query: teaching organizing in little time

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sun Dec 23 23:26:19 CST 2007

[ed:  thanks to Mike for replying to Aaron's query.]

From: "Mike Hodge" <MHodge at TNRC.net>

For what it's worth, we sometimes start our leadership training classes 
for adults by asking them to name times that they have felt powerless.  
These can be individual ("When my dad was dying of cancer..") or 
community-related ("When the city told us our neighborhood was 'too 
far-gone' to get any help."). 

If you really take the time to do this -- and if you have a good 
diversity of experiences in the room, it certainly helps to set the 
stage for a discussion on power -- and why we have to be about 
organizing.  In general, I think helping people connect with the 
internal motivation for organizing is the critical first step in teaching.

Mike Hodge
Neighborhoods Resource Center
Nashville, TN

Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
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> [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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