Do You Support These 8 Learners in Your Organization?

When was the last time you started your campaign’s recruitment by acting out how you would like to feel joining the organization?

When was the last time you had a meeting that had folks brainstorm new ideas through artistic design or writing songs?

When was the last time you restructured your team by looking at examples of effective practices from across the animal kingdom?

For many folks these processes may never happen; however, if your organization started to lean towards experiential practices (i.e. learning in multiple ways not just by speaking or writing) then you are on a great track to really releasing the full potential of the group.


Why try out more experiential organizing?


Before I got involved in organizing training, I never thought of doing anything besides “brainstorms” and the occasional “case study” (or if I was in a really innovative mood, maybe a “break out” discussion).

But you may be saying “my team seems to get along just fine just talking and writing about ideas, so why should we spend time starting something new?”

Well, one of the main reasons that more and more organizations are incorporating multiple ways of operating, is that they realized not everyone works in the same manner and people could accomplish more given the chance to contribute in new structures.

This growing emphasis in the training and education spheres on creating experiential experiences aims to stimulate individuals’ multiple types of intelligences and go beyond focusing on traditionally dominant ways of learning. Learning through movement, visuals, songs, teamwork, personal reflections, etc. All of these experiences engage the participant beyond their traditional day-to-day occurrences.

Trying new work patterns can be a bit challenging (in particular if you’ve  got used to doing the same thing every day). However, once your team gets the chance to plan out their next project through colorfully drawing out how each tactic fits into the beautifully designed strategic picture, then you might start seeking out other alternative means of engaging your team.

As those passionate about social change, we should also be changing the way we organize our teams and organizations. Folks may not even realize the incredible array of ideas they possess, unless our work gives them the opportunity to express their potential.


8 types of learners every organization should nourish


Photo: Wesley Fryer via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Wesley Fryer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

At its core, experiential models of learning center around supporting an individual’s ability to develop their knowledge and skills.

While there are numerous divergent views around about what “defines intelligence,” the main element I try to think about is “am I supporting the individual in the way that works best for them, or for me?” So even though even the following 8 types of learners really don’t capture all the ways people learn (or highlight the connections between them), it’s important to go beyond dominant ways of training/education/etc.

Since it is impossible to always facilitate our meetings and trainings that incorporate all learners, we have to think of actions that expand beyond the predominant manner of organizational functions and really make our groups “learner-oriented”.

Below are a few ideas for stimulating 8 different types of learners (as defined by Howard Gardner with his Multiple Intelligences framework).

1. Musical-rhythmic learners engage well with rhythms, songs, and dances.

Potential activity: Create a short team dance that captures the vision for the project

2. Bodily-kinesthetic learners engage well with movements, hands-on activities, and physically creating things..

Potential activity: Make decisions on proposals by walking across the room to show where people physically stand on an issue

3. Logical-mathematical learners engage well with clear structures, reasoning exercises (e.g. case studies), and abstract planning.

Potential activity: Devise a flowchart of actions that you aim for participants in your program to take

4. Linguistic learners engage well with the written/spoken language and discussions.

Potential activity: Identify potential issues with a program by creating case studies of possible scenarios

5. Visual-spatial learners engage well with design, spatial-awareness, and pictures/images.

Potential activity: Conduct idea brainstorms using colorful post-it notes to put up around the room

6. Interpersonal learners engage well with others and have higher sense of others’ feelings/emotions.

Potential activity: Write up a big individual report outline as a group instead of delegating to one individual to start

7. Self learners engage well with individual-awareness activities, analyzing their own ideas and beliefs, and working independently.

Potential activity: Reflect on your last big event by having each person silently write their biggest individual take-aways (both successes and ways to improve for next time)

8. Naturalist learners engage well with comparisons to the natural world, being outside, and understanding patterns/relationships.

Potential activity: Conduct meetings outside and take time to analyze ways your organizing processes can mirror effective natural processes

These are just a select few ideas of many possible ones. Just remember, that no one is a single type of learner. We can each respond to the above characteristics, but some bring out our thoughts, ideas, and actions a bit better than the rest.

For those looking to build up new ways to support many different type of learners, what other examples do you have of experiential organizational methods? Leave a comment below!

Dominant Cultures

3 Colonialist Cultures Every Organization Should Challenge

How many times have you heard that the U.S. is a place where people from every culture are welcome and can succeed?

When did you realize that this wasn’t true?

I can still remember the moment when I understood that joining the U.S. “melting pot” (i.e. the idea that everyone can be a part of the U.S., just as long as you follow the same cultural norms as the dominant group) meant losing your identity (and even health!).

