Much of organizing is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. The right information at the wrong time or for the wrong person is one of the most prevalent missteps rookie organizers make. Trying to explain what socialism is to your coworker before you’ve had the chance to talk about your working conditions and grievances is a mistake because often they’re more worried about paying their rent or avoiding their micro-managing boss and they’ll wonder why you’re talking about all this abstract stuff. Learning when to say what and how is about organizing the abstract ideas and information in your head and then putting those into the practice of organizing with real people.
Nowhere is the delicacy of information more important than in meetings. A meeting is getting people together to discuss and plan, essentially putting information together in useful combinations to move the group towards its goals. Novice organizers treat meetings as places where people get together and slap information together by putting together an agenda at the last minute, taking half-assed notes, wrongly assuming that everyone in the meeting has the proper context for what’s being talked about, and getting pulled into tangential debates. I’ve participated in and facilitated my fair share of these kinds of meetings. Bad meetings are a volcanic mess, with information splashing and exploding all around the room without any coherent logic to it. Good meetings are intricate fountains of highly structured information cascading through people’s heads, maximizing everyone’s participation, and moving the organization forward.
This blog post is as much a nuts-and-bolts guide for how to plan and run organizing meetings (thus it can be very detail-oriented in places) as it is an analysis of what makes organizing meetings good.
When I was in college my small radical book club was organizing a screening of The Take, a documentary about the Argentinian reclaimed factory movement where workers began seizing factories that companies had abandoned and running them as their own. The book club was hoping to find other radicals or radical-curious people on campus who would want to check us out. I spent a few hours designing a flyer and an entire afternoon posting them on every dorm building, department, and office event board on campus (it was a big school). I was new to radical politics at the time and thought the ideas described in the flyer would bring people out because how could anyone not be as excited about this stuff as I was?
It turns out I was wrong. Only one person not already in the book club showed up, and he left about 20 minutes into the screening. I learned a hard lesson about reaching people and getting them out to an event, and I’ve seen the same thing happen to myself and others dozens of times.
Most effective event turnout, as with organizing in general, happens beneath the surface. As a novice, I would just see an email about an event and then see 100 people show up and assume outreach was as easy as pie. What took me a long time to figure out is that good event outreach requires an immense amount of intention, effort, and learned skills.
(See Part I here. While closely related, Part II is readable as a stand alone piece.)
Economics. We know the economy mostly through the dollars we keep (or lack) in our pockets and the jobs we work (or suffer through) during a major portion of our waking lives. Outside of these more tangible ways we experience the economy, talk of the stocks, bonds, and securities, the federal reserve, supply-demand curves, etc… mostly seems arcane and safely ignored. And yet upon reflection, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that this topic doesn’t deeply determine our lives and social relationships.
How can we imagine a better world and then make one if we refuse to look economics in the eye? Avoiding the principles of economics shackles us to our more immediate impressions of the world and fogs our capacity for critically relating to ourselves and society as a whole. Economics isn’t just for bootlicking academics and the self-aggrandizing rich; it’s also for restless workers and the scheming masses. It may be an abyss, but it’s one that with a little encouragement and self-assurance we can get to the bottom of and weaponize in service of our own ideas of liberation.
This piece is Part II of a series on liberalism. As a refresher, liberalism as a political philosophy does not refer to the first part of the liberal/conservative dichotomy in US politics but is the more encompassing mainstream worldview “that holds that free market capitalism and limited representative government are the best way to organize society, protect human rights, and promote the freedom of people to choose how to live.” Part I focuses more abstractly on defining liberalism and showing how it ignores inequalities of power which then corrupt everything liberalism claims to stand for. Part II is a look at how this plays out more concretely through capitalism.
(See Part II here.)
It is of the utmost importance that we know our enemy. In the context of radical grassroots organizing, this means we must know liberalism.
Liberalism is the water we all swim in. It’s the institutional and ideological political-economic-social apparatus of the contemporary US and Western Europe and has spread to countries on every continent. It’s all too easy to forget it’s there at all because it’s what we all grew up in and is all most of us have ever known.
Naming and defining liberalism can be a small revelation to those who are starting to question the status quo but don’t have the vocabulary to understand what they find unsettling about it and what the alternatives are. To show what liberalism looks like today and to give it a past makes it appear less written in stone and more part of an ever-changing and thus contingent historical process. What can be built can be taken apart.
(See Part I here.)
Great organizing is as rare as it is complex. To get all the parts operating at their best in a constantly changing environment against dominant social norms, thick wallets, and the combined state forces of politicians, courts, and the police is as at least as remarkable as humanity’s other great achievements.
In Part I, I covered the defining bare essentials of organizing: outreach and skills development, democracy, and direct action. Here, I cover a set of secondary organizing features that nonetheless are indispensable to great organizing.