There are many roles folk can play in doing politics. Each role is important for having a functional campaign or organization. There are multiple ways you can divide up these roles, but what follows is a fairly simply and oft-used break out of responsibilities:
Now, when you begin, you'll likely be taking on all three roles at once. So it's hard to differentiate. But it's worthwhile to note that when working with others that this is a very usual way of dividing up organizational structure. You need more activists than leaders, and you need more leaders than organizers. Also, responsibility increases as you move down the chain. Even though this is so, I put activists up on top -- not because it's harder, but because in the end, if you're a leader or an organizer, your power is derived from your activists.
What are activists?
Activists do things to further a goal. Rather than just agreeing with you [your base], they'll go the extra mile and allocate time or money or both to your mission. They're committed to making it happen. Your base will think you have good ideas, and out of your base you'll get activists that make those ideas happen. Now, it tends to all be volunteer time so you can only do so much with that. That's important to realize -- and relates back to my previous post about taking care of yourself -- but it's still a lot more than most folk are willing to give.
Activists are rare, comparitively speaking .They're gold. Without activists you got nothin'. Never let your position as leader or organizer go to your head, because ultimately you ain't the one doing it -- you have more responsibility and all, but it's your activists that matter.
Them's the breaks.
What are leaders?
We can expound on this for way too long. I have been guilty of doing so before. A good rule for knowing whether someone is a leader [and not a good rule for making yourself into a leader] is that leaders have followers. Done, and done.
There's much pontification on the ephemeral nature of leadership. "Don't worry too much about it" is my advice. There's no magical formula. If you become a leader at one point, you may not be a leader at another point. Leaders come and go, and it's a good experience for everyone to get regardless -- because then you have a stronger whole.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you do this stuff enough, you'll probably run into folk that want to challenge the notion of leadership, and act like it doesn't exist. The best advice I have is to agree with them -- because, ultimately, leadership is ephemeral, and as such, it can't be controlled very well anyways. Mostly all these folk mean, in the end, is that they want things to be equal, which is certainly accomplishable even if leaders happen to emerge.
In the end, whether someone is a leader is more a product of circumstance and the values that people hold within a group. They'll follow people they trust and respect, and you'll want to find people who not only can earn trust and respect, but also -- if you're lucky -- actually deserve that trust and respect because they have good judgment.
But, do not fret too much about it. What's far more important is just finding people who will work together and trying to work towards your goals. Leaders will likely emerge in the process.
What is an organizer?
An organizer is something of an ephemeral concept, as well. They're the person who is responsible for some strategy or campaign to be seen to completion. They connect people together who would work well together. They're good at spotting leaders as they emerge.
There is much that can be said, but the gist is that an organizer doesn't have time to be an activist, and doesn't have time to be a leader, because being an activist requires time to do actions, and leaders require time to see to hteir activist's needs. Organizers just make sure things go alright, which can mean sometimes picking up an activist role, sometimes picking up a leadership role, and ultimately just making sure people follow through on the things they say they'll do. So you need people skills, you need contact information, and you need an incredible amount of patience -- as well as a sense for power dynamics, and how things in the world of organizations work.
At first, when you begin trying to engage government -- or whatever it is you want to organize within -- you'll be the activist-leader-organizer super hero. You will likely burn out if you keep doing that. So keep looking out for others that might be on your side. But until then, you are what I like to call "the boot strap". Just know that it's going to take, like, FOREVER to get anywhere. And I mean FOREVER. So don't set your expectations too high. Just get to work and patiently do what you can do and TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
As I noted, there's a lot that can be said for each of these roles. These are just some notions -- notions I had to learn the hard way by screwing up a bunch. I'm hoping that by at least having the words and a general gist on them that can help any other boot straps out there.