Paul Washington speaking at a podium in front of a large audience.
Cover Image © Paul Washington

Black Perspectives #14: Paul Washington (Community Organizer)

Today I’m proud to share my brother, Paul Washington, with you. (Not “brother” in the – my brotha’ – kinda’ way, and we aren’t related by blood or law — but we have 30+ years of history. So, yeah… “My brother.”) Through life, his actions have spoken for his core values. And, at work, he regularly seeks opportunity, equality, and justice for all. Enjoy this Black Perspective.

Introducing: Paul Washington

SSD: Jumping right in, tell me a bit about yourself and what you do.

PW: My official title is “Training Manager” and I work for a statewide collaborative. We have member organizations, [and] all [of the] organizations are independent – but, in order to win statewide policies, we often come together to share the work. I am the training manager for those statewide efforts, and It is my goal to help get everyone the skills [necessary] to run effective programs (e.g., signature gathering for a ballot initiative, GOTV (Get Out The Vote) turnout, city ordinance, etc.).

I would describe my profession as “people and policy management”. To be successful you need to be able to maintain lots of relationships, and you need to be able to position yourself in a way that will yield the highest chance of alignment and success among several different organizations that were founded on different principles.

Paul Washington, Community Leader and Organizer, happily posing for a picture.

SSD: What inspired you to get into what you’re doing?

PW: So, it’s a really long story about how I made the choice, [but] I’ll try to give you the quick version.

I used to work at an apartment complex (low-income, Section 8, etc.) and my job was to help folks matriculate out of there and to try to get to a better position. I ran job preparedness courses, resume writing, computer skills — things like that.

After about a year of training people and seeing the results of their efforts wasted on systems that just were not set up for them to succeed, I wanted to go deeper. I saw that it wasn’t lack of effort/drive that held people back, rather it was systems and lack of opportunity. So, I decided that I wanted to address those problems.

In my line of work there is a story often told to new organizers. “You go to a river and while you are fishing you see someone floating down the river drowning. You jump in to save them. Five minutes later you see the same thing, and you continue to jump in and save people. After about 2 hours of this, you look beyond the surface and get past the urge to jump in to save the next person because you realize that there must be something going on upriver – and if this is ever going to stop you are going to have to go see who is throwing them in.”

That’s what my work is in a nutshell.

SSD: What do you hope to accomplish as you continue to pursue what you’re doing?

PW: What do I hope to accomplish? This is a loaded question because in my work there are several long-term goals and short-term goals, all of them are important to me. I think, ultimately, I want to see people be able to live in a society that offers less resistance to their success

SSD: What’s a tip that you’d give someone who sees you, is inspired, and wants to follow in your footsteps?

PW: There are so many things to choose to work on. So many public issues that you can find yourself sucked into. I would advise that someone getting into organizing, at any level, understand what really motivates them. This work will drain you quickly. The losses are huge, and the wins always seem small because the problems are that big. I would say that a person in my field should have a 10-year plan, not a 5-year plan. This road is long.

SSD: Ok, let’s put a pin in that, for now. We’re going to come back to some of what you just said there later because I think there’s a bit to unpack.

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