The more “inclusive” view I’ve seen, beyond the “melting pot,” is the “salad bowl” (i.e. where distinct cultures can be celebrated and recognized, without having to be one whole culture).

However, “Both [the melting pot and salad bowl] liquidate issue of power and domination…Both are molded by a national identify firmly rooted in an Anglo-American culture and perspective” as Elizabeth Martinez writes in De Colores Means All Of Us.

This cultural pluralist model focuses its advocacy on tolerance and acceptance of others, and I know I want to see way more than simply tolerance.

While wanting people to help people and make them feel accepted in the group is not necessary a bad desire, I think we can push for everyone to be able to fully participate and succeed in society, regardless of their cultural expression.

So where do these beliefs stem from?


3 colonialist outputs: assimilation, appropriation, and “saving”


“It [Colonialism] is violence in its natural state.”

This quote from Franz Fanon, one of the 20th century’s most powerful voices for decolonization, captures the sentiment of colonization as one of the darkest institutions that not only shows up as violence through government/military, but in culture and language as well.

The three interrelated cultures of assimilation, appropriation, and “saving” serve as stark examples of how colonialism directly persists in the U.S.

1. Assimilation – “Join us [by force]”

This narrative of homogeneity, though frequently proclaimed as an idealistic outcome for the country, often expressed itself through forced assimilation (e.g. early 20th century policies that targeted Asian Americans to adopt structures based around the nuclear family).

The U.S.’s culture of assimilation forces one to either leave behind all traces of their former heritage or face constant fear and suspicion.

2. Appropriation – “Now that we’ve taken your land, let’s take your culture too”

The White Cultural value that people have a “right” to cultures, knowledge, and traditions and that they are free to “share/take” as they wish, has maintained its immovable presence (e.g. the practice of many New Agers to exploit indigenous beliefs).

Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations brilliantly highlights how entrenched the U.S.’s culture of appropriation remains in our systems of education, politics, sports, etc. In particular, there seems to be a growing trend in (mis)using Native designs in fashion and media.

3. “Saving” – “Our civilization is best, so let us help you”

One of the most insidious of colonialization’s impacts. The idea of “saving” a group by force/deceptive persuasion often comes from mistaken good intents that led to destructive results.

Groups that resist this “[Western] civilizing” often face the dominant culture’s antagonistic confusion for why they don’t want “our [white savior] help.” However, refuting this “civilizing help” is essential for ending our colonialist institutions.

Elizabeth Martinez writes that one of the most important ways to resist these impacts is by “rejecting the colonized mentality, that pernicious, destructive process of internalizing a belief in the master’s superiority and our inferiority.”


Developing a Culture of Complex Identities: Going beyond “inclusion” and tolerance


As many decolinizing activists note, it’s time to move beyond privileged norms and policies pushing for a “core culture,” while either trying to “include” or tolerate the “other.”

Photo: Wall in Palestine via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Wall in Palestine via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s time for a Culture of Complex Identities; a culture that not only accepts difference, but actively promotes a variety of cultures and simultaneously accepts indigenous groups’ right to cultural sovereignty and self-determination.

I can imagine that in a place that strongly promoted this type of society, it may be a bit more challenging to say something is a “core culture”, but it would help people to achieve their potential in whatever they choose to grow.

This would impact not only interpersonal relations, but also how we define leadership, collaboration, education, etc.

This world would certainly be much more dynamic and rely less on centralized or hierarchical systems that demand conformity and obedience.


Ways to push for a Culture of Complex Identities


So how do we get started with moving toward complexity?

Describe your personal and/or organizational culture and identity – not all culture needs to be changed, but we do need to know where we are currently at to understand what needs to be different

Identify how you currently encourage assimilation to your norms and/or mere acceptance of others’ norms – look at your actions, practices, or policies to get a sense of how you might be limiting the potential of others

Consider how you promote the achievements of others – look at how you select people for certain roles/positions, what actions you choose to recognize, whose ideas get turned into projects, etc. to determine whether you are focusing on one type of cultural expression

Continue the struggle for decolonization – which means listening to words of people who fought their entire lives (e.g. Frantz Fanon) along with those who are upholding those past traditions (e.g. Decolonize PDX).

Figure out your own conscientious culture and actions steps – now that you have thought a little about your current practices, now is most exciting step! Decide how you would like your personal or organizational culture to be an ideal scenario and the steps you will need to achieve it.

