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The process of change has two fundamental strategies. One is dismantling structures of oppression while the second is creating structures of liberation. If we don’t have something to replace what we take down, we will lose the confidence of those we are trying to wake up. This process of waking up and engaging in consciously liberating action is when we feel most alive and inspired and connected. Whatever issue is a person’s point of entry, anyone who takes on a struggle and organizes goes through a transformative process in which the world is never the same again.

It is the experience of accessing one’s own power and the power of our collective actions. It is the understanding and experience that you don’t have to just obey or believe in that external authority – be it parent, teacher, priest, cop, coach etc; – that you can trust yourself and your community to do what is needed to live full and healthy lives if not exploited or oppressed. When we have liberated our minds from the paradigm of the external authority, we begin to look to and trust ourselves and each other to create what we need, what feels good, what builds community. In this process we are creating culture.

As long as racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism and other forms of oppression exist, we must work to dismantle them at every level. It is a struggle and it is life work. But ultimately, it is how we choose to engage in this struggle and how we live our lives that will pre-figure the world we want.

People organize because of solutions, not because of problems.

They bitch, moan and complain about problems, but ORGANIZE because they believe or know or see or FEEL that there is a better way…

To organize we must be able to tell a story that:
  • Is Credible
  • Has a plan
  • Can succeed
  • Understands why people obey – habit, fear
The primary role of an organizer is to create a container in which people can:
  • Experience and move through their fear and act with courage
  • Experience and build their power and make change

These are different sides of the same coin and the process for each is integral to the other.

Organizers help move people through a process from indifference or powerlessness or rage or victimization into a clear identification of the problem and then a generation of ideas for the solutions.  Getting people to identify their vision for the future and then developing a realistic plan to get there using simple achievable steps can make all the difference.

There are several models of organizing – depending on if you are working with labor, the community, nonprofits or grassroots groups.  I have learned that none are right or wrong but all have advantages and disadvantages.  You need to work within the community you find yourself and then build the culture you desire.   It also helps to be really clear on your goals, however some models may be more effective than others.

An Organizers Role:

  • To question and listen
  • Be concise
  • Develop one on one relationships
  • Identify and develop new leaders
  • Keep meetings short and focused
  • To be open, honest, up front and not defensive
  • To Challenge
  • Provide Humor and HOPE
  • Be serious – people’s jobs and lives may be stake

Thoughts about an organizers role:

  • It is about asking the questions, which lead the worker to the information they need to know. This is the first step in workers understanding their own power. They know much more than they think.
  • It’s about identifying power relationships and how to change them
  • Organizing is not about “helping”. It’s about laying down the challenge and making choices clear.
  • We cannot make people’s decisions for them. We must explain the risks and let them decide.
  • People respect you more if you clearly lay out the challenge than if you kiss their ass.
UnorganizedWorkplace/Group Organizers/Leaders OrganizedWorkplace/Group
Confused Interpret Understanding
Apathetic Motivate Active
Scared Challenge Confident
Divided Unify Working Together
Going Nowhere Plan Purpose

Organizing Principles

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Organizing is about building relationships. People need to feel like they are a part of something. It takes people time to develop trust, learn, move to take risks. Your approach must be positive and affirming. It’s about power, participation and community.

  • One-on-One Communication: Organizing is Relationships
  • Ownership: recruit/develop leaders
  • Message/Vision: must be one that makes sense, which creates common ground among workers
  • Detail Matters – pay attention
  • Strategic Plans – without it you will flounder. Always be flexible. The best-laid plans may need to be changed or evolve as conditions change.