Shifting Cultures

Want Alternatives to Current Capitalism? Studies Say You’re Part of the 50%!

Photo: Brooks Elliott via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Brooks Elliott via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I used to think I only knew a few people besides myself who truly desired a system beyond capitalism. I used to think folks would just disregard me if I clearly stated my anti-capitalist views.

Well it looks like our “radical” views to implement alternatives to the current expression of capitalism are almost the majority opinion.

In the last few years, the Pew Center and even the right-leaning Rasmussen Reports found estimate that around 50% of the U.S. population wants to do away with our capitalist system.

Just think about that for second.

The economic system almost all of us participate in everyday (willingly or not), barely has 50% of people that support its continued existence.

While this has not trickled up to our governmental or financial systems yet, our people-powered movements have shown the anger many feel at our corporatized economy (e.g. in our medical and higher education systems) and the passion they have to create alternatives (e.g. increasingly impactful Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland).

While the Occupy Movement has gained the most attention since its prolific spread across the U.S. and world, what may be just as important is the paradigm shift that has led a near majority to desire something other than capitalism!

Next time you are walking down the street, just consider the fact that every other person you see is seeking a new economic system that puts our values front-and-center. I know thinking about this definitely gives me motivation!

So let’s look at how exactly we can disrupt capitalism and craft a system that focuses on meeting the world’s needs (and not just the needs of the few).


What are some alternatives to the current expression of capitalism?


Now that it’s clear frustration with capitalism is reaching new heights, we have to be consciously thinking of how to channel that energy into shaping a new livable, people-centered, and sustainable economy.

So what are some of the key ways changemakers are showing us how we can, at this very moment, be pushing forward a monumental shift away from hierarchical capitalism?

These examples listed below may still participate in the current economic system, but often do so in dramatically different ways that demonstrate alternatives are entirely feasible.

Business cooperatives and worker cooperatives – where workers collectively own and manage the business

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the Mondragon co-op system in Spain with 85,000 members and the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland are perfect examples of robust business that also propel forward our other values (e.g. sustainability and ethical practices).

These systems are already having a noticeable positive economic impact and that trend only looks to grow.

There are many different types of cooperatives including: Mesh Networks (i.e. internet co-ops), Community Land Trusts, health care collectives, bike shares, utility cooperatives, artists collectives, and so many more!

To better understand the different array of cooperatives and collectives, check out this great resource that breaks down the differences.

Restructuring corporations – e.g. corporate rechartering and ending corporate personhood

Right now our current corporate law actively reduces ethical business practices. This is due to the fact that, right now, corporate charters include only an interest for shareholders, but they should also include interest for stakeholders.

Another big push to change corporations is by ending “corporate personhood” (i.e. idea that corporations should have the same legal status/protection as people). Move to Amend, a national network of organizations and individuals, is leading this charge for ensuring corporations remain accountable economic justice and to all people.

Smaller-scale banking – i.e. moving our capital away from huge banks, and instead investing in small scale banks and city/regional/state banks

You might have heard a bit of criticism of Big Banks (i.e. the “Big Four” in the U.S. of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo) in recent years, and much of that is due to the Big Banks’ inability to support communities and small-businesses after the crash they created.

These banks are too large to be responsive to local dynamics, so there is an increasing call for small-scale banks.

These smaller scale banks can take the form of regional, state, or even city-owned banks. Currently the only state-owned bank in the U.S. is the Bank of North Dakota, which has been a keystone to North Dakota’s ability to withstand the financial crisis.

Moving to a values-based economic analysis – shifting beyond GDP to a system that incorporates the needs and aspirations of our society

GDP per capita (gross domestic product) is the dominant means for measuring a country’s standard of living; however, this lens of the world obscures what people actually seek in life (e.g. health, happiness, and leisure time) or even promotes long-term detrimental actions (e.g. strip mining and deforestation).

Though there has been no wide-spread adoption of alternatives to GDP per capita (other than the pathmaking country of Bhutan), there are an increasing number of groups calling for new systems. Some examples include the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) used in Maryland, and the UN sponsored indicators of World Happiness.


What does a majority seeking alternatives to capitalism mean?


It means showing people a vision of a world based on expressing human values and potential, instead of one based on never-ending growth.

The examples above show that this movement is growing. The dedicated efforts prove a more holistic approach to social betterment is already here.

I now know we’re already halfway there, now let’s keep building a new infrastructure to support the other 50%!

What are some other alternatives to capitalism that you know about? How they can support all of our organizing work? Leave a comment below!

Movement Building

Supreme Court Decisions and the Need for Intersectional Movements

Hopefully Organizing Change isn’t the first place you heard this, but…the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA and dismissed the Proposition 8 appeal!