This struggle for a conscientious culture and sovereignty that disrupts the 3 colonialist cultures of assimilation, appropriation, and “saving” has been ongoing for the past 500 years of resistance. Decolonization is what we seek, and this history shows the deep commitment to ensure this vision is realized.

What other ideas do you have for creating a conscientious culture? Leave a comment below to share!


Acting with Vision or Acting Pragmatically? (or Both?)

“Do I go for my vision or do I take pragmatic moves?”

This dualistic question has come up for me quite frequently recently, and I seem to always find a voice advocating strongly for one of these options. “Act realistically, and think about you can actually achieve” say some of my pragmatic friends. “Dream big and  the details will fall into place” say some of my visionary friends. Though theoretical to some degree, these organizing “worldviews” shape the way we act for change in our modern world.

Now I look to how to combine the best elements of the pragmatists and the visionaries.




Pragmatism is what I call the “moving without tripping” approach, meaning that one should look at the currently available paths and find the one that seems to be the most feasible given current constraints/opportunities. Pragmatists, at least in the organizing context, focus on current conditions and endeavors to make the most out of them possible. In general, ideology is not as important as achieving realistic accomplishments for pragmatic methodologies.

While being realistic is undoubtedly necessary, we often do not know what is possible (i.e. we can achieve more than we think). Thus, pragmatic steps can miss whole new opportunities that seem far-fetched and play more into the “status quo.”



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

Visioning is what I call the “moving towards the stars” approach, meaning that one should look for the highest potential and aiming for paths that create completely new futures. Visionaries, at least in the organizing context, focus on future conditions and how to make them reality. In general, practicality is not as important as ensuring significant changes occur in peoples’ lives.

While keeping our dreams in our plans must continue to be done, that does not mean that we can act as if that dream can be made swiftly or easily (i.e. change is not impossible, but it can be difficult). Therefore, visionary modes should take care to “sweat the small stuff” and have tangible goals to reach their visions.


Visionary Pragmatists or Pragmatic Visionaries


The reason this spectrum between vision and pragmatism to be so essential is that it strongly influences our plans, goals, strategies, timelines, and underlying beliefs behind what changes can be made. For myself I’m not sure if I would call myself a “Visionary Pragmatist” or a “Pragmatic Visionary;” however, to me the term matters much less than capturing the best spirit of both to accomplish what needs to be done.

By combining the best of both the pragmatic and visionary worlds, we can be effectively “moving towards the stars, without tripping.” Plan visionary until you get to your immediate pragmatic steps (i.e. plan backwards from the vision), but always keep the dream in mind as you go forward. The current context should never be used as an excuse to avoid stretching our beliefs of what is possible.


Backwards Planning Retooled for You! Get the Most Out of Your Limited Time

How often do you think “How am I ever going to accomplish this in time?” Yet you’ve always found a way to get it done in time (though after making it through some pretty late nights). But wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to feel like you were “just in time?”

That’s where I’ve found backwards planning to be so useful.

Many campaigns or projects make sure to start at the end when creating timelines, but I’ve noticed a lot less individuals using backwards timelines for getting their work done. Many organizers have their “to do” list, but often do not put as much thought into making a long-term timeline.

Though I’d realized how helpful backwards timelines were in making sure work got done ahead of schedule for the initiatives I was a part of, it took me much longer to see that I could really apply a backwards timeline to my own work.

Often campaigns create backwards timelines for benchmarks or milestones. We should do the same for our smaller tasks that lead us to those key deadlines. Organizers should make sure to use backwards plans in both their collaborative timelines and individual work plans.


Quick overview of backwards planning


Backwards planning ensures that you set attainable goals, actions, and time periods for accomplishing your aims and do not have a lot of work to do at the end of your project/campaign to catch up.

This way of planning also makes it easier to include time just in case unexpected difficulties or challenges come up.

This way of organizing turns planning away from starting at present realities and constrictions to starting at the outcomes you want to create. For example if you need to accomplish something by December 2013, start planning backwards from that date (e.g. in November I’ll finish X task, in October I’ll contact X person, etc.)

While a complete individual timeline would have a lot more steps on what/when to accomplish sub-tasks needed to fulfill the large tasks, this shows that if you start at the end it is much easier to “fill in the pieces.”

As I noted at  the beginning, backwards plans are most common with campaigns or larger projects; however, I think individuals could save a lot of valuable time by completing a backwards time and making sure work is more evenly spread out over a period of time.

For individuals, a backwards plan is especially useful if you have a lot of the following:

  • Involvement in many distinct projects (e.g. leadership development, working with the media, etc.)
  • Recurring work that you’ll always need to account for when scheduling
  • Highly time-sensitive work that needs to be accomplished at a certain time

Elements of a backwards plan


So now let’s look at some important elements to consider when writing your backwards plan for your campaign/project or your individual workplan.

