Steve Williams is a long-time community organizer in San Francisco and the cofounder and executive director (1997-2012) of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER). He recently completed a listening project with N’Tanya Lee in which they interviewed 150 organizers and activists from around the country. Williams now coordinates Left Roots, a national organization of leftists engaged in various social movements.
“I would say that there is a particular task for leftists at this particular moment that is similar but distinct from the task of progressives, those who are engaged in mass organizations. And I would say that there are two tasks that leftists at this moment have to take up. The first is very clearly articulating what is our vision of a better world. I think that’s a particular role and responsibility of the Left, and I think that we need to take that up and take it seriously….
“The second aspect I think of our tasks is to engage in the fights. Ultimately, as leftists we have to think about the task of shifting the balance of power. And that’s a task that doesn’t necessarily happen on the scoreboard of policy legislation and electoral victories, right now. Some of our fight has to be taking place on the ground, building up the capacity of people in everyday neighborhoods….to develop organization and to develop capacity that allows us to be able to exercise the power to be able to construct a very different world. . . . I would encourage each and every one of you to take up the project of actively building democratic fighting organizations of people, whether it’s fast food workers, domestic workers, undocumented folks, unemployed workers, what have you, but our task at this moment is to develop vision, and develop the capacity to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that are standing in front of us. . . .”