I’ve been asked a few times about the books I’ve read that shape my thinking about social change. Everytime I think about it, I’m always amazed by how much these books influenced my own views over these past few years!
Below is my short list of my top 6 books for social change. In the comments, make sure to leave your favorite books or if you have thoughts on these books!
Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy by Rinku Sen
If you’ve been following Organizing Change, you know I’ve mentioned Rinku Sen and this book a few times (e.g. her ideas on long-lasting movements, leadership development, the importance of a values-based ideology, and organizational development).
Rinku Sen’s perspective is the perfect framework for the 21st century, as opposed to relying on the previous Alinsky-tradition. Her analysis demonstrates the need for cross-issue strategies and pushing for long-term culture change over shorter-term victories.
To me the critical message and sentence from the book is that those pushing for social change need to start “increasing our organizing among the people affected and then addressing their issues with sustained campaigns and the addition of research and media capacity.”
While the book is laid out a bit more densely than something like Organizing for Social Change (described below), you will find the core skills and analysis we need to make concrete and impactful results through strategic organizing.
Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision by George Lakoff
This is a great addition to George Lakoff’s other book on values-based framing. Don’t Think of an Elephant.
This book builds on those framing discussions and really delves into how we can create a long-term and resilient strategy for creating a positive progressive future.
George Lakoff looks at effective ways to communicate our vision and values that truly represent what we believe and avoiding deceptive/poor tactics and phrasing. He also describes, and gives detailed examples for, the need for cross-issue campaigns (which he calls “Strategic Initiatives”).
It’s a short read, but packed with the essentials on how to authentically communicate for the common-good.
De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century by Elizabeth Martínez
When I first picked up this book, I had no idea how much it would fundamentally influence my efforts here on Organizing Change.
Elizabeth Martínez’s book has not got nearly the attention it deserves. This description of progressive activism and history in the 20th century highlights key movements, while at the same time offering wisdom on better strategies we can take in this century.
For example, Elizabeth Martínez notes that the aversion to incorporating spirituality in leftist circles “has opened the door wide to right-wing manipulation of spiritual hunger.” She offers as a counter, that we should be allowing room for faith and other affirmations of the heart instead of suppressing these essential parts of ourselves.
So if you’re looking to learn from past social change organizing and how we can grow/shift these efforts, then check out this incredible book!
Organizing for Social Change by Midwest Academy
This manual is perfect for understanding the fundamentals and advanced practices of organizers in any field.
The Midwest Academy’s book offers an in-depth look at tactics, meeting with decisionmakers, coalitions, recruiting, leadership development, etc.
Once I combined this book with Rinku Sen’s Stir It Up (which has a bit more analysis of intersectionality/power dynamics), I felt like I had the essential knowledge to take on any organizing situation.
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
I wrote more in-depth about this book and its implications in my post The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism; however, I think it is critically important to understand how our organizing connects to global structures.
I know I get caught up in a few issues from time to time, but Naomi Klein demonstrates how neoliberalism is a force impacting pretty much everything.
Also, if you read this book and some of the ideas listed in my post above you’ll have a clear idea of some real steps we can take to preventing the spread of the neoliberal ideology and creating a more positive economic framework.
If you like history and detailed journalism, you’ll love this book! If not, well then maybe you can skim a few of the 720 pages!
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex by INCITE!
INCITE!’s book on the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) was truly groundbreaking since it was one of the first attempts to gather a range of perspectives on why nonprofits (as a system) were not achieving the desired aims.
Here are a few of the main points I took away from this book:
Nonprofits now focus most on providing social services, not social change, because that would mean challenging those institutions in power (e.g. government, business, and foundations) Activism cannot be simply “a career,” we must find ways to integrate into our lives Nonprofits often siphon away activists to just become “part of the system,” instead of challenging it to change Foundations and government agencies strived to use the structure of current nonprofits to create/maintain control over social movements/social change work (i.e. so grassroots movements wouldn’t get “antagonistic”/”disruptive”)
Even if you don’t work in a nonprofit, you’ll still should be acquainted with this anthology since its analysis hits on all areas of society.
2 EXTRAS!!! For community organizers!
Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing by DeFilippis, Fisher, and Shragge
A must-read if you’re involved in community organizing. It lays out some of the main faults of most community organizing (e.g. being non-ideological and resisting connecting local work to national or international efforts), while also presenting some ways for improvement (e.g. pushing for long-term social change and understanding the limits of community organizing).
While it leans toward the heavy-duty academic side, you’re definitely going to […]
As I was walking into a store recently someone was there running up to people and handing out coupons. She had a huge smile and seemed so excited to share this opportunity with people.
She just came right up and asked “would you like to hear about our latest deals?”