Countless changemakers have dedicated years to helping make this significant event a reality.

Even amidst the celebrations, people across the nation are already gearing up to continue pushing for marriage equality.

Not only do these organizers show the need to push for the expansion of rights, but they also start to highlight the mixed results of the Supreme Court’s decisions this week.

Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous (BGD) noted both in her important, yet sobering post, 6 Things That Happened While Y’all Were Preoccupied With Gay Marriage and on the BGD Facebook page how the focus on marriage equality has diverted attention from other crucially important issues.

She wrote on the BGD Facebook page

“Yes, queer and trans* people without race and/or class privilege will be able to get married the same as other queers. But that doesn’t mean that we will have the same benefits. If two poor people with no healthcare marry each other, they don’t suddenly get healthcare. And a black queer couple can’t get a break on estate taxes for a property they can’t buy because the owner will only sell to white folks.”

Mia McKenzie illustrates how events that should be a “move forward,” have a vast disparity in impacts depending on one’s privilege.

As Mia McKenzie and others have pointed out, this divergence of justice is one of the biggest reasons we need an “inclusive and intersectional movement” (i.e. one that meets the needs of people of multiple identities and directly address the interconnection between different types of oppression).

The other major Supreme Court cases this week, to me are a clearly demonstration of what happens when we focus solely on single issues (e.g. marriage equality), instead of seeking out this more cross-issue movement with an analysis of privilege.


What this week’s decisions teach us about the dangers of single issues


Photo: RLHyde via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: RLHyde via Flickr (Creative Commons)

While the anticipation around DOMA/Prop. 8 and the excitement over Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster of abortion restrictions in Texas (which came after a long period of activism from many other Texas legislators) caught most of the attention this week, we have to remember four other cases that pose great challenges.

These four cases show how the issues we strive to address get segmented and, thus, harder to defend as a movement.

1. Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

At it’s core, this case was about tribal sovereignty to decide who it counted among its tribal membership.

In this child custody case the court decided in a 5-4 decision that the child, Baby Veronica, did not qualify under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) “because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee” and thus not Native enough according to Justice Alito. Even though the Cherokee Nation considers her to be a member.

The court decided not to uphold tribal rights and now the father and the Cherokee nation are working to continue seeking custody.

2. Fisher v. University of Texas

This case focused around the constitutionality of race-based university admissions policies that seek to address years of institutionalized oppression.

The Supreme Court’s decision to send the case back to the lower courts left a lot of questions.

However, it stated that affirmative action could still be used, but only in a very strict and rigorous manner.

Since the court did not make a final decision, the threat of ending affirmative action remains ever present.

3. Shelby County v. Holder

With one major decision, the Supreme Court highlighted a sharp divide about the court’s views of contemporary racial injustice. One side believing racism is nearly a thing of the past, and the other recognizing the vigor of institutionalized racism.

The most common description of the 5-4 decision was as the “gutting of the Voting Rights Act,” because it allowed states (mainly Southern) with a history of racial discrimination to change election laws without obtaining federal approval in advance.

This result sets the stage for increased voter disenfranchisement and reduced access to the polls.

4. Vance v. Ball State University

In an extremely regressive outcome, the Supreme Court handed out a decision which effectively decided harassment only counts when it comes from a supervisor who has the ability to fire, reassign, demote, etc.

So it seems that supervisors and co-workers without the option to directly control a job status, such as firing, can conduct harassment without legal repercussions.

This continues the Roberts Court’s history of extremely pro-business decisions at the expense of workers’ rights.

If you want to know about other detrimental Supreme Court decisions recently, check out the roundup of cases over at Think Progress.


Lessons for intersectional organizing after Supreme Court’s decisions


These court cases will deeply impact our initiatives for racial justice, workers’ rights, indigenous sovereignty.

But how would a more cross-issue or intersectional movement help us in our efforts?

For example, the issue of power and white privilege/culture showed up strongly in all of these cases (not to mention colonialism, patriarchy, etc.)

A robust movement that explicitly showed the connections of racial justice, workers’ rights, indigenous sovereignty issues in these cases under the banner of dismantling white privilege would have a much easier time convincing the media and the public of how prevalent these forms injustice remain.

When we break things up into small issues, they become easier to ignore and break down.

Even if the majority of folks wish to dismantle injustice (e.g. ending climate change, ableism), we lose a little of our strength when we spread out.

We have the passion and dedication to bring about this “inclusive and intersectional movement”, we just need to start moving in that direction.

So as we celebrate the accomplishments of the ending of DOMA/Prop. 8, we must remember to keep pushing until we are celebrating the end of the other regressive Supreme Court cases this week and the recognition of intersectional justice.

