query: teaching organizing in little time

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Fri Dec 7 12:44:04 CST 2007

[ed: please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG with responses to Aaron's query.]

From: Aaron Schutz <schutz at uwm.edu>

Most people in my city don’t know much about organizing, and they mostly 
don’t know that they don’t know. They feel somewhat hopeless about the 
huge problems facing the city, and I think often sense the limitations 
of efforts focused on service to the needy, but don’t really know what 
else to do.

One Solution:
I would like to come up with a short workshop for small groups of 
non-profit workers, teachers, residents, and others that would introduce 
them to the tradition of community organizing. The goal is NOT to teach 
them concrete skills, but instead to give them entrée into what is an 
alien perspective about community change.

The best approach would probably be to bring this workshop to where 
these leaders already meet. But in these cases you would likely be given 
very limited time: from 1-3 hours at most.

The Problem:
In my experience most people continually reinterpret what one tells them 
about organizing into frameworks that make sense to them. The community 
development/social service perspective is deeply engrained. If you ask 
them to pick a target and imagine a possible issue, even after 
explaining basic concepts, for example, they often choose neighborhood 
residents as targets and seek internal cultural change or community 
building as a goal. The idea of wresting power from the powerful or 
resisting outside structural oppression is difficult for them to 
coherently grasp.

On the other hand, there is something uniquely compelling about the 
community organizing approach, especially to those who work in 
traditional social service occupations.

I just did an hour-and-a-half presentation to a group of early career 
non-profit workers, and I think I started to reach some of them (and 
pissed a number of them off), but I am not very happy with my current 

Why Do This?
The goal would be to increase the number of people in the community who 
at least have heard of organizing, focusing on key leaders. At the 
minimum, we need more people who have some sense of what organizing 
entails, who can engage coherently and usefully with organizers, and 
who, once they learn about organizing, may have interest in pursuing 
these ideas further and supporting more “organizing like” activities. 
This isn’t all we need, but I think it might help.

I would love to hear others ideas about how one might approach this 
problem. Or even whether you agree that it’s worth addressing.

What would you focus on in terms of the few concepts you could try to 
get across in such a short time?

What kinds of activities would you try if people only had 15-20 minutes 
to collaborate?

Aaron Schutz
Associate Professor &amp; Chair
Dept. of Ed. Policy &amp; Comm. Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Office: (414) 229-4150
Fax: (414) 229-3700
Website: educationaction.org

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