I couldn’t help but be more interested in what she was handing out and her attitude made my day that much brighter.
Then I realized “how come I don’t act like this when I’m talking to people about my own projects/campaigns?”
If our organizing for social change really is as critical as we know it to be, then we need to be out there on the streets or calling people up to let them know.
I know I still get nervous or quiet when I’m publicizing an event or initiative in-person or over the phone`.
Ideally I would love for people to come over to me and ask what I’m doing and then I would be totally comfortable sharing! Unfortunately for my ideal setup, this doesn’t happen too often.
However, now I believe it’s much better that I should be the one to start the interaction with others. Shouldn’t I be stoked to be letting folks know about this important campaign that they really would love to hear about?
Even though I know this positive outlook is true, it will still be hard for me to work up the resolve from time-to-time.
What I need to keep in mind is that making the “ask” is essential to the success of our campaigns.
So how can we go about making sure we have strong “asks?” Well let’s take a look at a few tips.
Stand in front of the table (if you have one) Go up to people, don’t wait for them to come to you Pick up the phone and call. Email should be your last option. Keep at the front of your mind why this is so important to you and why you think others would find it important It’s up to the campaign leadership to make sure to take the time to train and make sure everyone feels confident Remember if you value the work you’re doing, others will most likely value it too so you’re supporting them by telling more about your efforts Be energized! Remember to listen and not just talk! Engage people in a conversation
These are are just a few ideas to keep in mind. However, the most important is just remember why you are doing this and that your efforts matter.
If you’re like me your “asks” may not be the smoothest at first, but if you keep it up then you’ll be sharing so many new opportunities with folks to get involved or support the campaign that may never have had the chance before.
What helps you make the “ask?” Give your thoughts below!
“The creation of today’s market society was not the result of a sequence of spontaneous events but rather of state interference and violence.”
– Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine
Liberty! Human Rights! Choice! Prosperity! Freedom!
These seemingly familiar words are how neoliberals see their movement for the expansion of the “free market.”
Advocates see the “neoliberal agenda” (i.e. freeing the market from constraints such as regulations and tariffs) as going hand-in-hand with freedom, even when the results across the world tell a very different tale.
We barely have to look before finding new new waves of protest (e.g. Turkey, Brazil, and Slovenia) against the intimate connection between neoliberalism, corruption, authoritarianism, and austerity measures.
Those pushing for free market “reforms” will say these connections are “exceptions” and “not true expressions of neoliberalism.”
This neoliberal myth of a “liberating free market economy” is one we must dismantle and replace with the truth as the Naomi Klein quote illustrates above that neoliberalism is the result of “state interference and violence.”
This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of how we can prepare to organizing against neoliberalism including:
Key elements of ways neoliberalism becomes entrenched in our systems Core beliefs that frame how neoliberals envision their movement The main long-term efforts we can take to combat neoliberalism
With the collective wisdom of those who have dedicated their lives to diverting the oppressive framework of the “free market,” I’ve worked to make this guide represent current activist thoughts and strategies.
If as you’re reading this you find yourself saying “but what about…?” or “I know a great resource/example to share!” then I’d love for you to leave a comment at the end of this post or send me a message.
So here we go, “The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism.”
So what is neoliberalism exactly?
At it’s core, neoliberalism is an economic system working on eliminating government regulations, trade barriers, and tariffs (and possibly government altogether) along with privatizing as many aspects of society as possible.
Naomi Klein, one of the most articulate and investigative-oriented activists against neoliberalism, illustrates the “3 trademark demands of neoliberalism” in practice as:
Privatization – e.g. turning the operation of education, roads, and health care over to companies Government deregulation – e.g. removing environmental protections, workers’ rights, and monitoring the financial industry Deep cuts to social spending – e.g. cutting food stamps, access to family planning services, and mental health programs
These demands are about shifting responsibility from the government to the private sector to handle improving peoples’ lives.
At a deeper level neoliberalism is really all about making, as Barnard Harcourt writes, “the ordered market as the model of social interaction… In other words, to extend the model of natural order beyond economic exchange to crime, divorce, punishment, illicit drugs, adoption, and so on.”
So what this means for a neoliberal is we need to structure our entire society, family, government, relationships, etc. around the idea of the “market”.
One reason neoliberalism is a confusing concept is that many people and institutions accept its starting points (e.g. growth is always a good thing and it will help everyone over time) without even digging into whether these “foundational precepts” are actually true.
Neoliberal economists promote these concepts as “common sense” and “necessary,” and by-and-large have entered our everyday language with little analysis of their underlying impact.
