Relationship-Based Organizing: An Introduction

[This post is part of a series on relationship-based organizing.]

The most common refrain in organizing is that “it’s all about relationships.” It rings true enough that everyone accepts it on the surface but is vague enough that each person interprets it according to their own beliefs and the needs of the moment. 

Concealed underneath the words of that phrase are distant and often warring conceptions of what organizing actually is. What role do relationships play in organizing? What kind of relationships do we want as we fight alongside each other for a better world? 

Through my own organizing experience in the workplace and developing ideas with fellow organizers, I’ve realized that relationships play a much different role in organizing than is commonly thought, than is discussed in organizing books and articles, and than is taught in organizing trainings. The role of relationships in most organizing approaches is often instrumentalized in a way that contrasts sharply with what I now see as strong grassroots organizing.

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Species of 1-on-1s

[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations.]


There are many different kinds of 1-on-1 organizing conversations.

In the previous and first post in this series, I introduced the AEIOU (agitate-educate-inoculate-organize-uplift) framework and showed how to use it in the context of meeting up with a coworker for the first time who has a grievance that they may want to take action on. In many ways, that’s the most important kind of 1-on-1 because it’s where we first connect our social relationship with someone to a shared political project based on shared circumstances. I’ll call it the “initial coworker 1-on-1”.

When someone finishes an organizer training for the first time they learn how to do that kind of 1-on-1 but such trainings typically include little guidance about how to apply AEIOU and 1-on-1s in other ways. However, organizing involves an unlimited variety of circumstances and as the primary tool of relating deeply to people (and thus of organizing) we need to be able to respond with an unlimited variety of 1-on-1s to meet our needs as organizers. I submit that AEIOU still applies in part or in whole to most of these kinds of 1-on-1s but you do have to be keenly aware of the needs of the moment to know how to use AEIOU in a wide range of situations.

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An Introduction to 1-on-1 Organizing Conversations

[This is the central post in a series on 1-on-1 conversations. Sign up for email notifications at the bottom of this page or follow me on Twitter to see follow-up posts on this topic.]

The 1-on-1 organizing conversation is the heart of grassroots organizing. I’d go so far as to claim that if someone is trying to organize but is not using 1-on-1s, they probably are going to fail or at the very least will not be building towards success in the long-term. In my own personal estimation, it’s not even organizing if it doesn’t center 1-on-1s because 1-on-1s are where deep relationships form that are the foundation for building grassroots power.

How 1-on-1s are done differs somewhat across different organizing traditions and domains, but the core elements of 1-on-1s in each tradition are largely the same. Many of these techniques were developed in labor organizing but are just as commonly used today in community organizing as well.

As a basic definition, 1-on-1 organizing conversations are talks you have with someone to 1) build a relationship of trust, 2) identify common grievances and shared interests, and 3) move together from a place of inaction to one of action.

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