query: accountability sessions

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Tue Jul 23 14:45:45 CDT 2002

[ed:  thanks to Gordon for the excerpt from the work he is doing with 
Shel Trapp.]

From:	Gordon Mayer <gordon at jcua.org>

Hi Randy, all--

I'd like to add something a little self serving to the discussion on
accoutability sessions. Shel Trapp, co-founder of National Training 
Information Center/National People's Action, the Chicago-based 
network of neighborhood groups, with assistance from me, is in the 
of writing a book tentatively titled Dynamics of Organizing: Building
Power by Developing the Human Spirit.

The thesis of the book, which also will recount stories from Trapp's 
years in organizing, is that action is what develops leaders--whether 
public meeting, going on a hit (ie, demonstration), etc.

It's basically being done in an oral history style thanks in part to
funding from the Woods Fund of Chicago and Wieboldt Foundation. 
Below I'll
paste in some of what Trapp has written about action.


from "Dynamics of Organizing" (DRAFT)

"Organizing is not only about how to create change—every liberal 
wants to
create change. It’s how to build power while creating change and 
how to
bring dignity to the people involved. You organize a group of folks 
without being told, they suddenly discover what power is. That can 
be the
power of 20 people in a living room for a block club meeting or the 
of 3,000 people at a National People’s Action conference. Suddenly 
person present discovers, ‘I’m not by myself.’ Whether I’m at the 
table or sitting in the audience I’ve suddenly discovered that there’s
more to this than me. I’m not the only one pissed off and I’m willing, 
that I’ve got these people around me, to do something I never 
thought I
was going to do.

Whether that means going from a block club to the alderman’s 
office or
going from a mass meeting to the home of the chairman of the 
Reserve Board, it’s the community thing, where people feed off 
each other
in a positive way. I gain strength because I’m with other people. If 
just in my living room by myself and I have gangbangers outside 
I’m pretty
scared. If there are 20 other people there with me and we make the
decision to picket the gangbangers or stand out in front of our 
suddenly I’m feeding off my neighbor. I know I’m not alone in this 
The organizer’s job is to create that arena where I find the strength 
take action.

Organizers help individuals build confidence in themselves and 
neighbors through the road of action. Action means taking some 
kind of
risk, from a little kid riding a bicycle for the first time to making a
career change. In organizing terms, action means confrontation, 
which is
absolutely vital to the process. Confrontation gets us in touch with 
anger at the enemy, whether it’s the owner of a building who 
charges high
rents but doesn’t deliver on the services, an incompetent or corrupt
government official whose salary comes from the taxpayers, or a 
banker who

Action creates an inner security and strength that says, yes, we can
change things. You don’t gain that confidence or inner security by
inaction. In fact, inaction debilitates you. Action gives you 
You don’t learn to ride a bicycle by letting it sit in the garage but by
taking the risk of riding it, usually at the cost of a few scraped 
As a young child, you didn’t gain the victory and dignity of being 
able to
say, “I can ride a bike” without risking those scraped knees. In
organizing, we win victories and dignity not by talking about what is
wrong in the community but by taking action to change it.

Action also connects us all to the part of our body that organizers 
most, our gut. Or, if you prefer, our instincts. Beginning organizers 
to do a lot of un-learning in order to understand the importance of 
gut. All of us learn all through school to think with our heads. 
beings like to think we are logical, that we make all our decisions 
our brain.

That is not true at all. When we decide to get married, do we sit 
with a piece of paper and write these are the negatives of 
these are the positives and OK, the positives outweigh the 
negatives, I’ll
pop the question? Hell, no. You get a feeling down in your gut, I like
this person and as it happened with me, with my wife Anne, she 
laughs at
my stupid jokes, she’ll listen to me when I need to talk. The big
decisions of our life are made with our gut. Now I’m not saying 
is bad, you’ve got to have some smarts when you go out to battle. 
But you
have to follow your instinct.


Sorry that got a little long. I sure wish we could tell you when it 
be done! I'd be very happy to hear what questions people have 
about Trapp
and NPA/NTIC (to the extent you have any at all!)

Gordon Mayer

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