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.
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.
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
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
Associate Professor & Chair
Dept. of Ed. Policy & Comm. Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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