query: teaching organizing in little time

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Wed Dec 12 14:18:50 CST 2007

[ed:  thanks to Amy and Jon for replying to Aaron's query.]

From: Amy S. Mondloch <amy at grassrootsleadershipcollege.org>

Hi Aaron and all--

I'm also guessing that you are in Milwaukee.  I haven't spent a lot of time
with Milwaukeeans in the last few years, but I know there were a number of
strong and interesting community organizing efforts going on there.  I'm
guessing most are still going.  You may want to check out; Peace Action,
Wisconsin Citizen Action, Education for the People (and possibly some other
groups in the Cesar Chavez Center), and the WI-Apprentice Organizers
Project.  I have also heard good things about MICAH and would second
contacting them.

A lot of questions came to my mind in reading your post--

What kind of non-profits are you working with?  I've come to see that many
of the larger non-profits, though filled with great and caring folks, get
twisted up in their bureaucracies, systems that depend on the poor staying
poor in order to maintain their business.  Their business is service.  It's
an important business, filling the gap until organizing can show results.

What do you mean by community organizing?  It's a pretty broad area and I
sense that you are looking for particular results on particular issues, but
I'm not 100% sure on the issue area.  I think it would help in giving you
ideas to have a little clearer picture of what you hope to achieve and who
it is you want to work with.

I'd also encourage you to take a look at Milwaukee's history.  There may be
some stories there that people can identify with and use.  Milwaukee has a
long and proud history of organizing in many arenas going back to the
struggle for the 8 hour day and the Bayview Massacre, to the Socialists, to
Fr. Groppi and the Civil Rights Movement, to today and groups like Voces de
la Fronterra and the immigrants rights work they are doing (Voces would be
another great group to check out).

Finally, I'd just encourage you to not just think of yourself as a teacher
of those you work with, but to acknowledge yourself as a learner too and let
them guide the way a bit-- build your workshop off of their interests.

Good luck, hope this helps!


Everyone A Learner, Everyone A Teacher, Everyone A Leader
Amy S Mondloch
Executive Director
Grassroots Leadership College
1321 E. Mifflin St. Suite 201
Madison, WI
phone: 608-441-0085
fax:  608-204-0835
amy at grassrootsleadershipcollege.org


From: Jon Greenbaum <gtree61 at riseup.net>

In differentiating organizing from other approaches to community problem 
solving, it is useful to use the Midwest Academy's chart.

The chart sets up an axis with "Changes the balance of power" on one 
side and "Does not address the balance of power" on the other side. 
Going from "changes power" to "not changes power" one fills in the 
approaches starting with direct action organizing, then advocacy, then 
education, community development, self help and finally direct service. 
There are charts that fill this in. I saw one that Community Voices 
Heard did.

I use this approach with intern applicants to quickly let them know what 
they are about to get into.

For a quick and dirty explication of this approach I explain that groups 
need to be strategic and explain that if Susan B Anthony and and 
Fredrick Douglass (this is Rochester, NY, home of Anthony and Douglass) 
had called rallies to end racism and sexism and just picketed city hall 
with vague demands they wouldn't have changed anything. They needed 
specific demands on specific public policies and those demands had to be 
transformational, not demands that just address the margins of power. 
Then they built strategic campaigns that focused on winning real power.

That's my 5 minutes intro. You could do a 20 minute exercise where you 
ask them to solve a problem (give them several problems and divide them 
into teams) and ask them to come up with solutions from all six 
community solving problem approaches. You'll need to circulate to help 
them think it through to apply what they know about the approaches. Then 
ask them which solution addresses the root cause and which allows the 
status quo to be perpetuated.

But then you seem to be facing a different problem. In my situation, I 
just explain we only do "direct action organizing" and that's that. In 
your case you have to see which approach they want to do.

But if you are going to service agencies you should know that the deck 
is stacked against you. People have different temperaments and direct 
action doesn't appeal to everybody and it seems to appeal less to people 
in the helping professions. Plus, these folks exist within institutional 
structures that will always guide them away from direct action organizing.

However, I question your premise that we need to sell direct action 
organizing outside of the context of campaigns. What sells the direct 
action organizing techniques are the victories of strong organizations 
that use direct action within their campaigns. And it is through the 
active campaigns in which we are recruiting and developing leaders that 
we teach direct action strategies and tactics.

-Jon Greenbaum, Metro Justice Organizer
> --------
> [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 
> approach.
> 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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