If you’re interested in “inclusive and intersectional movement building”  make sure to go Like Black Girl Dangerous on Facebook or Follow on Twitter.

Organizational Development

Spiritual Practice and Social Change Organizing: Why You Should Connect Them

Photo: Wickerfurniture via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Wickerfurniture via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Spirituality, religion, faith, sacredness, and many more.

These words can quickly conjure up a strong response (both positive and negative) from those who hear them.

For myself, I know I thought issues of devotion should be kept strictly separate from the groups I was a part of and the work we did.

Honestly, I was probably scared of these discussions so I just avoided them or stopped listening when they came up.

It seemed fine for other folks to have their own beliefs, but to actually have some form of spiritual practice integrated into the group? That was a completely foreign concept.

So why am I bringing these words of the soul up in the context of organizing?

Over this past year I began to notice a few activists here and there, in person and through their written works, stating the need for organizers to incorporate some level of spiritual practice into their work.

I want to highlight some of these activists and show why spirituality (or whatever you choose to call the understanding of meaning in personal and collective existence) has a strong role to play in supporting our changemaking work.

Through the words of these changemakers, I’ll illustrate how these practices could help mainstream organizing better learn to aid its members, build a more resilient movement, and be in line with the world we aim to create.


Why we should be incorporating spirituality into organizing


“Faith and spirituality can provide us with a new foundation for our work, by shifting our perspective of what is possible” ~ Adjoa Florência Jones de Almeida in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

While some communities and groups have consistently approached their organizing with a look toward their cultural/spiritual beliefs, the dominant organizing movement has been much more reticent to adopting this manner of operating.

Adjoa Florência Jones de Almeida notes that one reason for this is “Among activist circles on the Left, there is often a silent, sometimes condescending disapproval of talk about faith. In part, this is due to the association of religion with fundamentalism…”

However, there are clear oppressive issues entrenched in some outputs of religion/spirituality, that doesn’t mean we should discount all of spiritual practice (just as we don’t disengage from other systems, we work to make them exemplify justice).

We need to move beyond this false assumption that religion must equal fundamentalism.

Elizabeth Martínez, in De Colores Means All Of Us, gives the stark assessment that this aversion to incorporating spirituality in leftist circles “has opened the door wide to right-wing manipulation of spiritual hunger.”

She continues by writing “[this open door] undermines the possibility of mobilizing masses of Latinos/as for whom faith has been an affirmation of heart in a heartless world.” This analysis also applies to any other person with a “spiritual hunger.”

Instead, we should proactively find ways to incorporate spirituality as a propelling force in our activism, as opposed to pushing away the sacred to reactionary entities.

As the quote at the beginning of this section promotes “spirituality can provide us with a new foundation for our work.” For those of us without as much experience combining the spiritual and changemaking, the opportunity now is to figure out how to do so.


5 ways to incorporate spirituality into your activist work


So if you are a little curious about the idea of incorporating spiritual practice into your changemaking work, the following ideas give a few concrete practices to consider.


1. Support holistic self-fulfillment and spiritual expression

“We must first practice mindfulness and grow compassion in ourselves, so that peace and harmony are in us, before we can work effectively for social change” writes Thich Nhat Hahn in Creating True Peace.

How often do we see or feel “activist burnout?” Thich Nhat Hahn’s point shows us that there is a another way to facilitate our organizations.

We must build in organizational structures to aid people in meeting their own needs, both spiritual and otherwise.


2. Find common ground with religious institutions

Faith leaders from many religious backgrounds show how spirituality can play a vital role in bringing about all forms of justice, from environmental to economic.

These religious representatives show that some from institutionalized religions have a clear recognition of systemic oppression and are working to undermine it.


3. Continue to challenge oppression as you adopt spiritual practices

Divinity is not immune to institutionalized “isms.”

As the previous point shows, many from established religions seek to dismantle oppression, so we have many supporters as we respectfully and conscientiously address unjust attitudes and actions.


4. Learn about the history of spiritual activism

As I mentioned earlier, spirituality has frequently been embedded in activism. We must understand how to authentically reconnect the issues of the spirit and the issues of injustice.

This also means we have develop our skills in applying spiritual practice to our changemaking work.


5. Have discussions about spirituality/religion

Like so many other barriers to liberation, we must break the “silence.” In this case around talking about spirituality/religion within our organizing groups.

With preparation, intentionality, and practice you’ll be on your way to invigorating conversations about faith and life.

Now it will take a lot more than just a few discussions to truly integrate spirituality into our organizing efforts.

We must continue to seek out new ways to reduce the disconnect between activism and our personal lives.