Along with “normalizing” our vocabulary under neoliberal precepts, Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia note neoliberals also aim to switch our values of the “public good” and “community” to a value-system based on the “rule of the market” and individual responsibility.
It’s a very black-and-white world for a neoliberal. One in which every person has sole responsibility for their success, and corporate expansion is good for all.
The photo above shows a photo of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former US President Ronald Reagon, both of whom were integral to implementing neoliberal policies and ideas.
For an in-depth analysis of the forms of neoliberalism in economic terms, check out this great resource.
So to recap in a sentence…neoliberalism seeks to privatize, deregulate government, cut social services, and shift values from the public good/community to values based on “rule of the market”/individual responsibility.
Neoliberal frames and views of their own ideology
Now that we’ve gone over some of the main aims of neoliberals, one important question remains…Why do neoliberals view a completely free market as the ideal system? How do neoliberals truly view their movement? What motivates or influences them to force their policies on the rest of the world?
These neoliberal worldviews are based in the unwavering belief in a “free market.” Even though many of these ideas lack any kind of scientific evidence in their favor.
Neoliberals will rarely call themselves “neoliberals” by name, so these frames below will help you identify narratives based in questionable logic.
Neoliberals believe the market economy is “natural” and “self-regulating” (i.e. “the invisible hand of the market”). Adam Smith, one of the founders of capitalist thought, saw the “natural laws of the economy” as exactly that…“natural.” He believed that a totally free market would tend toward balance on the whole.
Economists tend to use these assumptions that the market will “self-correct,” even lacking any scientific validity. People control the market, and those with the most power will often make sure the “invisible hand” benefits them.
There is a clear distinction between individual greed and corruption. The neoliberal model structures itself around individual vice and greed pushing forward economic growth. However, they believe corruption happens in only a few cases and is not related to a systemic problem within neoliberalism.
I don’t think it will take you very long to think of a few cases in these last few years where corruption was very apparent in our capitalist institutions. With the increasing role of the business community in government decisionmaking, it’s no wonder […]
A few weeks ago Heath Mitchell asked to co-write 42 Errors Changemakers and Humanitarians Make (which ended up being one of the most popular posts here), and now he got me thinking again by asking about the people/organizations that have influenced my ideas of activism and organizing.
Anytime someone asks me to write a post on a certain topic I try my best to do so, even if it takes a few months! I’m especially stoked when I get to write about those folks who’ve fundamentally impacted my life through their own words/actions.
The names that follow are a few of the main individuals and groups who I consistently learn from and wish to share more about.
Author of De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century and 500 years of Chicano History, Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez has been called one of the 20th century’s most important activists and progressive historians.
When I read De Colores Means All of Us I thought it had some of the most insightful strategies for social change that we still have not adopted some 15 years later.
So if you’re looking for a clear picture of 20th century progressive activism and unrealized pathways for change, then check out Betita’s work.
Marshall Ganz/Sierra Club
One of my first direct experiences with organizing training was with with the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), an organization that grew out of the Sierra Club. Much of the SSC’s trainers were based on Marshall Ganz’s frameworks and research for the Sierra Club.
Marshall Ganz was a volunteer with the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project, served with the United Farm Workers, created the dominant curriculum for training Obama’s campaign organizers, and now is working to develop the Leading Change Network (LCN).
Check out Marshall’s online module on organizing and the LCN to learn more about values-based changemaking, leadership, and campaigns.
Yuri Kochiyama is one of the most intersectional activists to grace the changemaking world and doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of slowing down. She’s organized around the rights of political prisoners, Puerto Rican Independence, and reparations for Japanese Americans forcibly held in internment camps during WWII.
Not only did Yuri Kochiyama show me how to integrate a range of activist efforts, but she also demonstrated that one can begin to organize at any age and while taking care of family.
There’s a great film called Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice which details her accomplishments and what she has done for cross-issue movement building.
Naomi Klein’s journalist and activist endeavors serve as a beating heart of the opposition to neoliberalism in all of its forms.
Her book The Shock Doctrine fundamentally altered my understanding of just how pervasive neoliberalism had become in all parts of our society (e.g. education, government, and international relations).
I’m currently working on a post inspired by much of Naomi Klein’s work that focuses on neoliberalism frames, ideas, and policies along with ways activists can combat this entrenched ideology.
I’ve mentioned Ella Baker a few times before, in particular about her contributions to leadership development in any type of organizing.
Ella Baker throughout the civil rights movement (e.g. through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) continually pushed for increasing opportunities for multiple leaders and criticizing those that were held up as the only focal points for action.
Now the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is making sure to honor her legacy and contributions, and remind us to look to Ella for ideas on how to build up strong cohesive leadership systems.
