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(en) US, SDS* National Constitutional Convention Final Bulletin - Chapter Building & Student Organizing Basics

Date Mon, 12 Nov 2007 18:04:16 +0200

that we conceive of ourselves as organizers. So what does it mean to be an
organizer? Organizing is fundamental to building a successful movement for
social change. Activism is applying pressure to create change; organizing is
building in others the capacity to create change, as well as identifying and
forging avenues for people to create change together. Organizing is about
building power for the long haul by engaging a broad base and facilitating the
participation of more and more people. Good organizing means seeing the big
picture and advancing the group forward, developing its analysis, building
leadership in members, and thinking strategically about your group's place in
the broader movement.

that we conceive of ourselves as organizers. So what does it
ing a successful movement for social change. Activism is app
ers the capacity to create change, as well as identifying and
Organizing is about building power for the long haul by eng
and more people. Good organizing means seeing the big pic
building leadership in members, and thinking strategically ab
Organizing also means assessing what is the most
important and strategic role for you given the context,
and being able to step in to fill it or step back and let
others do so when appropriate. In this way, organizing
takes many different forms, such as envisioning and
strategizing campaigns, building coalitions with other
groups, identifying the training needs of your group, net-
working, writing and publishing, recruiting key people
into the group, coordinating actions, speaking publicly,
developing a media strategy, working on internal structure,
or keeping track of what tasks other folks are working on
and following up, etc.
Wanting to win means that we need millions of people
involved - so we have a lot of organizing to do! If you're
currently building or growing a chapter, you have already
started organizing! So, how can we build our chapters in
ways that create more space for involvement, bring in
new people, nurture voices, and turn out even more
organizers for social change? Here are some tips and
tricks for organizers:
Be Strategic
Keep the big picture in mind! Think about what outcome you
want and how you realistically plan to get there. Be inten-
tional. Work on the issues most relevant to your base. Work
with the folks who you are best positioned to mobilize. Break
your big goals into smaller, bite-sized achievements that can
be accomplished - and make a timeline! This will help build
a sense of power as they accomplish those achievements,
and will build momentum to help accomplish longer-term
goals. Think about your own role in your local organization
as well as your organization's role in coalitions and the
broader movement.
Build Relationships
Building relationships with and among people is one of the
most basic pieces of organizing. Strive to build friendships
with folks who you want to organize with. More than any
other reason, people join social movements because they
know someone already involved. Network! Actively seek out
connections with a wide variety of people - those on your
campus or at your school, in your community, the media,
and in other local, regional, and national organizations.
Befriend your student body president. Get to know your city
council. Don't be shy - invite folks who you'd like to work
with to sit down to talk. Engage folks who you wouldn't nor-
mally spend time with - it is important to keep expanding
your circle of allies and interested folks who you can mobi-
lize or work with.
Do Work!
Run campaigns! Doing actual on-the-ground work with the pur-
pose of creating concrete change is the best way to build a
group and bring in more people. Rather than spending a four
months focusing on recruiting more people, recognize that
people will be attracted to a group that is active, showing
results, and plans to win.
First meeting
Sit in circles, not classroom style. Tell a story about the his-
tory of your organization. Collect as much information on
people as possible - pass around index cards and ask for
their name, phone, email, interests (including their major),
graduation date (if they're in school) and home contact info.
Use the graduation date or home info to track them after
they're gone. You can use this growing alumni base for
fundraising and build pressure on your targets over time.
Have a fun activity (like banner making or a team building
game) at the end of the meeting. Plug folks in immediately.
Recruiting & retaining membership
We want SDS to be a group that any young person could see
themselves joining. Introduce new members into pre-existing
social networks and work to build friendships, since this will
keep people attached to your group. Avoid cliques and in-
groups. Spend one-on-one time with people new to your
group. Make sure to ask what they feel excited about, and
support their interest. Do lunch or dinner with different
members rather than with your same group of friends each
time. Listen at least as much as you talk. Explain decision-
making process and hand gestures at every meeting. Recruit
new members through actions rather than to meetings - who
wants their first experience with a group to be a painstaking
business meeting?
Outreach is a constant process!