It’s essential to support our spiritual and personal lives if we want to continue this organizing work for the long-term.

So hopefully the next time you hear someone have a negative reaction to the word “spirituality/religion,” you’ll have a few ideas to show them a different way of making change.

As many topics here at Organizing Change, incorporating spiritual practice into our organizing is a tough subject.

What thoughts do you have about how we can better adopt spirituality into our organizing work? Leave a comment below!


5 Empowerment Principles to Instill in Your Organization

I remember a few years ago while talking to a friend and and I said “I’ve never really being an organizer before.” My friend immediately responded “I don’t believe that.”

My friend immediately stopped me and made me think of all the experiences I had organizing people in my past. I realized that throughout my life I have been organizing people, from getting together a group of friends (i.e. coordinating) to asking people questions about what we should do that afternoon (i.e. facilitating).

The actions I had always considered to be just a part of my day, were really the experiences that gave me the skills to organize for change. I always had trouble feeling confident about myself and my role in groups.

Even when I began to work on issue campaigns (e.g. climate change legislation and opposing dominant narratives) and facilitate meetings, I never looked at myself as a “leader” or someone who was organizing others. However, once reminded that I was, and am, an organizer, it was much easier to gain confidence in myself.

Instead of thinking of “empowerment” as something we need to instill in someone, this frame looks to “release” or recognize (as my friend made me realize about my organizing history) the power already inside all of us.


Reframing “Empowerment”


Photo: taubuch via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: taubuch via Flickr (Creative Commons)

While both myself and others I have worked with have aimed to make sure we only provide opportunities for an individual to accentuate their own skills, I know we have fallen for the trap of thinking “I know how I can empower them.”

We need to provide these self-growth chances, but we also have to remember our role is to always show our commitment to the individual and our belief in their current abilities and their potential. We cannot foster paternalistic attitudes that lead us to “know” the best process to help someone grow.

What I’ve learned, after support from many incredible folks who have helped me develop my own confidence and understanding, is that those of us aiming to “release” the power of another individual need to think of ourselves as mutual participants in the process and not as the leaders of the process.

Our path toward “unleashing our potential” involves many elements in our lives such as our community, the world around us, and ourselves. This demonstrates we need numerous entities to foster our self-power, not only those doing “empowerment work.”


5 Principles of True “Empowerment”/Releasing Individual Power


This frame of empowerment, has a whole new slew of opportunities and challenges we must make sure to consider. Below are some ways that other changemakers have sought to work through the complexities of empowerment.

1. Work with individuals and/or communities to develop their capacity

The Community Workers’ Co-operative writes “It is about working with people to enable them to become critical, creative, liberated and active participant in taking more control of the direction of their lives.” This means folks should be developing their own self-managed programs/organizations, instead of being led by the outside.

2. Aid people in increasing their own self-confidence

“Confidence is affected by such conditions as isolation, integration within a social group, level of functioning or degree of independence” notes Jayne Leone. Thus, we have to end stereotypes that continue the perpetuation of discrimination and self-marginalization.

3. Provide opportunities for people to identify their own power

Maintain leadership development programs, trainings, reduce hierarchies and have numerous leadership positions, etc. The Climate Justice League taught me these techniques, which they state as “Give people the space to succeed and grow.”

4. Institute just power relations

Again, the Community Workers’ Co-operative has great thoughts and writes we should be “addressing the unequal distribution of power.” We have to dismantle all forms of injustice that stand in the way of illuminating true empowerment.

5. Implement flexible systems and programs

Recognize that some of the dominant ways of organizing often exclude many groups of people. So we need to be conscientiously designing our organizations to eliminate this exclusion. This means we cannot be tied to one way of doing things especially if it continues institutionalized “isms.”

While I was lucky to have someone who was astute enough to tell me that I’ve always been an organizer in some fashion (after which I really started to take on more challenging projects), not everyone will have the same catalyst for “unleashing” their empowered selves.

Empowerment takes time, thought, and dedication from many different areas of our lives. Often it’s just the realization “I can empower myself” that sparks this change.

What ideas do you have for those involved in empowerment? Leave your thoughts below!

Strategy creation

Is Your Strategy Leaving Space for Collective Power?

Photo: mikhail_golubev via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: mikhail_golubev via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I first learned that instead of creating “power over” I had the possibility to create “power with” from training workshops put on by Nathan Jones at the Northwest Institute for Community Enrichment (NICE).

I had internalized the Alinskyist approach (i.e. “power over”) to always focus on a single decisionmaker in a position of “power” and organize to make them bring about your goals.

Then the NICE showed me that by having every strategy address this individual “decisionmaker”, we missed an opportunity to build our own collective power.