Bill McKibben and 350.org
Bill McKibben and the rest of the 350.org team constantly mobilize some of the largest and most impactful demonstrations for taking action against climate change and the Keystone XL Pipeline.
When the issue of climate change keeps getting pushed back to the edges of the news, 350.org and its partners keep finding ways to refocus attention.
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
Though conservative attacks/lies forced ACORN to cease most of its operations to register voters, increase homeownership, and counter powerful banks, ACORN’s still has made a huge impact on social change organizing.
Right now the absence of ACORN’s local-regional-national organizing structure leaves a void that is hard to fill. How many other organizations could bring together so many hundreds of thousands of people to bring forward constructive anti-poverty solutions? Or really any issue?
I recently read John Atlas’s book about ACORN called Seeds of Change and if you’re looking to find out more about how ACORN operated, that book is a great place to start.
Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta
The founders of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta showed how to develop new leaders by going door-to-door and being persistent.
Dolores Huerta exemplified this attitude that every person had important contribution to make when she said “Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk.”
INCITE! is a “is a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue, and grassroots organizing.”
One of their most well-known and influential publication is the The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.
This book taught me a ton about the differences between social services and social change, how activists can get diverted into professionalized careers, and the role foundation/government grants have in shaping social change.
Rinku Sen is probably the organizer that has had the biggest impact on my personal outlook on social change.
After reading her book Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy I immediately felt a clearer sense of my own purpose.
I’ve written many posts […]
One common refrain I hear in the empowerment/leadership development realm, is that we need to “let people develop their own potential.”
The implication is the individual knows best how to grow their own abilities.
How often is this actually true though?
I know I’ve had the opportunity to grow into the organizer and person I am now because I had numerous people at different stages in my life pushing me to exceed even my own expectations.
This idea of “the learner knows best” also fosters an individual-centric model, instead of a community of teaching where everyone contributes to personal development.
I think it’s time our social change training modules take a cue from those dedicated folks in the K-12 education sphere.
What K-12 education can teach us about supporting changemakers
What I’ve discovered, through my incredible partner who teaches 1st grade, is that exemplary K-12 educators are those who both push for and support a culture of excellence.
In this case “excellence” means to demonstrate a high level of mastery of a certain topic (whether it be reading or facilitating a meeting) independent of test scores, comparisons, or statistical averages.
This model also acknowledges that people will have different background experiences and may need more coaching to reach “excellence.”
Also, in this context we should take into account each person’s needs and aspirations at the moment. Maybe they need just a bit more time to reach where they want to be, but they should know we will always seek to push for and support them to achieve excellence.
We don’t need to be mean and punish people if they don’t reach a state of excellence, but instead we need to dedicate more of our energy to making sure they can.
We must never “give up” on someone and think they cannot achieve something because “they just aren’t good at X [e.g. public speaking or coordinating].”
If either the individual themselves, or the people around them, have this mentality of “I’m just not good at X,” then it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Remember, not everyone has had a mentor, family member, or friend who consistently encouraged them to do more than what they believe even for themselves.
That’s why we have to create a culture of excellence where everyone expects that they will push themselves AND have the support of those around them to help them in this pursuit.
Whether this is in our trainings, our campaign teams, or with the community members we work with, we must remember that we don’t know what someone’s capabilities will be so we have to aim to stretch their skills.
I may wish I consistently had this mindset of not expecting the extent of someone’s capabilities, I know sometimes I haven’t given every person I’ve worked with the chance to exceed what I think they can do.
I may believe I’m open to someone beating my expectations, but if I don’t give them the resources or have challenging conversations about where to improve, then I’m short-changing both of our potential.
I’m lucky that I have a very supportive teacher in my life who has taught me the value of always “pushing for the best” out of every person, including myself.
Have you ever been in a position where you aimed for excellence yourself or supported others? Or maybe a time looking back you might have wished to do more? Leave a comment below!
I know I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and joyfulness of meetings.
Judging from the amount of times I hear people talking about how they try to avoid meetings, I think there’s a few basics we need to keep in mind to have those great meetings we all seek.
Ok so close your eyes and imagine (so make sure to have someone read this out loud through this section).
Unfilling meeting example
You just sat down for your organization’s weekly staff meeting and you are super excited to share some new ideas and make important decisions for the “big project.”
However, the meeting starts with finding out people had many unfinished tasks and by the end of the meeting you are frustrated because you feel like you had a lost voice in the discussion.
Also, since the group had unfocused conversation, the meeting ran out of time with no decisions on moving the project forward.
You walk away thinking “meetings are a waste of time.”
Productive meeting example
The next week you come into the meeting already resigned to another unproductive hour, but you see that there is a facilitator sitting across the the table.
