The Point of an Organiser

Rhizome have a very good post on the difference between an activist and an organiser. I take that distinction as a given in this below…

The point of an organiser is to turn

* opponent sympathisers into grudging respecters
* neutrals and apathetics into supporters
* supporters into activists
* activists into organisers (explain what the difference is)
* organisers into meta-organisers (?)

BUT the organiser must never forget

* that NOT everyone is willing or able to slide down that slippery slope,
that there is such a thing as “Legitimate Peripheral Participation”
* that people are going to move back and forth along that spectrum at various times (though hopefully once they are passive supporters they don’t slip back into neutral or hostile!!)
* that some potential supporters/activists will belost to follow-up because it wasn’t what they thought it would be, they have less time than they thought, someone said something to them, the outside world is more hostile than they thought. That number will never be zero, and there is a law of diminishing returns in trying to get it to zero.

Ways of turning opposition supporter into a “grudging respecter”/neutral/supporter
Hmm, I think it’s by displaying yourself as having honour and dignity. * Resisting the urge to name call etc (“never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it.”)
* This can happen – if there are enough interactions, and the opposition supporter is open-minded enough. But it is a side-effect of what you should be doing anyhow, not an actual goal.

NB Is this worth so much of your time? Do you end up arguing with people because you can, because you get to feel self-righteous? Are you playing out a psychodrama.

Ways organisers can turn neutrals into supporters
* Have conversations (not harangues!) with them. Find out what their narratives are (sorry, but it is the right word). What motivates them? * What are their needs (financial, social, emotional).
* What are their blocks? What do they imagine they would be asked to do if they put their hand up to be an activist? (People are afraid of it being an open-ended commitment, or imagine they will be asked to break the law or some such.)
NB This is NOT a task that is necessarily done quickly! This is about building of trust. This takes time and resources. Both these are finite. This “neutrals into supporters” thing is also the responsibility of activists, IMHO, as well as organisers.

Ways organisers can turn supporters into activists
* The crucial one is having a public list of small and flexible tasks that people can do, explicitly linked to the the campaign group’s goals. Flexible means that supporters can do more IF they want to, without signing their life away
* Check with supporters all the time that they’re not feeling coerced/burnt out/asked to do something too much (which falls into two broad categories – simple task but too much of it, or too difficult and not enough support offered) or too boring…
* Try to mentor/pair folks up who have more and less experience.
* Crucial thing to remember – Legitimate Peripheral Participation.

Ways organisers can turn activists into organisers
* Mentoring and skill-sharing
* Endless patience (that’s not me) and tough love
* Explicit training programme where appropriate, based around the needs of the activists and the group. This doesn’t mean the organiser needs to know this stuff and/or be able to teach it, but that the organiser can source relevant teachers

Organisers should be aware of
* Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding
* Kolb Learning Cycles
* The fact that we RESIST learning new stuff!!

Oh, and campaigning groups need to acknowledge that their activities help or hurt the wider movement
* Give ammunition to opponents, who will use it to create cynicism and suspicion among opponent supporters, neutrals and apathetics
* Alienate potential supporters by ill-thought out meetings or actions. Or inactions.
* Burn out activists and organisers
* Destroy credibility with everyone by aiming for an unobtainable short term goal

About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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4 Responses to The Point of an Organiser

  1. StartingOut says:

    Hi, much appreciate all your posts on organising/training/motivating/working with groups. I have just started volunteering with a community farm/social inclusion group. I need to find out what the group needs from me, and work what I can do. All grist to the mill!

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Hi there,

    (blush)

    Thank you for letting me know that what I’ve written has been of some help. Good luck with your work, and if ever you want to do a guest post about it, you’d be most welcome.

  3. StartingOut says:

    Early days yet, but who knows. I have enjoyed teaching in the past, and have been inspired by some Joanna Macy stuff on the how/what for of workshops (thanks for the JM tip in your “hellish mountain” post).
    I seriously want to get my hands dirty, since I am so weary of sitting in front of this computer. But at the same time, I think I also have other skills that could help the group. They are super-keen and friendly so far.

    To be continued …

  4. Pingback: Specious anti-specialisation speeches… «

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