Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Why Don't We All Know How to Organize Our Communities?

A couple weeks ago my mom told me that they'd heard some disturbing news. Land near their home in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area had been acquired for petroleum drilling exploration. The environmental impact, especially to the aquifer, could be devastating.

Luckily, a group of local activists started a blog, Drilling Santa Fe, as an organizing and communication tool, and have put together an organizing event and petition, but it got me to thinking, why don't we all know how to organize our communities? Why isn't that one of the skills we learn in school, and how can we learn to do it today?

I found what looks like a great resource through the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth blog, a new book called Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community by Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Barbara Ehrenreich (Author of Nickel and Dimed) also mentioned a community organizing book on her blog yesterday, We Make Change: Community Organizers Talk About What They Do--and Why.

During the BlogHer Conference session, How to Turn Your Blog into a GOtV (Get Out the Vote) Machine, the incredibly inspiring Zephyr Teachout (former Director of Internet Organizing and Outreach for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign) talked about the importance of three things when organizing:

* Have an online petition tool. The Drilling Santa Fe petition is powered by Idealware has a review of other petition tools.

* Create a local press and blogger list.

* Use the Internet to get people to meet offline. She sited research that found that 12 people is the optimum number for a group. It produces the best range of individual competencies. The Dean campaign used Meetup to organize its offline meetings.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day for Teaching ELL, ESL and EFL, I found a fun resource, The Community Organizing Toolkit and Game (if you're in a quiet place, you'll want to turn your volume down before you click on this, it has music). The Organizing Game can be played online or downloaded and teaches door-knocking techniques. The resources section of the site has four articles covering the basics of organizing and outreach written by Alfredo de Avila and the Center for Third World Organizing:

* Introduction to Organizing
* Five Basic Approaches to Outreach
* Secrets of the Five Outreach Strategies
* Outreach Planning

I wonder if more people in the United States would vote, and less would elect movie stars who they perceive as powerful, if they felt empowered to make change in their own communities.

Photo Credit: Petition for Council--Signatures by Rochelle Hartman.


  1. Great post Britt, I have always found it a struggle trying to get people, even good people I know to roll up their sleeves and do "something"

    Unfortunately there are a lot of very smart people out there who don't think they have the power to affect anything other than their paychecks.

    Of course the good news is that those who do choose to get involved in the process tend to be very dedicated.

    If you happen to figure out a way to motivate people to take action instead of reading tabloids and watching reality shows all day, please let me in on the secret. lol :)

  2. Hi Matt,

    Eventually I'd like to pick up a copy of Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community and see what they have to say.



If you are having trouble commenting, please let me know.