1. Start at the end!

Makes sense right? Maybe even consider start with writing when you will debrief your work.

Since my work doesn’t have an end, I usually create my individual workplans in 3 month increments (e.g. Drew’s 2013 April – June workplan) and leave space at the end for future work I need to keep in mind (e.g. what I need to accomplish after June 2013).

2. Timeline out everything you need to accomplish

There is so much going on in our lives, for me it’s often easier to write some things down so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. If you’re creating a backwards timeline as part of a group, then its even more important to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Below are some elements to consider including in your timeline.

  • Key benchmarks, goals, objectives, and tasks
  • Coordination (e.g. roles, volunteer management, and collaboration)
  • Outreach (e.g. media outreach and advertising)
  • Logistics (e.g. reserving rooms, sending e-mails, and preparing materials)

3. Include specific dates and those responsible

If you include additional specifics in your plan, such as who will do which part of the plan, then you are well on your way to a successful result and not just a good plan.

For an individual workplan, you’ll probably just need the dates since you know who is responsible.


Making the mental shift backwards for your individual workplans


When I first started backwards planning for myself, I had no idea how challenging it would be to switch to a different way of thinking about planning. I still sometimes have to remind myself to make that mental shift to beginning at the end. Though with continual review and looking over past work, I remind myself how to walk the backwards path.

While a backwards timeline is not the most advanced of organizer tools, it is a method I’ve found that saves me time, keeps me on track, and shows me how much I’ve actually accomplished!

What other ideas do you have for completing a successful backwards plan? Leave a comment below!

Privilege and Oppression

How to Confront Apathy, Acceptance, and Activist Diversion

My post last week looked at 3 ways of limiting changemakers. This week I wanted to analyze methods we can use to counter these “3 As” of apathy, acceptance, and activist diversion.

Just as a reminder here’s a short overview of the “3 As.”

Apathy – “indifference” and/or “not caring”

Acceptance – believing the “way things are” is the only option at the moment

Activism Diversion – Shifting passionate individuals to ONLY

  • Provide social services to meet immediate needs, instead of also addressing larger institutions and systems
  • Make societal transformations through policy
  • Rely on institutions to have financial backing/“legitimacy”

So now let’s go over some ways to confront the “3 As.”


1. Confronting apathy…it’s a matter of dedication


Folks may be apathetic for any number of reasons, so the most important principle to keep in mind (and actually for all of these) is to avoid making assumptions about why someone may seem “not interested.”

Spend time working with the individual or group and show your commitment to them. Moving away from an indifferent mindset takes time, so don’t give up on them even if it takes a while.

Share stories rather than statistics. For those who are undecided on an issue, they may just need you to tell them a real example of story that illustrates your point, rather than just “more data.”

Involve people in communities actively on the path or bringing about change.  One person is not always the most convincing, so bring those with an undecided views to groups actually working and so they can see the results themselves.


2. Confronting acceptance…it’s a matter of “giving light”


Ella Baker said “Give light and people will find the way.” If you can illuminate a propelling image of potential actions or a better world, then people will often express their own motivation. You cannot really motivate someone, but you can aid them in realizing the motivation within them.

Try to identify the source of their acceptance (e.g. not believing anything can be done or that they can contribute, thinking that “everything is already being done,” etc.) and see if they are interested in learning about other ways to become more involved in changemaking.

For those that cannot imagine big changes actually happening, show them examples from history and current efforts of groups and movement making significant gains. Often knowing that someone else is not going to intervene (e.g. government) helps move folks beyond the bystander effect to actually investigating how they can take concrete actions.

Consider sharing your personal stories of acceptance since the person you are talking to be at a moment when all they need is to realize that many people feel “acceptance” once or multiple times. I know I go through cycles of emotions around acceptance and I have often needed the support of my community to get back to the work my heart tells me I can do.


3. Confronting activist diversion…it’s a matter of alternatives


Photo: bobchin1941 via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: bobchin1941 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Work with folks to demonstrate that there are real options for our activist work. Activists want to contribute and support work that brings about a positive world. However, if the only options are going into moderate nonprofits or public policy organizations, then we are deeply limiting the scope of our activist work.

Collaborate to identify pathways to change the current organization. Sometimes it’s not possible to simply change who you are working with (e.g. needing an income to support a family); however, we can create plans to move the groups we are involved with to become more impactful and not perpetuating inaction.

