It’s time to Meet The Team! In this series, the FMF Campus Organizers will talk a little bit about ourselves and also give you valuable organizing advice that we’ve picked up along our ways. Oh, and we’ll show you lots of photos of ourselves. Because that’s important.
Imagine you’re in a room where you know no one. You walk in, survey the room, and immediately gravitate towards the refreshments table. What else are you supposed to do? If you can’t partake in niceties, why not refresh? But then you realize that you’ve had enough refreshing. That’s not even why you’re here. Instead, you give yourself a mini pep talk and then mosey on into the already formed cliques. But how do you talk to someone you just met? How do you connect with a random individual?
Before I get into some pointers on how to fix this situation or even make it a little bit more tolerable, let me tell you a bit about myself.
Besides having a flair for the comedic, I am a recent graduate of Florida International University. I was there for ten years on and off, so I can’t really say that it was necessarily the best time of my life because it was basically my whole life. I will say this though: it was a great experience. I blossomed late with my involvement in grassroots organizing but I was able to intern with various local social service and advocacy community groups and become heavily involved within my own campus Feminist movements over that time. Since FIU is predominantly a commuter school within a huge metropolitan setting, we were able to work on a variety of campaigns and connect any sort of campus activism with local community efforts; that made me realize how important networking and coalition-building are in this movement.
Meeting new people has always been a very fruitful experience for me. We already know that it’s not just what you know but also who you know that’s important: I looked towards all different kinds of student organizations on campus to build relationships and coalitions and participated in various conferences and workshops too during my time at FIU. If there was any event that seemed to intersect with my activism (and/or was offering free food), I was there! And if I couldn’t be there, I sent someone else. Trust me, it was very difficult to maintain this active schedule, but showing even a little bit of interest in an organization or group is important. Eventually, I’d formed a net of support for when I needed help in my own organizing, and my organizing was better because of what I’d learned through my network.
So let’s go back to our awkward 90’s teen movie networking scenario. I’ve learned a few things through my own networking, and though I’m extroverted they’re solid pieces of advice for anyone trying to get their name or their organization’s work out there.
When networking, let your passion for organizing guide you. Let your your work propel you through the room. If anything, it should calm you down a bit and dissolve some of your nerves to set goals beyond just meeting people – think about the connections you think would be valuable to make, think about the partnerships you’d love to take up. Although showing up is not a test, the more prepared you are the smoother the experience will be. Know your cause. Know your organization. And know the organization and person you hope to work with in the future. Have a game plan before you get there and you’re less likely to find yourself captivated by the appetizers all night.
So now let’s fast forward to actually being there: you’re standing there, in the room, nodding your head. Maybe yawning, since it’s 6PM. You’re just about ready to make the bold move of – dare I say it – reaching out to someone. So go for it! Talk to people. Making conversation with random strangers is hard but the more you do it, the more you keep talking, the easier it is. Show them your passion. Express to them your knowledge. Be personable. And be genuine: if you’re funny, be funny; if you’re awkward, be awkward.
Through my organizing experience I have seen how important it is to build relationships and create coalitions. You would be doing yourself a disservice to not partake in any opportunity to meet someone or form a relationship with a new allied organization. Building connections and bonds are very important – intimidating, but important. So regardless of whether you feel prepared more now or not, there’s only one option left: diving right in.