The first rule of community organizing is to meet people where they Not where you are or where you want them to be. Where they are.
And most people are completely overwhelmed with the world they live in.
Every brain cell is overwhelmed with getting the kids to soccer practice, worrying about retirement, wondering about dinner, feeling guilty over not exercising, trying to remember to take the car in for an oil change, hoping their mother doesn’t move in with them, looking forward to a weekend off and an endless stream of other thoughts.
They don’t have time to think.
At least, not about something that seems extraneous to them. It’s not that their stupid. Their brains are just full.
And this 24/7 always-on, media-overload, hyper-connected world just exacerbates that.
You can’t solve this problem for people, so you have to work with it.
As a community organizer, that means you need to:
- Stop being condescending. I’m not going to demean anybody for not thinking about the SOA/WHINSEC, Complex Transformation, or dry versus liquid malt extract. After all, I don’t want them to criticize me for not thinking about developments in auto industry or the plight of abandoned rabbits.
- Give people bite-sized pieces of information. Now that we’re not beating each-other up over not thinking about everything, our next job is to make it easy for people to approach the issue. Yes, this requires some oversimplifications. No, we don’t get to prove how smart we are by going into all the intricacies. Yes, it will make it easier for someone else to listen to us.
- Be agonizingly clear what you want people to think and to do. We can organize people without overwhelming them. I ask you to write a letter to promote human rights in Latin America by closing the SOA/WHINSEC without subjecting you to a lecture on the last 60 years of U.S. intervention in Latin America, that doesn’t mean
- Look for long-term relationships. In gardening, a slow drip of water is more effective than dumping a pail of water on your plants all at once. Likewise, in organizing, we’re asking people to take a series of steps to learn more and do more about an issue. Look at the big picture. In this long walk we will take together, there will be time for the in-depth discussion of why Kissinger has changed his perspective on nuclear disarmament. We’ll get there. Today, let’s just start with “Tell Senator Levin not to build new nukes. These could blow up the world, and it’s not worth the risk.”