This is not to say that sometimes we may need to focus on a single decisionmaker, but it’s important to always have the option of thinking “what can we do together” (i.e. “power with”) instead of “what can they do for us.” We need both options, not one or the other.

This means we need to both develop leadership so folks have the support and self-encouragement to take on projects, along with keeping our government institutions accountable to providing the services it ought to be providing.

For example, if you want to increase the amount of food grown within your city’s boundaries, instead of going straight to a city councilperson asking them to start a municipal farming program, you could create “power with” by just starting to grow food in collaboration with others.

However, you might consider aiming for a “power over” strategy if you mobilize people to push your city councilperson to challenge city regulations that strictly limit areas where individuals can grow food in the city boundaries.

Basically, the point is that if we hand the “power” to a decisionmaker, we are limiting the potential of our own communities to start the process of change immediately. With a little skill, patience, and luck our collective power may even lead to some cases where the decisionmakers are trying to join us!


How to decide between a “power over” vs. a “power with” strategy?


While it may seem obvious to know what strategy to use when moving forward a campaign, just consider the possibilities of what other strategies might look like.

Below are a set of questions to consider before quickly setting your course.

Can you push forward BOTH a “power over” and a “power with” strategy? In other words, can you both push for someone else to make the change you seek, while working to fulfill your goals yourself/with others? Do you have the resources (e.g. people, time, money, etc.) to do both?

When to consider a “power over” strategy

Is there a service an institution (e.g. government, business, nonprofit, etc.) ought to be providing or policy they should be creating/upholding? If so, then it makes sense to address the institution directly through a “power over” strategy.

Does the realization of your outcomes require substantial resources or impact a large area or number of people? Sometimes what you set out to accomplish can be so large that it could benefit from securing the resources of an established entity to implement what needs to be done.

When to consider a “power with” strategy

Would your outcomes (e.g. projects, programs, etc.) be more resilient if those impacted created and maintained them? If this is the case, to have those involved maintain and manage the outcomes, then a “power with” strategy would be ideal for this work.

Do you aim to significantly increase individuals’ and communities’ capacity and confidence through your organizing? Once people realize what they can achieve with each other, then often they have the skills and attitudes that they can make even bigger changes.

There are many more factors that must go into whether to use a “power over” vs. a “power with” strategy, as I learned from Nathan Jones at the NICE, however the above questions provide a conceptual framework to get started. Just remember, try to think of ways when you can use both strategies concurrently!

What other questions should we ask ourselves before deciding whether to go with a “power over” or a “power with” strategy? Post your comments on the Organizing Change Facebook page!

Privilege and Oppression

Why We Must Address Institutions of Oppression Inside and Outside Our Activist Spaces

Photo: Avant mobile via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)
Photo: Avant mobile via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

I can still vividly remember one of my first Anti-Oppression (AO) workshops, where I first went into depth about my male privilege and how it completely changed my perspective of my activism.

This workshop, at the Sierra Student Coalition grassroots organizing Summer Program (SPROG), led me to continually think about how I could incorporate an AO approach into all of my organizing work.

I started out slow, but eventually I felt fairly comfortable (or at least willing to be uncomfortable) bringing up issues of oppression (e.g. heteronormativity, ableism, etc.) in the activist groups I was a part of.

While many of our social justice movements have a long ways to go in terms of grappling with entrenched structures of power and injustice (e.g. the need to confront intimate violence within activist communities), I know there is a growing conversation already happening.

We actively need to encourage those discussions, and create spaces that show oppression as something far more than just interpersonal privilege, but also deeply intertwined with nearly every part of our lives.

However, we have to do more than “create dialogue” or “raise awareness.” This means we need to address language and individual actions yes…but we also need to address our political, educational, and economic systems.


Taking action in activist and non-activist spaces


Whatever occupation we may be involved with, we need to find ways outside of our activist spaces to transform the oppressive elements of our society (e.g. Seattle’s citywide effort to end institutionalized racism).

While this may be more challenging for some (e.g. having a tenuously-held job and needing to support a family), those of us with the privilege to be able to speak/act out against injustice, must make sure to be persistent and not slide into being neutral.

In particular, this “naming” of oppression outside of activist spaces often seems to be something those with privilege do less frequently than we need to. From my own life experiences, one reason for this is we often have the choice to separate our activism from our daily lives (which I still have to work hard to resist). However, we cannot keep waiting for the “right moment” to speak/act out since it will never come.

As many changemakers have illuminated, privilege remains invisible unless we take the initiative to expose it. Thus, the more you are immersed in the dominant culture and power system (e.g. serving as a manager or executive in an organization, being part of a group with a high percentage of male leaders, etc.), the increasing importance it is for you to break that cycle of silence in the face of oppression.

