How Hitch-Hiking Imitates Organizing

This post is dedicated to Amy Staples, the wonderful board chair of TCASK and the board chair and founder of TCAAHH (the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish Alex’s Hitch Hiking)

So I spent Friday afternoon and night hitching from Nashville down to Mobile, and I should make it clear, at this point, that this was a recreational trip – TCASK does not force it’s employees to hitch hike for work trips. But over and over again the similarities between our outreach work and trying to get rides struck me, so I thought that this would be a good time to share.

To begin with, in a lot of ways, the goals are similar. In both cases we are trying to build a relationship of trust with people, either to get them to share their time and stories with us, or to get them to trust me enough to let me into their car. And we’re doing it for a purpose, a strategic goal (get to Mobile, abolish the death penalty, etc.)

Now some quick tips.

1) Have a goal- in my case this involved a sign which read “Mobile or Bust” but when we organize people we need to know what our ask of them is. Is it a ride down the highway, a donation to our organization, a signature, a moratorium resolution, or what?

2) Presentation matters- when I hitch, I do not dress in my ripped jeans and t-shirt and forget to shave. In fact, I was wearing a nice sweatshirt and kackis, as well as being cleanly shaved and clean cut. Every person who picked me up explained that they usually wouldn’t but I looked nice and unthreatening. So when we go to speak to people, dress respectfully and make sure that you are demonstrating that you’re ask is attractive.

3) Be nice- I always smile at cars and wave if they smile back, even if they don’t pick me up. Why? There are a lot of reasons- one it will help keep you in a good mood. Two, the car behind might notice and be more likely to pick me up. So always be nice, even when people don’t respond to your ask. It isn’t necessarily because they are bad people, they may be busy, or not going your way, or they might have friends that might help you if you’re polite.

4) Be patient- It took me an hour and a half to get my first ride out of Nashville, and it was getting hot and discouraging. But that ride took me an hour out of his way and bought me dinner just to be nice, then I got three rides in a row with hardly any waiting. Things won’t always happen at the pace we’d like, but we to work with the opportunities and people that we have, so just keep plugging and we will get there. I’ve never failed to reach a destination that I’ve set out to hitch to, and organizing works the same way. That being said. . .

5) Be strategic- Find good exits with long on ramps and a lot of traffic. In other words, to reach our goals, go where the people are to maximize your chances of success.

6) Have fun. Never take yourself to seriously. Remember to laugh at the fact that you’re standing on the side of the road with your thumb in the air or that you’re trying to abolish the death penalty in the South. Remember that the lady who said that it’s OK to execute innocent people, because “they shouldn’t get themselves in the position to get in trouble to begin with” is funny, and be prepared to laugh. It’ll make the next people more likely to pick you up because you’re having fun and the work looks fun too.

So, (just for Amy) I’ll stop short of encouraging everyone to hitch hike somewhere, but I hope that my little analogy was a fun one and may help. It may also say something that this is what I was thinking about on my trip. In any case, let’s all get out on the road (to abolition).

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