While it goes against common paths (and what might be easier), show why activism cannot be a career. Madonna Thunder Hawk’s article Native Organizing Before the Non-Profit Industrial Complex gives an undeniably clear explanation that as soon as we make activism a career, our interests become more and more invested in maintaining the current organizational status quo and are less willing to do “unfundable” initiatives.

It’s essential we speak up and actively show new ways of making social change in our organizations. I’ve often tended towards the apolitical, but I’ve learned from current and past activists how that supports the powerful. We have to find avenues to mobilize our organizations to reject “neutrality,” reliance on policy reform, and moderate dialogue that ignores institutional oppression (e.g. white privilege).


The ebb and flow of inaction/ineffective action


Apathy, Acceptance, and Activist Diversion take shape in nonlinear fashions, and I know from my own experiences going through these flows that it often takes persistent, dedicated work from both myself and those I know to head in the directions I seek.

Really responding to the “3 As” is about sharing yourself and making sure you don’t feel silenced since most dominant narratives lean towards promoting Apathy, Acceptance, and Activist Diversion.

Sometimes this ebb and flow may take place over the course of a few years, or maybe even just a week. Even if takes a bit longer than we would like, what remains important is to leave open the possibility for moving away from the “three As.”

I see folks in these categories, and other mixtures, nearly everyday which has prompted me to ask “how do we respond to this convergence of inaction and/or ineffective action?” Leave a comment below with your thoughts.


How Creating Your World Vision Can Inspire Action

I feel like I’ve always had a fuzzy picture of what I’d like to see for the world, but it took me until last year to write out what that world would be like. 

Photo: paul bica via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: paul bica via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I immediately saw how much more aligned my work was with my vision shortly after creating it.

It has been an exhilarating experience!

For example, Organizing Change would have looked very different than it does now. Before my vision made me realize the potential of Organizing Change, I was just going to share my general thoughts on organizing. However, now I conduct detailed investigation in order to find thoughtful organizing and activist experiences, insightful analysis, and hard-hitting data to make the case for strategic changemaking.

I realized that for me to be able to contribute to the creation of my vision, I needed to clearly identify the most impactful organizing lessons of the past century or so, showcase institutional barriers to change, the vital nature of strategic visions, etc.

It’s funny that for the amount of time I spent talking about change, I never explicitly imagined what a completely changed world would be like. Now that I have a clear vision, I am much more confident in the actions I take.


Elements of a clear and actionable vision


While I’d written many mission or vision statements, before last year I’d never made a vision that asked me to make a plan to along with it. Then someone asked me what long-term change would look like so I wrote a plan for them.

Many of the steps below may seem familiar to you, the difference is now we are using them to create a vision! I prefer to write, but your way of expressing your vision may involve stories, art, music, etc.

Articulate your vision for a liberated world – think of how people would live in this world you wish to create.

Here’s an example: “A world in which people regularly exceed their highest visions for themselves and the global community.”

Identify your important values of this future world – remember though that these values do not need to be shared by everyone, but rather serve as some key guiding principles for what you wish to work for.

Here’s an example: “This society would prioritize the personal fulfillment/sovereignty of its members (i.e. as opposed to a focus on wealth/destructive growth and assimilation) and resolve the perpetuation of past, present, and future injustices.”

Define intentional systems that would aid your future vision – whether flexible or more structured, think about what would support healthy societies. 

Here’s an example: “A compassionate, cooperative, and mutual aid-based society that allows people to express their potential through horizontal leadership communities (i.e. non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian).”

Plan out short, medium, and long-term goals – now is where things start to get tricky since it can often be challenging to think 50 or more years ahead. What helped me was to plan backwards to figure out potential ways to achieve my vision.

Here’s an example: “The full sovereignty and capacity for self-sufficiency of all those who seek their own self-reliant communities by [X date].

Description of how you wish to contribute to the creation of this vision – so now that you have this clear vision, it’s time to make it actionable! I spent the most time making sure I really knew how I wanted to contribute to my vision.

Here’s an example: “With Organizing Change I aim to give myself and others the knowledge of what it takes to make change (the toolkit) , how to counter obstructors of change (the analysis), and the vision of where change should lead to fulfill the needs of current and future citizens of a whole and thriving Earth (the vision).”

If you cannot imagine a vision AND actionable steps, then its harder to know if you are on the right track to making the change you seek.

So what if everyone passionate about bringing about positive changes to the world created a vision that propelled them to achieve more than they ever expected? 

Want to stay updated on Organizing Change?  Follow the updates on Twitter for information on posts and highlights of important activism/organizing going on around the world.