Make what you're doing a household word. Pick a simple,
effective message and repeat it! Don't assume that people
are going to hear about it through the same channels that
you did. Be creative. Outreach should be fun and ongoing.
Be very conscious of the image that you are projecting and
strive to be inclusive and engage a wide range of people.
Use language that everyone is familiar with - avoid activist
lingo, acronyms, and unnecessarily loaded terms. Always be
consciously building the base of folks you are able to mobi-
lize and your circle of allies.
"An Action a Day..."
Action is application of the power you have built through
organizing, and it is essential for a group to be successful.
Try to always have an action on the horizon. Use actions
(rather than meetings) to recruit new members. Be visible.
Be creative. Use humor, theater, props, etc. But most of all,
be strategic. Know when you are using a tactic or action to
express your groups' values versus when you are using it as
an instrumental part of your campaign to put pressure on
your target or build power. Ultimately, keep your long-term
goals in mind.
Pick proper targets
Do what's called "power mapping" - learn who has the
power to give you what you want. Don't waste your time
targeting your school's president, if it's the board of trustees
who really make the decisions. Consult the Midwest
Academy's Strategy Charts to outline your goals, organiza-
tional considerations, allies/opponents, targets and tactics.
Escalate tactics
The purpose of escalating tactics is to leverage power. Make
the cost of not granting your demands greater in terms of
public relations, money, staff time, headaches, etc. than the
cost of giving you what you want. You must cause your tar-
get to consciously make a choice about your issue. Start with
a meeting to ask your target for what you want directly, and
if they refuse, apply more pressure the more you are ignored
or denied. This may look like moving from meetings to peti-
tions to theatrical actions to walk-outs, sit-ins, etc. Put your
requests in writing and try to get any denials in writing, if
possible, so that you have a record of your attempt and your
target's refusal to be reasonable. Make sure to get media so
that the target looks unreasonable and feels public pressure.
Use the media
Media attention is fundamental both to growing your group
and pressuring your target. Get to know your local media
before you need them to cover your event. Get media train-
ing for your whole group. Plan a media strategy for your
campaigns. Write media advisories and press releases for
actions and big events. Make sure your spokespeople are
prepared before interviews. It's important to have a unified
message to the press, even if it's just the campus paper.
Seek wide appeal. Use community media as well as campus
media - community media is often the most effective place
to embarrass a university.
Institutionalize change
Many activists tend to do expressive protest or education
and consciousness-raising events, intended to shift culture,
but have no demands that can be institutionalized, so they
fail to make concrete wins that help build power. An example
of this is hosting a number of speakers against the war vs.
forcing your school to divest from war profiteers. Organizing
for institutional changes allows you to create concrete and
permanent/long-term successes that you can build on, like
steps. With each win, you build more power so you can
move on to bigger demands, and you don't waste energy
doing the same things over and over.
Praxis makes perfect!
Build education and reflection into your organization.
Debrief after meetings, actions and campaigns and think crit-
ically about what you could do better. This will help your
group to build analysis, increase organizing skills, deepen
commitment to the work you're doing, and become more
self-actualizing. Take advantage of potential learning experi-
ences (conferences, trainings, meetings, study groups), and
bring other group members along!
Don't re-invent the wheel:
It's not up to you to do everything! Spend some initial time
before you begin your project investigating who's already
working on what you're interested in, or at least who might
be sympathetic. Do this throughout your project so that you
can build coalition with others rather than having to compete
for scarce resources. Before making that counter-recruitment
flyer or workshop outline, check out the materials of other
organizations and see if you can use or adapt theirs.
Find Mentors:
Actively seek out mentors who have been organizing for a
long time and who come from different perspectives from
you. Remember that each generation finds itself in a differ-
ent political moment, but insights from those with more
experience can help us learn from the past and deepen our
analysis. Also seek out peer-mentors who you can grow and
develop with. Don't be afraid to let folks know what you
need and are looking for in mentorship as to not waste each
others' time, but also have patience with people who offer
you their time. Everyone with some experience has a respon-
sibility to pass on what they know - so remember to mentor
other folks, too!
Avoid leader-less-ness:
A commitment to horizontal process doesn't mean pretend-
ing that there aren't different levels of leadership that people
take on, based on capacity, time, commitment, experience,
etc. We always need defined positions with accountability to
the group, and there are many different kinds of leadership.
