustration and fascination. From the more simplistic, partisan electoral noise that crops up ever two years, to the deeper and more complex discussion of the issues, greater numbers are now beginning to shed the apathy which once defined the American electorate and are looking to get involved to help bring about the kind of change they believe is needed to secure a brighter and more equitable future.

Yet for many, the doors to becoming fully fledged activists often appear closed or hidden. Whether one simply can't find the time amid other pressing issues like paying off debt and making a living, or merely finds that the incoherent channels for activism get lost in the mix, the ability to take that first – or next – step into political activism is often difficult. However, given money’s role in our current political process, the opportunities for people looking to enter fields of activism, issue advocacy and the general craft of popular politics on a professional level have never been more plentiful.

And the starting point for those interested, in this case, is the Internet.

Whether you wish to reign in unaccountable corporate influence peddlers, protect the environment from polluters, defend women’s right to choose or aid the labor movement in its defense of worker rights and dignified wages, there are no shortage of opportunities to jump into the world of professional activism. Below are some handy resources, often used by professional field operatives and organizations for staffing and campaign needs, which can serve as an initial way to plug in and find out how you can contribute:

DemocraticGain.org:Despite its name, DemocraticGain is more than a party recruitment tool. With postings from left leaning and progressive PAC organizations and conventional progressive allies such as labor unions, pro-choice groups and environmental organizations, paid job postings can range from the most basic field canvasser position to higher end managerial posts. Additionally, the site is rich with educational resources to help one better understand the nature and language of professional activism as it works today, helping to prepare people for the specific careers they seek.

Unionjobs.com: From training programs teaching the art and science of labor organizing, to research and analytical work, Unionjobs.com is a nationwide staffing resource for people looking to join the labor movement as working professionals.

Idealist.org: Geared generally towards the philanthropic non-profit sector, Idealist.org focuses on helping individuals find both professional and volunteer opportunities with the aim of bettering communities worldwide.

JobsThatAreLeft: As a Google Group, “JobsThatAreLeft” requires a gmail or google plus account to access. Complete with nationwide job postings, joining the group also provides the user/applicant with daily email updates featuring sometimes upwards of 50 job opportunities a day, ranging from basic and entry level to regional and national managerial levels.

FieldWorks: A nationwide private consulting firm, FieldWorks is one of many “turn key” campaign consulting groups specializing in field operations ranging from basic canvass, petition and fundraising efforts to more dynamic field research and campaign operations. Though not as active in terms of regular available opportunities as some other outlets, FieldWorks is one of many progressive consulting firms that can help introduce aspiring professionals to the world of professional campaign operations and provide a variety of experiences to help them grow professionally.

For more local opportunities, a simple swing through Craigslist’s “NonProfit” section can often provide many entry level opportunities available in the areas of canvassing, phone bank staffing and non-profit/political efforts.

As with any profession, applicable skill sets and a willingness to work one’s way up in the non-profit sector are rather important. Before you lament your lack of a political science degree or masters degree in labor relations, take stock of the skills you already possess to help determine the best course of action.

Experience in sales, marketing, customer service – and essentially any profession in which one engages with the public – can all be brought to the table. It's often a mix of existing skills and your dedication to a cause that many hiring managers and field directors are seeking. Tailoring your approach to best suit your interests and strengths can make or break an application.

As part of this, knowledge and interest in the issues or causes you wish to work on are crucial – both in the seeking-out process and in the practice of professional activism. The question of why you wish to work for a given campaign or cause can be as equally pressing as how you intend to do it. To this end, when seeking a job as an organizer or staffer, be sure to look for an organization and/or a cause with which you’re already familiar, if only topically.

Whether you're seeking to begin a career as a professional politico or merely wishing to dip a toe in the water, the spectrum of professional activism is vast and the possibilities of work are many. Much of what constitutes professional activism today also falls under the moniker of what some call the nonprofit industrial-complex, which generations of professional activists have consciously and unconsciously helped to shape.

Activists still need to overcome their fear of money, which has kept many radicals marginalized politically. The knowledge, skills and experiences gained while working within existing activist structures can be quickly converted into more radical, private efforts. From canvassing work to directorships to the mastery of conventional fundraising, the purpose – and net effect – of the activist's tradecraft is ultimately learned, like most things, through the process doing it.

This article was originally posted on Occupy.com


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