How to Develop Confident Activist Leadership – These 5 Sustainable Ways

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less” – Kurt Hahn (20th century experiential educational advocate.)

“Strong people don’t need strong leaders” – Ella Baker (civil rights movement builder and one of the greatest advocates of leadership development in history)

These words exemplify my visions for change. I believe that once someone recognizes their highest potential for themselves, and have the opportunity to express it, then it will facilitate confident and sustained movements.

One of my deepest passions stems from seeing a person’s confidence in themselves grow, which is why I believe understanding leadership development is crucial to making the changes we seek.


Defining leadership development


At its core, leadership development is about showing your commitment to others to build confidence in themselves and their expression of leadership.

Cesar Chavez noted that people learn leadership skills, they are not born with them. He said leaders develop their ability “on the picket line.” Thus, we have to provide opportunities for new leaders to hone their capabilities.

Here are some key characteristics of leadership development:

  • It’s a process, not an end result
  • It has numerous forms and definitions
  • Creates opportunities for others to succeed

We may not know exactly where folks will end up, but by believing in someone’s ability to engage with their leadership potential we foster new pathways for change.


How oppressive institutions limit expression of confident leadership


While I am fortunate to learn about myself everyday and to have dedicated people support me through my journey, there is a huge potential within individuals that our current societal systems suppress and/or fails to encourage.

Too often, people do not have the chance to experience their own potential. Because others may tell them “you won’t be able to do that;” however, once folks are able to make mistakes and learn, these same doubters get to see how well people can succeed once given the opportunity.

At the Applied Research Center’s Facing Race Conference last year, I had many discussions about how many of the U.S.’s institutions view leadership through the prism of U.S. white culture (i.e. the dominant values, acts, and ways of thinking stemming from Western Europe) and masculinity.

Some key assumptions of leadership, as valued by the oppressive institutions of white privilege and male privilege, manifest themselves as the following:

  • Avoiding conflict or anything that is seen as “confrontational”
  • Ability to ignore privilege
  • Listening more closely to those who are assertive/outspoken
  • Demanding “rational” behaviors and dismissing emotional ones
  • Instituting individual/hierarchical leadership over collective leadership
  • Those with privilege are still respected even if they operate outside of the “norms” listed above

I could’ve kept going with this list showing the ways dominant privileges influence our cultural constructions of leadership, but this is a blog post not an anthology.


Principles of just, and sustainable leadership development


While the interest in leadership development has seemed to skyrocket in the past few decades, the practice has been around much longer (e.g. W.E.B. DuBois’ analysis of Black leadership). Below are 5 key principles for sustainable personal growth, that do not focus on dominant narratives of leadership.

Photo: via Wikimedia Commons

1. Build collective leadership (i.e. many leaders with less hierarchy) – The Ella Baker quote from the beginning of this post (“Strong people don’t need strong leaders”) highlights this idea that we should rely on a committed changemaker group, not just a few individuals.

2. Recognize leadership in multiple forms – As noted earlier, oppressive narratives often try to decide who gets to be called a “leader,” so we need to show that we need many types of leaders not just a “monocrop.”

3. Develop intersectional leaders instead of identifying leaders – In Rinku Sen’s incredible organizing book Stir It Up, she describes that instead of just picking out folks who have had the opportunity to express some level of leadership, we need to spend significant time and energy to build activist capacity to fight the “isms” (e.g. sexism, ableism, colonialism).

4. Prepare for leadership rejuvenation – This principle, another great one from Rinku’s book, advocates for putting procedures in place to reduce “burnout” (e.g. rotating work schedule, extended breaks, incorporating mental/physical health into the group’s operations).

5. Expect and push for the best from people – Even if someone doesn’t think they can “be a leader” or achieve something, we must never forget to show our dedication and belief in an individual’s ability to be who they wish to be. Just identify in advance how someone wishes to be “stretched” in their abilities.


Being unwilling to settle for less


For me leadership development gives me energy to build my own confidence.

Although, leadership development can often be challenging and difficult at times, once someone realizes just how much they accomplish then their only course is to strive for their highest potential.

What ways have you seen to foster long-term leadership development? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Privilege and Oppression

Have You Noticed These 3 Ways of Limiting Changemakers?

I’ve seen the changemaker diversion industry…as I was nearly diverted myself.

For much of my life I was told (and I believed) that the only way for me to “make a difference” would be to go into a nonprofit or social service job. I even kept thinking about this in terms of what “I can do” or the “help I can give.”

