Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Heart of Organizing: From intellectual agreement to collective action

In 1906, Mohandas Gandhi and 3,000 other Indians living in South Africa met to oppose a law that would have required all Indians to be fingerprinted and to carry residency permits, as if they were criminals.

You know how most meetings like this go. Everyone in the room agrees it is wrong.
Maybe they pass a resolution.
Sometimes someone will take action on their own.

And often as not, nothing really changed.

At this meeting, through, something different happened. Rather than just passing a resolution calling for every Indian in South Africa to resist the Ordinance, Sheth Haji Habib suggested that they take things a step farther–that everyone present make a vow before God that they would go to jail rather than submit to the resolution.

Everyone stood up to take the vow.

This is the pinnacle of community organizing: to mobilize a group of people to take a smart, principled action, even at great risk to themselves.

What does this mean for modern-day organizers? Look beyond just intellectual agreement or statements of support. Seek and ask for active support.

It is that active support that will change the world.

Do what needs to be done, or don’t say you’re working hard

There’s a reason that Organizing for Social Change teaches organizers to recruit people for activities, not for meetings. They know that activities are the real work, and there is a danger in recruiting people who just like to go to meetings.

Last week someone told me, “I worked really hard on this campaign. I was only weekly conference calls.”

Nope. Sorry. That doesn’t count.

Conference calls and meetings may be important for doing work well, but the real work happens when between calls or meetings.

Don’t confuse talking about work with work.

The power of enthusiastic support

I’ve already told you how I think part of what makes Lynn Rosetto-Casper a great radio host is that she is a dream feeder.

I saw again the power of enthusiasm in getting people engaged.

Recently I attended a house meeting for a political campaign, and I was amazed to see how supportive and enthusiastic the organizer was.

When someone suggested and idea for how they could support the campaign, the organizer gushed with positive feedback and encouragement for the volunteer to take on that project.

Do you want to register voters in a senior center? That’s a great idea! Good thinking! Go for it.

Even I found myself committing to more than I had bargained for at the meeting. I started out planning just to say that I would run the Detroit Marathon as a fundraiser for this candidate. Soon, the organizer had me thinking bigger about how we could recruit other runners to do the same thing and to make it an event.

How can you get more out of your volunteers and activists? Cheer them on!

The power of face-to-face

Last week I attended a house meeting for people to volunteer with a political campaign, and I re-discovered the power of face-to-face interactions.

I’ve been considering volunteering for this campaign for a while. I even texted the campaign to learn how I could get involved. But somehow I never got around to actually volunteering.

But then I found myself in someone’s living room talking about the campaign, its volnteer needs, and the ways people like me can get involved.

I now have a plan for volunteering.

And to be honest, I’m not sure I would have done it if I had gotten a text back. I’m not sure I would have done it if the person hosting the house meeting had emailed me a list of ways I could get involved.

I needed that face-to-face, person-to-person contact.

That’s why even with all the new technological innovations, as wonderful as they are, personal relationships built through personal contact remain the baseline for community organizing.

No email blast, not fancy text messaging system, and no robo-call campaign can take the place of face-to-face.