Why community organizing is like splitting wood

Splitting Wood, photo by John Coller, Jr.When I grew up, we heated our home with wood heat. That meant I spent a lot of time with my dad hauling, splitting, and stacking wood.

Now, the thing about splitting wood is you have to do it one piece at a time. You set up a chunk of wood, swing the splitting maul, and put all your force into splitting one piece of wood.

One piece of wood.

But what does splitting wood have to do with organizing?

  1. Swing for all your worth: You don’t get anywhere with half-measures. If you’re gonna swing that maul, swing like you mean it. Likewise, if you’re gonna work on an issue, be prepared to put you back into it and your heart into it and make it worth it.
  2. Keep at it: Sometimes you didn’t split the wood on your first swing. Sometimes you missed the seam that would split the log. Sometimes you just plain missed. The thing to do was to pick up the maul and swing again. Likewise, we won’t win every campaign on the first try. We need to be ready to give it another go.
  3. But know when to quit: Some chunks of wood were so nobby and twisted they just wouldn’t split. Those were the ones to set aside. Use them for bonfires. See if more drying time softened them up. Don’t spend all day trying to split the impossible log when there’s a whole pile that will split waiting for you. In community organizing, we need to know when to say enough, it’s time to work on another issue or another campaign.
  4. Dr. Seuss's Super Axe HackerAnd most important, you can only split one log at at time. It doesn’t work if you try to tap 10 pieces of wood ten times.The Onceler’s “super axe hacker” that “chops down four truffula trees in one smacker” may work for Dr. Seuss, but I never had that luxury. Likewise, when we’re working on issues, we need to be able to put enough umph into each of them that can split them open. Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions.

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