It’s not that nonprofits or social service jobs are wrong (they have an important role), it’s just that the vast majority of this industry today says we can only win small reforms for those most in need and significant change is not possible or is too “political.” This is also that this industry often forces us to hide our own true views because “we don’t want to upset funders” or those with a different view from us.

While I was one step away from fully committing to this particular mode of thinking directed at small changes, there are other ways that can reduce the number of changemakers seeking deep changes.


The “3 As” of apathy, acceptance, and activism careerization


The “three As” of apathy, acceptance, and activism careerization currently pose serious questions for changemakers. For those of us looking to mobilize people, we have to grapple with the challenges of raising understanding, getting folks to act, and making a tangible difference with our own efforts.

Below I have written out a few attributes of folks facing the “3 As” and some reasons for their continued presence.

Apathy – “indifference” and/or “not caring”

One of the biggest challenges we face as organizers and as a society is indifference to injustice.

The celebration of apathy and people not knowing what they “stand for” can be truly frustrating for those wishing to change the rampant exploitation of people across the world.

Some of the causes of apathy include folks who have been privileged and do not have a dire need to intervene in the cause for justice, those who do not truly understand the movements on the frontlines of injustice, or those who have been organizing for a while but feel “burned out.”

Acceptance – believing the “way things are” is the only option at the moment

The idea of acceptance is the sentiment of “compliance” with current systems or that society just has to “wait for change to happen on its own.” People with this mentality may understand some of the world’s injustices, they just tend to believe that they are already taking the best possible course of action or its impossible to shift those in power.

Some of the causes of acceptance include folks who have been influenced by media or culture to not resist, those who do not believe much more can be done, or those who believe that current mechanisms and reformations will actually make changes.

Activism Diversion – Shifting passionate individuals to only work in a small set of parameters

The careerization of activist work, a hidden form of inaction, redirects folks’ driven to solve the “root causes” of problems, into putting their energy in limited, tightly regulated ways that only address the “symptoms”.

INCITE! highlights this rising drain of activists in their analysis of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC). INCITE! highlights that changemakers may desire to make significant changes to benefit the world, but instead get pushed to ONLY

While providing social services, policy work, or receiving funding/legitimacy, are not bad per se, they do ensure that activists only work in a certain prescribed manner that is not directed at making significant changes in ending cycles of oppression/degradation.

We need BOTH social services and social change. However, right now it’s a lot easier for me to find a social service organization than a social change one.

Next week I’ll be looking at ways to confront the “3 As” that help move us away from responding to the same symptoms year after year, and toward social change that addresses the root sources of our interconnected issues.

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Strategy creation

3 Ways to Replace Inflexible Beliefs With Positive Ideology

How often have you thought “ideology is so inflexible!”

I know I used to say ideology hindered folks from seeing the whole truth. While this is definitely true in some cases, after reading Rinku Sen’s Stir It Up I asked myself more critically if ideology had to have the same rigid dogma that plagues much of the U.S.’s current political systems?

I now have a new appreciation for the role a clear set of values has in resisting those who do have an inflexible ideology.


3 ways to connect issues into a broader analysis


I remember it was only a few years ago that all I focused on was a specific issue (e.g. rainforest destruction) and I avoided looking at the larger forces that instigated the problem (e.g. racism, sexism, and capitalism).

I wasn’t clear even to myself about what I wished to see created/ended, and how to make changes. I would intently argue for a certain policy or plan, but if it came to talking about institutional “isms” that went across numerous issues, I didn’t have the analysis to respond since I didn’t understand the deep connections between issues.

Ideology, if carefully considered and maintained, can be a dynamic instrument that provides a strategic vision connecting issues together and shows what we believe, oppose, and what we want changed.

For an example of this ideology framework in practice consider the organizing against U.S. Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

These and other obstructions are not isolated to the PIC, but rather span across a whole host of other issues (e.g. poverty, exploitation of sovereign Native land, and climate change).

It may seem easier to break things down into discrete issues, but we need to define cross-issue, long-term strategies that counter the main power holders and narrative of our times.  I will still disagree with some tactics, and ideas, but I will not let small differences in approach separate me from those who I ought to be organizing with.

This framework may not stop the creation of all inflexible beliefs, but it will make sure that folks know what they stand for and what specifically they aim to achieve.


Be vocal about your beliefs


In reality, I have always had an ideology, I just had a hard time expressing it.

There may be reasons why I remained silent (e.g. my entrenchment in white culture that encourages me to avoid confrontation/“disorder”), but I now see that we must be vocal about our IDEOLOGY of what we believe, oppose, and what we want changed in order to bring our multi-issue, long-term strategies to fruition.