I know for myself I often have to spend a significant amount of time building up my own confidence and talking to those who support me, in order to know how I should start the process of addressing institutions of oppression within my organization (e.g. contributing to the prison industrial complex or the widening U.S. wealth gap).

Too often, it is only those most impacted by oppression’s effects who speak/act out against it. We have to change that imbalance so that all those with a high degree of privilege, and want to be committed to justice, actually put themselves in a position to reduce the silence around oppression.

It may not be easy to do, but I know whenever I am able to speak/act out against injustice in any of the more privileged organizations I have been involved with, I always can feel my growing ability to continue highlighting oppression and privilege no matter where it comes forth.

What are your stories of addressing oppression and privilege in your organizations? Leave a comment below!

Strategy creation

6 Elements of a 21st Century Strategic Changemaker

Photo: h.koppdelaney via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: h.koppdelaney via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I launched Organizing Change about a month ago so I thought this would be a good moment to discuss more about what it means to be a strategic changemaker.

While many organizations are still focusing on single issue campaigns, the desire to connect our multi-issue values to our activism continues to grow. This demonstrates the urge folks have to build on our history of activism (both single issue and those more intersectional) and construct movements that tie together our visions.

Analysis of what we need to do to build strategic cross-issue efforts, has been dramatically escalating in the past few years. From Rinku Sen’s movement building vision to Organizing Upgrade’s drive to “Engage Left Organizers in Strategic Dialogue,” I can see how my writing here is only a small part of a larger push to ensure resilient shifts occur.


6 Elements of Strategic Changemakers for the 21st Century


Through Organizing Change I aim to highlight 6 key elements of strategic changemakers. Below I describe these 6 elements in more detail and reasons why they matter.

1. Strategic changemakers lay the groundwork for “movement moments.” This means organizing for the long-term, and working to institute rigorous movement building practices. As I looked at earlier, this also involves developing your individual and organization world vision and detailing out concrete steps to get there.

2. Strategic changemakers recognize the power of words and, thus, endeavor to make our language and culture intentional by “changing the narrative.” Whether this means addressing how our history of oppression led to ingrained cultures or learning how to make our moral values manifest themselves, strategic changemakers have the responsibility to conscientiously mold language/culture.

3. Strategic changemakers consistently aim to hone their skills and develop the leadership of themselves and others. Individuals learn concepts and techniques in multiple ways, and thus organizers must support the leadership capacity of those around them.

4. Strategic changemakers dedicate themselves to the process of ending injustice. This means looking to see whether our own intentions lead to the desired results, and confronting oppressive institutions that limit our expectations of ourselves.

5. Strategic changemakers learn about historical struggles and how current systems formed. This means we must analyze ways movements pushed forward positive change, and take time to understand how our efforts fit into the timeline of activism.

6. Strategic changemakers look to involve themselves in cross-issue organizing. We’ve made some major changes before, we just need to develop sustained shifts that express our core values.


Celebrating Organizing Change’s 1st month of posting!


This week marks the completion of Organizing Change’s 1st month (!!!) of posting on these organizing attributes.

I just want to thank you for reading and everyone else who has supported me in the launch, from my brother Tony who has read every post and given me feedback on each one, those who helped share the blog’s launch and posts (thanks Ruby, Claire, Marie, and Kate!), those who commented (thanks Kaitleen, Matt, Heath, and Mom!), and to those who gave me encouragement such as Jeremy, Meaghan and my sister Hayley!

I’m looking forward to this continuing and I am super grateful to all of you for making me excited to keep writing!

To see more discussion of these key changemaker elements, click to subscribe to Organizing Change.


Do You Know Your Activist History?

Photo: h.koppdelaney via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: h.koppdelaney via Flickr (Creative Commons)

If you had a similar early education path as myself, you probably only learned about a few justice movements (e.g. women’s suffrage and civil rights).

You probably also learned that these movements had a few charismatic leaders that led them to victory (e.g. Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.).

I was hard-pressed to answer if someone asked me whether I could name more than 2-3 other activists in those movements, let alone describe significant events or organizations that shaped the grassroots organizing.

While over the past few years I have definitely increased my understanding of the activist history that has shaped the world’s course, I know I learn new things every day about the leaders, groups, events, and achievements the dominant culture-focused history books tend to ignore.

So with this newest Organizing Change project, I’m excited to illuminate some of the main elements that have pieced together our activist history!




If you’re someone who wants to showcase how many people and organizations have dedicated their lives to making positive change, then check out #ActivismHistory (by “liking” the Facebook page and follow on Twitter) and consider contributing your own knowledge of our history!

