query: leaders to organizers

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Mon Sep 29 20:08:57 CDT 2003

[ed:  Ann contributes to the discussion in this message.]

From: Ann and Timothy Curry-Stevens <echobay at sympatico.ca>

I am concerned about this implicit criticism of organizers that is 
imbedded in some of the messages. It seems that the leader is 
given priority for bringing followers with them, whereas the 
organizer is somewhat less valued since they do not. My reading of 
the emails on this issue is from a feminist perspective, sensitive to 
the power dynamics that underlie the different valuing of these 
activities, as well as lengthy history of social movement practice 
that has unravelled due to organizational inabilities to hold its 
"leaders" accountable, since they have held the higher profile 
activists in higher esteem and made such significant 
accommodations for them that the rest of the groups have become 
despirited and disengaged.  

I have two contributions to make:  

1. I have found it valuable to use the concept of "functional 
leadership" that sees the full range of organizing activity as 
requiring a large range of skilled people... those who can inspire 
people to be concerned about specific issues and those who can 
manage the full range of activities and recruit people to fulfill these 
functions. Many successful social movements have not had visible 
"leaders" but have forwarded the information about the issue and it 
is that message/visual that has inspired people to join and support. 
Such is true of most environmental advocacy, labour standards 
advocacy, and gay/lesbian advocacy. Please note that I am 
speaking from the Canadian context.  

Let's look at what the traditional leader does, by function. They call 
attention to problems, help bring an issue to public attention, help 
people build their analysis, articulate alternatives, inspire hope and 
confidence in the ability to create change are important to social 
movement struggles. It is unlikely that one person is able to 
adequately fulfill all of those functions. These functions may need 
to be fulfilled by any combination of people and of communications 
resources. There may be social movements that have found one 
person to fulfill these functions, but that would be rare, and would 
actually leave the movement vulnerable, since too much would 
seem to be invested in one person.  

2. I have also found it useful to consider that many successful 
organizers actually "lead" by way of following the group members. 
This is the way of popular educators (of which I am one) that 
interprets the interests and priorities of their community and assists 
them to manifest and pressure for change. This organizational 
strategy comes out of a lengthy history of effective organizing, 
especially in Latin America. It is also possible for leaders to 
position themselves within a network of invested groups, and thus 
"lead" through networking. In this sense, they are a catalyst for 
change and the advocacy effort seems "leader-less."  

Just some more evocative thoughts for our collective 

Ann Curry-Stevens, Echo Bay Centre
(and Ph.D. candidate in Adult Education)

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