Her Twitter profile says it all.
“Highly acidic, OG savage; organizer/political strategist fighting the dark arts of politics in the Dirty South.”
Stacey Hopkins has skewered Georgia’s Republican lawmakers on social media for not listening to voters who call about various bills currently before the legislature, including the voting bills. The 57-year-old married mother of five has worked for some of Atlanta’s top organizing groups (“I left heartbroken”) and once co-hosted a radio show aptly called “Down South and Dirty.” Last year, she was featured in a Time magazine article about Americans’ struggles to vote.
But personal challenges have sidelined much of Hopkins’ organizing efforts this year. She and her family are living in an extended stay hotel in Marietta after their landlord decided to sell the house they were renting. She’s also coming out from under the emotional fog of losing three friends and fellow organizers recently to COVID-19. Hopkins has been in community organizing since 2004.
“I’ve become a professional mourner in one month,” Hopkins told Atlanta Civic Circle.
We caught up with Hopkins this week to talk about her biggest takeaways from the recent elections and the challenges of community organizing. She is brutally frank about the internal politics of organizing, the need for Democrats to revamp their strategy (“They can’t be the Oprah of the left”), and what keeps her going.
“It’s rough out here,” Hopkins said. “Things are not what they seem. I’m reaching the disillusioned, jaded portion of the show. It’s kind of disheartening.”
Here’s Hopkins’ story.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing community organizers?
A.No money. No resources. No support. I’ve given up a lot over the years. While I was out saving the world my family was suffering and falling apart and now I find myself learning there’s no real career path for organizers. It’s a tough life. It’s hard when you see people who you’ve come up with dying from lack of health care and they’re suffering from mental health issues, from depression because the toll of organizing on your soul takes a lot out of you. It can financially ruin you. Then there’s the internal politics that goes on year after year. Politics needs to back out of the social justice movement. The social justice movement provides the base for which public policies should be crafted.
Q. What needs to be done from an organizing point-of-view?
A. The political parties, the nonprofits, the funders need to identify those who are actually working on the ground and put the money in their hands, and let them do the work that needs to be done, unfettered. They’ve got our hands tied. Your advocacy only goes as far as what the funders want. We’re at the mercy of the funders. The problem is we’ve seen a lot of groups who want to do certain things whether it’s electoral politics or mutual aid work. There’s money out there to do organizing work but it’s all about voter registration. We don’t have a voter registration problem in Georgia. We have a vote-counting problem. The Republicans are trying to prevent votes from being counted. As a black woman, I’m used to barriers. If they’re going to throw up barriers then you need to have a pre-emptive strategy to prevent that instead of hollering about it every year. It’s frustrating to sit here for years and years and watch [Republicans] do this and get bolder with their actions.
Q. Sounds like you’re ready to hang up your organizing shoes.
A. No. I’m not ready to hang it up. In chaos, there’s opportunity and right now we’re on the precipice of a renaissance. This is the time for the thinkers to come up with those big, bold new ideas because the old ones haven’t worked.
Q. Is there anything that can be done by community organizers and grassroots groups regarding the voting-related bills currently in the legislature?
A. I don’t want to seem pessimistic. I’m realistic. I don’t think anything can be done at the local organizing level. It’s up to the legal community to challenge these laws in court. If we look at how the Republicans in previous elections got their wins and advanced their agenda, they got it through the courts.
Q. What’s the biggest lesson you learned as an organizer?
A. I’ve learned it’s the small wins that matter. We tend to look at big, bold actions as being effective organizing. Organizing is more effective and actually produces better results when it’s done locally. Just like they say all politics is local. All organizing is local. Personally, I get great joy when I’m in a store and someone calls my name. They’ll say ‘you may not remember me but you helped me resolve an issue.’ And that is the most satisfying part of organizing, realizing you made a difference. You may not have changed the world but you changed one person’s life for the better.
Q. Why do you do this?
A.There’s no logical reason why anyone would want to do this. If someone gives you a logical answer, they’re not a good organizer. You can only do this for the love of people, for the love of democracy, for the love of the promise of what America could be. But there’s no logical reason to do it.