Here’s the main areas from our changemaking past I’ll be looking at:

1. Individuals – both well-recognized (e.g. Angela Davis, Naomi Klein, and Dolores Huerta) and those we should know more about (e.g. Maggie Kuhn, Grace Lee Boggs, Haunani-Kay Trask). I’ll be bringing attention to an important changemaker almost every day of the week!

2. Organizations – though individuals are often the ones to receive the most media coverage, groups of people helped provide the capacity for movements to grow (e.g. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Fuerza Unida, Women of All Red Nations, and the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation).

3. Dates and events – while most social change work takes place over a long time span, there are keys moments in history that have dramatically (or subtly) shaped our world (e.g. 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot, 1982 Afton protests in Warren County North Carolina, and the recent Idle No More National Day of Action).

4. Achievements – as noted above, our activist history is more than just a collection of protests and media events…it’s a long-term struggle for justice whether it results in monumental legislation (e.g. 2009 Matthew Shepard Act), fosters community empowerment (e.g. American Indian Movement), or brings about a step toward our visions (e.g. Atlantis Community – a model for independent living).


Purpose of #ActivismHistory


My aim with this project is to complement the work of others showcasing our activist history, such as the Zinn Education Project (check out their Facebook or Twitter pages for daily analysis and important moments), Transgriot, and the Disability Studies blog.

As with my purpose for Organizing Change, to increase the number of folks finding ways to amplify our strategic social change work, I hope this initiative gives rise to more analysis of our activist history as a way to support our current organizing.

So join Organizing Change on Facebook and Twitter and add to #ActivismHistory by contributing your own knowledge, while learning from the experience of others!

Culture Changing

Here’s How Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Paulo Freire, and MLK Approach Neutrality

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu

I grew up trying to be neutral so seeing this quote was one of a few that completely altered my life’s direction.

I enjoy being a positive person, but when being a positive person leads me to avoid taking sides or hiding my true values then I am being an individual who supports our current power structures.

Desmond Tutu’s words show us that as our nonprofits, community organizations, and friends increasingly state their desire to be “nonpartisan,” we must remind them that by aiming for neutrality/nonpartisanship they buttress our oppressive systems.

Desmond Tutu, one of the world’s leading moral voices and activist for ending institutionalized oppression, saw first-hand in South Africa how being neutral was a partial reason for the continued strength of the apartheid system.

Freedom fighters struggled for decades before the international community stepped out of their “neutral policies” and denounced South Africa’s apartheid state. Even then, many nations advocated for gradual reforms from the government, instead of supporting the movement demanding the realization of the Freedom Charter (principles for a new just society) and the overthrow of colonialist institutions.

South Africa and the United States reduced their levels of repression only when committed groups and individuals took a strong stand for the values of justice for all people.


Silence and neutrality


“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” – Elie Wiesel

Photo: PinkMoose via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: PinkMoose via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Today we are constantly faced with injustice (e.g. school-to-prison-pipeline and exploiting indigenous land to fuel dominant fossil fuel use), though many times we stay silent. Some may be quite vocal about a few issues, but remain neutral in areas “outside their area.”

In particular, I’ve seen so many organizations refuse to do what they think is right, because taking action “might upset the funders.”

Most funders, whether from foundations or government, encourage organizations to work within existing power structures, resist groups that are politically active and mobilize against governmental, financial, or cultural systems (even if they clearly perpetuate disenfranchisement). This suppression of activism occurs because funders are already deeply entrenched in current ways of operating.

If our groups are operating under the barrier that they must be neutral and avoid confronting our existing institutions of power, then don’t you think they are going to have to keep solving the same symptoms of poverty, educational inequality, and health disparity over and over again?


Impossible to actually be neutral


“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral ” – Paulo Freire

Often in more liberal or community development fields, there is a strong desire to remain impartial and “objective.” However, in doing so they “side with the powerful.”

While having a desire for collaboration, consensus, and community is not bad necessarily, we have to keep in mind that these ideals can expand the reach of injustice.

For example, dominant male culture promotes the expectation that men should ignore sexism and just accept that “boys will be boys.” This passive bystander approach to sexism, is one of the main contributors to our extremely high rate of sexual violence.

By saying one is “not going to take sides” and just remain on the sidelines (e.g. allowing someone to blame the victim), these individuals provide their tacit acceptance.

So how we change this culture of neutrality?


Building a culture of active response to injustice


“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict…[an individual] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote provides another voice that starkly outlines the damage caused by neutrality, but it also leads to one of the primary ways we can build a culture of active response to injustice.