The facilitator starts by asking the group to take the first 10 minutes of the meeting to create shared group norms and you think “here we go again, just more talking.”
Then the facilitator got the meeting going and you saw that people listened, made amiable consensus decisions even if there was not unanimity, and had productive and inclusive discussions.
When the meeting ends early, you are feeling pretty high energy and a little bewildered by how the group was able to start getting stuff done.
You walk away thinking “meetings rock!”
8 Elements of Great Meetings!
So what happened? This facilitator follow some facilitation basics.
Below are the primary reasons that the 2nd meeting was much more successful.
1. Share intentional group norms! Crafting a set of norms (i.e. group agreements or expectations) about how meetings will function will address a lot of issues before they even arise.
Norms, whether you make time to create them or they happen without as much thought, form the basis for group functions. Basically all the following ideas are norms.
2. Have a facilitator! The individual guiding the meeting (NOT leading the meeting) should be focused on drawing out the ideas of the group and making sure the folks at the table listen to each other.
Facilitators should not merely share information, but also ensure a smooth meeting process.
3. Create an agenda! Agendas are structured talking points with meeting outcomes/objectives and suggested times for each section.
Make sure you have an idea of what you need to accomplish since you only have a bit of time during a meeting to get everything done.
4. Take notes and keep track of tasks! Make sure someone takes notes who is not the facilitator (so they can focus on the process) and that they keep track of tasks in a way that is easy for participants to find later (when they look for their tasks from the meeting).
5. Have meetings with varied processes and styles! Meetings should be more than just discussions since folks operate and work in different way so your meetings should too.
For example you could have breakout conversations, places for folks to draw their ideas, sections to move around the room, use games, etc.
6. Decide upon a decision making process! Having a predetermined system (e.g. consensus or majority rules) for making decisions means that the group can agree on a course of action for going forward, without talking back and forth.
Just make sure that your group is not always dominated by a few voices.
7. Set process for having discussion! Since discussions will be the primary mode of communication during meetings, it is crucial to know how the group will communicate. This can be using hand signals or how the group will contribute ideas or proposals.
For example you can create a norm around raising hands in a “stack” (i.e. having an order of those who raised their hand) or “sparkles”/”spirit fingers” (i.e. silent agreement – to save time by making sure people do not need to raise their hands to say “I agree”).
8. Differentiate between “work” and “decisional/informational” meetings! Everyone does not need to be at each meeting.
Sometimes having a smaller “work” meeting (i.e. getting together to actually accomplish tasks/projects) as opposed to a “decisional/information” meeting (i.e. a place to decide what work needs to be done and any relevant information) can be a great way to jumpstart complex or large tasks/projects.
Also, consider having some meetings being a mix of these different types.
With these main elements in place, any meeting can go from being disruptive/boring to action-oriented/fun!
So what are some ways we can build on these fundamentals? Check out this newly released resource from the AORTA Collective about Anti-Oppressive Facilitation.
This article is cross-posted on the incredible Heath Mitchell’s Advance Humanities Fellow blog.
For many people the world over, today is the holiest day of the year. According to the Jewish calendar, today is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.
This holiday is observed through a day-long fast and a great deal of praying and repenting. Including most notably, a confessional prayer called Al Chet. Jews pray today, the culminating day of the ten days of awe, that their names will be sealed in the book of life for the coming year.
On this Yom Kippur in the Hebrew year of 5774, my dear friend Drew Serres of Organizing Change and I decided to refocus the community of congregants. Instead of Jews focusing on sins outlined in the Bible. What kind of list might we generate for our audience of people who are united not by religion but rather a drive to create change beauty and justice in the world?
The Jewish confession is less about what you personally did wrong over the past year and more focused on what the Jewish people as a collective have done. It’s communal.
If you choose to adopt a more Universalist outlook, as I do, this repentance demands that believers be not only accountable for their own actions, but the actions of well, really, humankind.
Consider the following a list of human failings that we commit in acting for social change and humanitarian efforts.
1. Seeking to support others, without thinking about ourselves, and “burning out” instead of building a resilient social change culture.
2. Focusing on a single issue (e.g. climate change and health care reform) as opposed to working for intersectional, and cross-issue campaigns/projects.
3. Engaging in campaigns that are sexy rather than campaigns that are more impactful but garner less limelight.
4. Expecting our reason and facts should be enough to convince people we are right (i.e. talking at someone), rather than just talking to individuals like you would to “A Friend in a Bar” (i.e. talking with someone).
5. Looking down on activists whose passions we do not share (“How can someone care so much about animal treatment when people are dying in _____?!”).
6. Getting angry at people who aren’t active agents of change or advocates for social justice (i.e. people we may call apathetic).
