Organizing Is Bringing People Together To Build Power

With guest co-author Ken Fujimoto

In Mira’s piece about online and IRL organizing, she referred to a difference between organizing and mobilizing and promised (threatened?) a follow-up piece.

Mobilizing is reaching out to voters, activists or volunteers to move them to do something your organization or campaign has already determined is the right course of action. Like voting for a candidate, canvassing, filling a committee room or speaking at a hearing. Your organization is probably right about that course of action and members have entrusted leadership to make those decisions. So, great work!

Organizing creates a deeper and more fundamental change. A strategic organizing campaign accomplishes several purposes all at once. Organizers not only win on an identified issue, but they also build power. 

Or as my first organizing supervisor puts it “Organizing is transformational.” 

What about social media, email, mobile, mass text and recruitment apps? They all help build the crowd, fill volunteer shifts, build a meeting, get out the vote, etc. But is that organizing? It can be. It’s only when all those people come together that they have the opportunity to share experiences, build trust and start that all-important relationship. The stronger the relationships, the deeper the transformation. 

Organizing is bringing people together to build power. That act of building power involves consent, consensus and agency. 

In the strongest organizing campaigns, the people most impacted by injustice are the leaders. Not just the face in front of the cameras, but the people who make decisions, identify the key issues, build consensus on the solution and own the campaign to win. They’re also the faces in front of the cameras because they are the subject matter experts on their own lives.

Organizing staff bring people together, provide a forum for building relationships, provide training and coaching and facilitate decision-making. They don’t determine the issues, create the strategy or tell people what to do. 

We organize so we can mobilize a constituency to take action. We cannot mobilize anyone if they were not organized previously; or in other words, if that constituency hasn’t already built power. Mobilizing is the unleashing of that power. Organizing is about building an ongoing constituency. Build power, then mobilize that power.  That’s organizing.

Co-author Ken Fujimoto is a social justice advocate who focuses on the development of people who aspire to take responsibility for a leadership role in public life. His mission is to identify, train, and develop these leaders to take on the world. His guiding question is “What is the legacy we are leaving for our children?”

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