For example, public roles such as spokespersoning, or task
coordinating, as well as less visible roles such as emotional
support work or big-picture thinking, and so on. Learn how
to share power. Build transparency with regards to how deci-
sions are being made and roles are being assigned; rotate
workload often enough to assure that no one person is tak-
ing on too much, but also strive to maintain continuity.
Remember that accountability also means that general mem-
bership takes personal responsibility to be partners in trans-
parency - that is taking initiative to learn and be involved,
not just sitting back and criticizing or "calling people out."
Develop more leaders!
Once you feel confident stepping up, help other folks feel
confident stepping up too. Creating space for more leaders is
important, but that doesn't mean that you need to disappear.
Be intentional about developing leadership (skills, analysis,
confidence, strategic thinking) in other folks in your group,
particularly folks who are not traditionally socialized to take
on leadership positions. Share skills, information and respon-
sibilities as widely as possible. Don't do something alone
when you can help someone gain skills by teaming up with
them - not only will you be building the capacity of our
movement through training and inspiring others, but you'll
make your group more sustainable.
Plug people in with specific tasks
Get people involved by asking them to do things. Mass com-
munication is impersonal and doesn't usually work; instead,
ask specific people to do specific things that you think
they'd be good at. Always ask in person if you can. Phone
should be your second option, and email should be your
last. If asking by email, personalize email subject lines so
that the person's name is in it. Start with small, bite-sized
things and gradually grow with their increased showing of
responsibility. When helping find roles for new folks or build-
ing leadership in others remember that what is just another
task to you may be an opportunity for growth for another
person. Offer people tasks and projects that they are pre-
pared for, have the capacity and experience to take on, and
that they are excited about in order to build their confidence.
Provide for different levels of involvement
Not everyone is going to be able to contribute to the work
that you're doing at the same level of intensity and that you
are. Be careful not to project your own level of commitment
onto every member. Create several different avenues through
which people can be involved, whether by simply keeping up
with your work through listservs/newsletters, giving money,
participating in actions, tabling here and there, or taking a
leadership role if they decide that they are able to do so.
Not everyone will be comfortable with every tactic your
group might use - someone who's not into civil disobedience
might be a really awesome canvasser, fundraiser or media
person. There is a role for everyone! Try to create space
where everyone has something to contribute.
Building relationships is more important than trying to sim-
ply "diversify" your organization. In other words, don't just
invite people to join your group because you think a diversi-
ty of genders, ages, races/ethnicities, etc. will give you more
credibility. Incorporate anti-oppression/collective liberation
into your organizing (and your analysis). Work through your
own racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. rather than
pretending that you don't have any. Create loving spaces for
your friends and cohorts to work through their own. See
what other folks (and the groups they may already belong
to) are doing, and put in time helping their efforts. Building
coalitions is just as important as building membership.
Remember to be transparent with and accountable
to other groups.
Create infrastructure
Ensure that there is a functional infrastructure for the organi-
zation, and that everyone is aware of and knows how to use
what's available - this can include group documents/policies,
office and storage spaces, websites/blogs, email and contact
lists, etc. Keep an action box handy that has all of the things
you need to make posters, banners, etc so you don't have to
buy new stuff every time. Keep good records. Preserve the
history of your group through websites/wikis, scrapbooks,
binders, and faculty advisors, community members, and oth-
ers who will be available to the group for a long time.
Pass on what you know
When you leave school, you are at the peak of your student
organizing skills - and this is when we need you most! Find
ways to continue to develop less experienced folks. A good
organizer is someone who builds a strong organization that
will stay strong even after they've left - if your group collaps-
es after you leave, then what have you really accomplished?
Return to your school or group and offer trainings. Have one-
on-one meetings with friends. Be available for advice - but
don't be overbearing.
Thanks to the feedback and editing crew: Beth Blum,
Zack Hershman, Joshua Kahn Russell, Jenna Peters-
Golden, Brian Kelly, Dave Shukla, Mattie Reitman,
Rachel Harlich, Alex Grosskurth.
Thanks to Jason Fultz and Mike Ewall for the
inspiration for this piece, the Student Environmental
Action Coalition's "Leadership and Organizing 101."

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