Do you ever get this question? “What’s your favorite movie about [your work]?”
When people ask me about my favorite movie about organizing, they’ll often also say “I bet you love that movie Norma Rae!” (Depending on the questioner’s age. Norma Rae came out in 1979.)
In case you haven’t seen it, the movie “Norma Rae” is about textile organizing in the south in the 1970s. It’s a true story, if a bit Hollywood-ized. In one of the most dramatic scenes, Norma, played by Sally Field, climbs onto a table in the factory and holds up a big sign reading “UNION!” All by herself.
She’s subsequently fired, walked out of the building and shunned by much of the community. That’s not organizing.
Organizing campaigns are more like “Erin Brockovich,” also a true story and also glamorized for the big screen. In the movie and in real life, the residents of Hinkley, CA are poisoned by a toxic substance called chromium 6, which leaks into the water supply from a nearby PG&E installation. (Californians’ motto for PG&E: the utility we love to hate.) Erin, played by Julia Roberts, goes door-to-door to build relationships with people affected by PG&E’s carelessness. She brings them together to share their stories and create trust among themselves.
Only then do they take action. Together. They file a class action lawsuit, but the real movement comes from pressure they put on the company to force a settlement.
Organizing is Bringing People Together to Build Power
No one person could exert enough pressure on PG&E all by themself. It took the collective power of the residents of Hinkley to bring the company to the settlement table.
Just imagine what would be different if everyone at the plant stood on those tables with Norma.
The most effective organizing campaigns are about building relationships and taking action together. We build power by building relationships.
What could your community do with more relational power?