7. Believing good intentions are enough to make positive change, even though we know these good intentions can lead to negative results when not tied to clear analysis.
8. Congratulating ourselves too much for our lofty ideals.
9. Ignoring our own creative energy and needs, without considering ways we can instil it within our own activist life and organizations.
10. Fostering a negative mentality/isolating ourselves when something doesn’t go as planned (e.g. low-attendance at an event or unsuccessful lobbying for a particular piece of legislation), instead of learning/seeking our supportive community.
11. Attaching our own self worth to a project’s success or failure.
12. Mistaking self-defeating talk for humility.
13. Comparing ourselves to people who do less/more to make ourselves feel better/worse rather than being inspired to emulate/lead.
14. Thinking that any given problem can be solved with a single “silver bullet” solution instead of needing multiple impactful approaches.
15. Getting discouraged by the enormity and entrenched nature of the status quo.
16. Focussing too much on what is broken rather than using appreciative inquiry to bolster that which is already working well and could work better still.
17. Ignoring the big picture or ignoring the details.
18. Getting pulled into a professionalized nonprofit world that doesn’t allow for accountability to the grassroots movement and limits us to social services, rather than addressing root issues.
19. Letting the importance of data/research get in the way of listening to and acting on people’s stories and calls to action.
20. Falling into the logic that good ideas need money to work or thinking that money alone can solve a problem.
21. Separating “work” and “life” as opposed to building a supportive community of activists.
22. Remaining neutral when injustice is occurring because it’s “not my issue/expertise” or it’s “too political” instead of speaking out or actively supporting the actions of those who do organize against injustice.
23. Thinking that change can only come from the top or that no change can come from the top.
24. Using “its just the culture” as an excuse for why change cannot happen.
25. Stooping to degrading or oppressive imagery or marketing slogans to raise funds (e.g. “Poverty Porn”).
26. Publicly promoting accomplishments, without taking significant time to internally reflect and celebrate as a team within our groups.
27. Over-selling the amount of change an idea can produce.
28. Sharing our successes and hiding our failures, when others could learn valuable lessons from both.
29. Putting in time for short-term victories, instead of also putting in the effort for sustained long-term movements.
30. Waiting for someone else to give us a vision for how the world can be, instead of outlining our own world vision as a way to inspire action.
32. Using online media and mobilizing as if they were the same as on-the-ground or face-to-face organizing (e.g. go to meet someone or pick up the phone rather than sending that email!).
33. Perpetuating the “[white, male, etc.] Savior Industrial Complex,” and focusing on what we want for people as opposed to listening to and following the people most impacted by oppression.
34. Adopting polemic stances of the oppressed and the oppressor wherein change is pitted against groups or institutions (environmentalism= nature versus corporations, feminism= women versus men, racial equality= minorities versus whites, etc).
35. Thinking empowerment is about instilling new ideas/skills in someone, rather than as a way to give personal and leadership development opportunities to someone.
The reason I started writing on Organizing Change, came from my desire to learn how to be a better organizer and activist.
I’ve learned a few things about what it takes to organize, but I wanted to take a step back and really figure out new ways of accomplishing my work.
On the nights I journal, I try to think about at least one thing I learned that day. It can be related to anything and not just organizing, even though that is what I write the most about!
For me, I believe there is always so much information filtering in from the world, that sometimes it is really helpful to just sit for a sec and think about “what did I learn today that I want to remember?”
Learning in the organizer role
When I talk about learning, I’m focused on the skills and background we need to have in order to make the changes we seek.
In fact learning outside of academic institutions and from those with direct experience/knowledge may be more personally enlightening and impactful.
I know for myself that I have had to create my own path of learning, because many of history’s darkest moments and current realities (e.g. uranium mining on sovereign Native lands, military border rape, racial injustices in the foster care system, etc.) are ignored or glossed over by the media, education system, politicians, etc.
Specifically for organizing contexts, in order to create new alternatives and solutions, we must understand the sources of oppression and destruction, and why they have been able to succeed in their mission.
Also, to grow our own confidence and desire to grow, we should take as many chances to learn about what makes us passionate.
What do you want to learn and how are you going to make sure you get there?
Why it may seem intuitive to say “I need to learn more,” it is often hard to set aside time or know where to even begin.
I tend to read digital and print materials frequently, while also talking to friends to learn, but also to see if I truly understand what I am talking about.
While you have to come up with your own way of learning about the barriers in the face of change, and the potential ways of achieving our visions, below are some methods I’ve used that hopefully will stoke some inspiration!
1. Learning Plan
We make plans for everything else, so why not learning!?
Think and/or write out what you want to learn more about and figure what you need to do to get there!