Speak out against any and all injustice, both large and small. Whether you witness an act of interpersonal oppression (e.g. homophobic comments) or you see a trend of institutionalized oppression (e.g. the media and politicians correlating those with mental health issues and violence), try to find ways to illuminate darkness.

Share the voices of those committed to exposing injustice. If you are not ready to be as vocal as you wish, highlighting the thoughts and actions of those dedicated to denouncing injustice (e.g. Angry Asian Man and Feministing) is a great way to build your own courage (it certainly helped me!).

Analyze areas of your organization and life to see where you have remained neutral, in order to decide how you will become active against oppression. I know I rarely, if at all, thought about where I was neutral since it was so ingrained in my every behavior. Thus, you may need to take a close look at where you are quiet and where you have started to express yourself.

Agitate for increasing how your organization (and even yourself) encourages an environment of active responses to injustice. Identity how you can provide training, change policies, and lead by example.

Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Paulo Freire, and Martin Luther King Jr., provide a clear moral and strategic outlook at how we can approach neutrality. Their lives show that taking a stand is challenging, but is essential to dismantling injustice. Luckily, we have the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

Have thoughts or examples on other ways to resist neutrality? Post your thoughts on Organizing Change’s Facebook page!

Movement Building

How Rinku Sen Successfully Preps Extraordinary Movements that Last

It was a couple of years ago now, when I realized that I was only really pushing forward short-term victories and not efforts for systemic change.

Then I read wise words from Rinku Sen.

Photo: Kris Krug via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Kris Krug via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In her book Stir it Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy, Rinku showed me that if we frame campaigns based on our long-term values and ideas, then we advance shorter-term issues while also clearly stating what we truly believe.

I was completely stunned by that seemingly simple idea.

I had never consciously tied my organizing efforts to my values before, and once I did I could immediately tell the difference!

In a current environment where most nonprofits and community initiatives shy away from stating their deeply held values and just focus on their immediate aim, Rinku Sen’s call for campaigns infused with our beliefs, stands as a powerful counter.


So what’s a campaign centered on its values look like?


The nice thing about Rinku Sen is she not only has good ideas, but she also makes it really easy to show examples of her efforts in action!

Rinku is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and the publisher of Colorlines; both stalwarts of racial justice work in the U.S.

One of Colorlines’ most prominent campaigns is “Drop the I-Word.”  The campaign’s focus is to eliminate the use of the term “illegal” when applied to people (e.g. illegal immigrant) since “No human being is “illegal.’”

The Drop the I-Word campaign, alongside the work of other activists, has helped bring about a change in the Associated Press, USA Today, and others to stop the use of “illegal immigrant.” Despite the recent successes, the Drop the I-Word campaign has continued to push other media outlets, such as the New York Times, to follow suit.

While the short-term issue of the campaign is change how journalism, communities, and organizations talk about immigration and civil rights, the longer-term value of the campaign is to change our culture away from intolerance to one of respect and rights for all people.

This campaign’s impact will last far longer than a campaign aimed simply on getting people to not use the racial slur “illegal immigrant.” And that’s because this campaign works to change culture, not just a single word.

If we all worked to shift culture and actions, behaviors, and policies where might we be in making lasting change?


Other ways Rinku Sen shows us how to build strong, long-term movements


You might notice a lot of my writing will reference Rinku Sen’s ideas or the collection of organizing practices she coalesced. The reason I highlight Rinku is that I learned a lot about what it means to be a strategic changemaker from her.

So let’s look at other ways Rinku shows us how to be a 21st century organizer.

A. Center our leadership development and organizing of those most impacted – whether we are aiming for racial justice or gender justice, we must make sure to build capacity of those on the frontlines.

B. Build sustained campaigns – sometimes we have to go against the Alinsky advice for “short-term, winnable campaigns” and instead advocate for issues that will take lots of time and energy to succeed.

C. Increase our use of new research and media – while it can be easy to become frustrated by the mainstream media, we have a chance to build new research/media outlets (e.g. ARC and Colorlines) that showcase our organizing and values.

D. Frame campaigns on large-scale ideas/values – organizations must take a stand (even though most reach toward the center) and conduct political education of their members.

E. Support emerging social movements – building robust organizational capacity can clash with encouraging movements, thus organizations must always remain accountable to the movement.

As I wrote earlier, Stir It Up (which you should definitely check out!) was my first introduction to Rinku’s work; however, I’ve been making sure to keep updated on her incredible ideas through Rinku Sen’s writing on Colorlines (as you should too!). If you’re interested in building movements that last, then Rinku is a person to follow!

So now that you’ve heard about Rinku Sen’s work, make sure to go over and commit to “Dropping the I-Word.”