Before I would always say “I support X cause.” Now I aim to be much more intentional and open about my views, even though I still may struggle to stand up to privilege (my own and others), power, and oppression.

My transition to clearly and courageously stating my ideology took place over a long period; however, now every time I state what I believe, what I oppose, and what I want changed, my confidence grows.

What do you believe, oppose, and what to see changed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


How to Be Proactive and Win Campaigns

Have you ever got so caught up in the momentum of a campaign that you feel like there’s barely enough time to finish the next task?

If you’re like many organizers, including myself, it can be easy to just focus on the immediate next step.

I know I often convince myself that “I’ve planned everything out.”

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

With the rush of activity that comes with a vibrant campaign, there are a lot of reasons why the details take precedence. However, I want to look at what happens when we act proactively, instead of reactively.


The incredible heights of proactivity and the dangers of a narrow focus


The Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) serves as a powerful dual reminder for the benefits of proactivity and the punishment for not looking ahead.

ACORN, one of the most influential and empowering anti-poverty organizations in the U.S.’s history, fought tirelessly for a range of social justice issues (e.g. affordable housing, workers’ rights, living wages, livable neighborhoods, etc.)

Part of ACORN’s early strength came from the fact that it almost never let up, and always sought new angles to push forward its campaigns.

ACORN’s ever-amplifying strategies and tactics kept opponents on their toes, which ACORN made tougher by frequently anticipating their foes’ next moves.

This proactive approach to campaigns won ACORN many victories.

However, high-profile successes also brought high-profile attacks.

ACORN’s highly-effective campaigns to empower low-income populations in the democratic process led to a steady increase in backlash from those who would rather not see elevated voter turnout from impoverished communities.

As John Atlas writes in Seeds of Change, although ACORN’s voter registration quality-control methods (e.g. flagging suspicious/problematic registration cards, paying staff by the hour and not by the # of registration cards, and confirming cards by calling the listed number) were some of the most stringent in the nation, ACORN still couldn’t escape political attacks.

Even though the mainstream media and political commentators continually accused ACORN of “voter fraud,” John Atlas notes “Not one U.S. attorney found any evidence of an illegal vote cast and counted because of registration by ACORN and those working for it.”

After unrelenting pressure, due to a few poor decisions (e.g. prioritizing all organizing work while neglecting accounting practices), ACORN eventually ceased operations and created a void so profound that countless groups immediately committed to filling the gap left by ACORN.

While I have learned many lessons from ACORN, one of the most important is to prepare for criticism and look ahead to potential challenges.

If ACORN had applied its skills to proactive organizing work to being just as proactive at accounting and media work, then ACORN would have had a much better chance at resisting its opponents.


Principles/Elements of Proactive Campaigns


Being proactive is crucial not only for organizations, but also for the individuals carrying out a campaign. Below I’ve written out some key ways to maintain a forward-moving emphasis.

Being proactive should be all-year long – don’t just have a meeting, plan possible outcomes, and then rest on what you’ve made. Consider ways to improve your work, then think again and improve again.

Consider all possible scenarios (good or bad) that could influence the success of your campaign – remember ACORN’s example! If you’ve thought critically about challenges and how to meet them, then you’ll be in a much better place then if you were unprepared.

Look beyond your day-to-day task list – when thinking about what you need to get done today, also think about what you could do this month/year. I try to set aside at least 30 minutes to an hour a week to close my TODO list and think what else I could be doing. I often find something valuable to support my work.

Keep track of what you need to accomplish in the mid to long-term – even if you cannot get to everything right now, at least have a place to store future ideas so that way you can pick them out when the time is right.

Be proactive in all areas of the campaign, not just a few – ACORN focused on its organizing work and neglected its media and accounting work, which taught me to look beyond just the work that I enjoyed the most.

Consider where you’re at and what else you could be doing now or in the near future – whether you’re in a strategy session, or pondering proactive dreams at your desk, there are plenty of places to analyze how to act differently.

If you see an issue take care of it right away! – If you have the skills to take care of something, don’t wait, just respond to the issue right then.

Plan out ways for your campaign to be proactive over the course of its work – making a plan for how you’ll be proactive in your campaign, may just be one of the most proactive steps you could take!

Evaluate if your campaign is “meeting the need” – if there are areas that are not being met yet, figure out how you can resolve them.

As I realized from ACORN’s experiences, being proactive is never ending.

Now I try to avoid getting caught in a cycle of day-to-day tasks and instead aim to keep finding ways to think ahead.

Got other ideas for being proactive? Then leave a comment and share your experience!