I thought up different ideas in an brainstorm (e.g. historical activist strategies, singing, clear communication, dominant political discourses, new languages, etc.) and then, due to my culturally linear way of thinking, I wrote these areas up into categories and have started to create timelines and SMART goals for each!
If writing up plans is not your preferred learning method try talking to a friend about your ideas, drawing out what you want to learn, etc.
No matter your method, the most important piece of this plan is to refer back to it and start seeking out new knowledge!
2. Book, Article, Workshop Summaries
Now after I read a really valuable article or attend a very thought-provoking workshop, I write up a small summary of my main takeaways and/or actions I will take.
When possible, I try to also meet up with someone else to intentionally discuss what I learned and it is during those spaces that I feel I grow the most.
I keep a fair number of lists going that help me keep track of resources since I don’t always have to time to really internalize what I just learned.
Some lists I currently have going are “Important organizing tips to remember,” “Facts/Ideas I never want to forget,” and “Life lessons, principles, and takeaways to keep in mind.”
Having lists allows you to put aside resources at the moment, until you are ready to really think about them since life for many folks is quite busy.
4. “Thing I Learned Today” – i.e. TILT
Now whenever I learn something I want to make sure to remember, I write it down either in my journal, or in one of my numerous Google Docs!
It can be really simple (e.g. one of my “TILTs” was to “provide more examples on Organizing Change”) or more complex (e.g. the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prisoners while only having 5% of the world’s population).
I generally think about what I learn about myself and about the world around me.
As you can probably tell by reading this post, I seek out new ways of learning all the time, as I am sure many others do as well, so if you have a moment to share your way of learning and remembering I would love to hear your practice!
As I was walking recently, I asked myself “What would a 21st century intersectional mass movement look like?” and tried to imagine this reality.
What sounds would you hear? What sights would you see? What emotions would you feel? What would life be like while achieving success?
At the heart of this question is the search for the characteristics that compose a mass movement. What would it be like to experience an intersectional mass movement for social change?
What is a mass movement?
What is the difference between a “movement” and a “mass movement?”
In the U.S., the 1950s/60s/70s mass movements (e.g. American Indian Movement, civil rights, and Asian American Movement) continue to serve as inspiration for countless other movements (both large and small).
Mass movements occur when simmering movements grow into inspiring narratives that can, and do, transform societies and cultures.
What I mean by this “inspiring narrative” is a movement’s ability to fundamentally alter our perception of the world (e.g. how we understand justice) and even ourselves (e.g. by increasing communities’ confidence in themselves and identities).
Right now we have a racial and gender justice movement, climate movement, education reform movement, and a host of other movements that endeavor to give more people a chance to succeed to their highest ability.
However, these movements have not morphed into “mass movements” that mobilize a vast number of people and shifted our worldviews.
Currently, those pushing for an intersectionality appear very close to helping create mass movements.
Connecting intersectionality to movements
Intersectionality comes from an understanding that identities, privilege, and oppression are intimately connected and cannot be segmented from each other.
For example as a white male, I have privileges that compound upon each other and equal more than my identities separately.
I cannot just “add up” my privilege, I must multiply. Oppression works in a similar way.
An LGBTQ identified individual with disabilities experiences oppression at the cross section of their identities, and NOT as an LGBTQ identified individual separately from their social disability.
A good example of the importance of intersectionality comes from Occupy..
Occupy emphasized class struggle as the priority above all else.
Rinku Sen notes (in her book “Stir it Up”), for rhetoric similar to Occupy’s, that “The implication here is that class war is universal, but race, gender, and sexual liberation are particular and are not appealing to all of humanity.”
Due to this focus, Occupy has often struggled with issues of member privilege and racial/gender/etc. justice and continues to express in many ways the white male privilege of many of its members.
An intersectional mass movement would explicitly look for change through a kaleidoscopic lens and would itself be composed of many different identities.
This intersectional movement would NOT draw on dominant narratives (e.g. “as American as apple pie,” “everyone has the same opportunity to succeed”, etc.) or just to appeal to a majority base.
There are many pieces to this movement and below are some important ones to consider for this 21st century intersectional movement.
14 Characteristics of an intersectional mass movement
Intersectional mass movements understand the relationship between diverse identities and challenging systems of oppression.
Intersectional mass movements aim to fundamentally shift values.
Intersectional mass movements have resilient hope/confidence and “faith in the future” (The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements).
Intersectional mass movements are composed of a broad spectrum of human identities (e.g. backgrounds, ages, beliefs, etc.) and do not attack “the other” or marginalize groups of people.
Intersectional mass movements address root structures and systems, not just a specific issue.
Intersectional mass movements build capacity with and center on those most marginalized and on the frontlines of injustice.
