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Latest revision as of 11:57, 3 December 2019

What is Organizing?

"Organizing is the process of building power as a group and using this power to create positive change in people’s lives."

Organizing has everything to do with power and shifting relationships of power. Power is the ability to control our circumstances and make things happen outside of ourselves. People can exercise power by making decisions for themselves and influencing others in their circles. Not everyone has equal access to the positions of power where decisions are made, however. Throughout history, entire groups of people have been left out––or marginalized–– from those circles and spaces where meaningful decisions are made. Over time, these decisions are reinforced by the systems built up around them, making them part of our reality long after individual decision makers have departed.

Activists can challenge the power imbalances in our society through organizing. Organizing is the process of building power as a group and using this power to create positive change in people’s lives. As an individual, it is difficult to accumulate the amount of influence needed to change the systems of power that govern people’s lives. As a group, however, we can multiply our own influence with the influence of others to shift power relations and create change.

Sometimes we think that if our cause is right, we will be able to win easily without building power. We might think that if decision makers just understood the problem then they would act. Unfortunately, in most cases, even if we are right, and those in power know about the issue, they still don’t act. This is because they are being pressured by others not to act, such as donors who want school funds to be allocated to sports programs instead of a student health center.

Most campaigns will require you to be more than right. You will find that you must build power in order to put pressure on those who can make decisions. Organizing is about figuring out what resources you need in order to win change. This could mean you need the votes of members of your student council; chatter on social media; the allegiance of a person with power; or it could mean building crowd support to disrupt business as usual with direct action (such as a protest). Your role as an activist is to figure out what you want to change and how to make it happen.

Identifying the Change Your Groups Wants

A first step in identifying the change you want is to develop a shared vision with your group about the world you want to create. Your vision should be based on a set of core values that define your group and what you are fighting for. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious when it comes to the change you envision for the world. When it comes to planning your campaign, however, your group will want to focus on only a few aspects at a time in order to keep your message clear and actions targeted.

Here are some questions to help your group think about what to tackle first:

1. What problems are you most angry about? Feeling an injustice deeply – often through anger – is a powerful motivator. It can keep you going through the ups and downs of organizing work. Often activists themselves have experienced an injustice, and organizing with others is part of their healing process.

2. Do other people share your anger and frustration? Your goal in building power is to recruit supporters to your campaign, so you want to focus on a problem that causes widespread anger and frustration. The more people that are directly affected by the problem or that share your concern, the more people you will be able to motivate to take action.

3. Can you think of a concrete, feasible solution for this problem? The ability to clearly name your solution and convince people that it is feasible will help you greatly in recruiting supporters to your campaign. For example, sometimes students say that they are really angry about patriarchy, but a clear winnable solution to patriarchy is hard to name. Instead, if we identify sexual violence is a problem on campus, then we can identify solutions such as demanding improvements to the sexual assault policy on campus, or requiring consent training for all incoming students.

4. Will this solution have a lasting impact on people’s lives? Does it create structural or cultural change? You want people to benefit from the change you create long after your campaign ends. That requires addressing change on structural and cultural levels. Structural change involves altering the policies and procedures that help to keep the problem in place. Cultural change happens when there is a shift in popular opinion about the problem.

Structural and cultural change are linked––when public opinion shifts, people tend to reshape policies in response. When policies shift, culture often shifts with it. For example, LGBTQ activists worked for years to get more portrayals of gay couples in mainstream film and television as a way to promote greater acceptance of gay marriage (cultural change). They also worked to pass marriage equality laws state by state (structural change). By the time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled marriage equality legal in 2015, the majority of Americans already agreed that “love is love” and supported the decision, helping to strengthen the law against the minority who oppose it.