Intersectional mass movements foster the ability of people working for collective success over individual success.
Intersectional mass movements use inclusive organizational models, instead of replicating privileged leadership structures.
Intersectional mass movements have compassionate unity and “commitment to each other.”
Intersectional mass movements channel emotion and analysis to change the dynamics of power and privilege.
Intersectional mass movements have no one face, and instead have numerous leaders and organizations that truly represent their multifaceted constituency.
Intersectional mass movements are innovative, creative, and dynamic.
Intersectional mass movements intentionally incorporate relationships with loved ones and larger community, otherwise the movement cannot be truly “liberatory.”
Intersectional mass movements have a clear vision of the future.
We will need many smaller intersectional movements before making the changes we seek; we must be in for the long-haul.
What other pieces do you think we need to build a 21st century intersectional mass movement? Leave your thoughts below!
I used to have this terrible aversion to “networking.” Even someone just saying the word made me want to get out of the room.
I had this idea that networking always had to be about self-promotion and trying to “get” something from other people. Networking only seemed to be able supporting one’s own work.
Then my mindset completely shifted…when I started Organizing Change.
I sat down with my notebook one day and thought “who do I want to showcase in the social change world and why?”
I thought of all the incredible organizations and individuals that are pushing forward constructive, positive change.
I made a short list of folks who I wanted to share with my posts at Organizing Change and planned out ways to illustrate why you should know about their work.
I realized way later that what I was doing was actually identifying a network for Organizing Change.
That’s when it hit me…Creating an authentic network is all about sincerely highlighting individuals and organizations who can support others.
I now think of my network as Organizing Change’s way to pinpoint the core currents in the social change world and what we all should be paying attention to.
Now I know when I share updates on Facebook, retweet on Twitter, or put in links to other blogs within my posts here, that what I’m actually doing is supporting my network and those of you who read these posts.
So let’s check out some specific ways to build an authentic network and support others!
Frame networking positively
If you frame networking as something to be avoided, as I used to do, then you’re probably not doing the best job of supporting those around you.
If we reframe networking from self-promotion to “collective-promotion” (i.e. highlighting the important contributions of others), then we have a much better chance of being useful to our communities.
Another way to frame networking positively is to think about “who do you want to learn from?” For me, learning is one of my favorite things and so I create my networks based on who teaches me more about myself and the world.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my own communities throughout this entire process of working on Organizing Change, is to keep in mind your own work matters and is a valuable contribution to those around you.
So by sharing your work you are letting people know that it is important to you and that while you would appreciate acknowledgement, you are doing this to provide value to social change work.
Aim for mutually supportive relationships
Online media has made it a lot easier to build collaboration. Instead of thinking people as “competitors,” it’s much easier to think of them as allies.
Whether it’s sharing links on social media or bringing up important organizations when talking to others, there are many ways to support both yourself and others. People will often be grateful that you identified a key resource or wrote about their own work.
Think about what you can offer the other person, not just what they can offer you. In the long run, this intentional focus on what others are doing will demonstrate that you know what is going on.
For example, when I see people pointing out the amazing work of an individual or organization, I think “wow, that person really knows what they are talking about. I better look out for their updates since they’re so helpful!”
Also, as I noted in the last section, you have a lot to give to the world so don’t be afraid to share your own ideas and efforts (if you really don’t think you have something important to contribute, let me know and give me a chance to show why that isn’t true)!
Know why you want to network
Developing a network is more about being effective, rather than trying to connect with everyone. A smaller, more intentional network is better than a large one without much thought behind it.
Also, you need to think specifically why you want to network with someone. Do you want to learn from them, do you want being to contribute through a certain organization’s work, or do you want to connect people that should be talking to each other?
For example, I want to connect more with the organizer/creative writer Adrienne Maree (find out more on Adrienne’s blog The Luscious Satyagraha) so that I can learn more about the range of changemaking principles, emergence, and how to infuse art into activism.
This illustrates why authentic networking is so awesome! I know exactly why I want to network and I feel great just being able to share about a motivating changemaker!
Create your network lists
After you know why you want to network, it’s time to make some lists!
On Twitter I have my larger news sources and those I like to keep updated on about social change (e.g. news outlets, changemakers, organizations, creative culture changers, and blogs). These form my extended network.
Then I have my own focus list of about 8-10 individuals and organizations that I really want to understand more about and promote. In general it’s easier to build relationships with individuals than organizations, but just recognize the difference when creating your own.
Don’t forget to include people and friends you already know! They are great people to have in your network!
Promote others as much or more than yourself
It’s OK to want your own project to be successful and known, but you should be promoting others (e.g. linking to them in posts, sharing their accomplishments through social media, etc.) at least as much as your own.
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