Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Marshall Ganz, on organizing

Marshall Ganz, one of the United Farmworkers leading organizers, and now a Professor at Harvard, is discussing politics and organizing this week on Talking Points Memo.
Well worth reading. Here are some excerpts.

…A University of Chicago student of criminology deeply skeptical of social work, Alinsky was greatly impressed by the organizing successes of the CIO, led by John L. Lewis. Although labor had begun to win a seat at the table at which urban interests were negotiated, others had not – especially those who lived in lower income communities, did not have unions to represent them, or had no other way to get in on the deal making. One answer, he concluded, was to build community organizations modeled on the CIO. They would bring people together, create a venue in which they could discover common interests, and mobilize collective resources to get the power to win their own seat at the table. Unlike the CIO, these associations were organizations of organizations, not individuals, to leverage existing community leaders and their networks.
This approach contrasted sharply with two others: that of social workers and that of socialists. Traditional social work ignored the power disparity most often responsible for poverty, and treated its victims as clients seeking public patronage, rather than citizens able to act together to make their voices heard and thus do something about the power disparity responsible for the problem in the first place. And unlike the socialists, Alinsky eschewed any ideological orientation other than that of populist democracy, coupled with a pragmatic interest based approach to program.
One institutional leader for whom this approach held real promise was Chicago Bishop Bernard Sheil, soon Alinsky’s partner. Alinsky’s approach to social justice offered an alternative to socialists with which the Church was in conflict and contributed tools for citizen participation less well established in the Roman Catholic tradition than among Protestants…..

Second, the promise of “connectedness” via the Internet is an invitation to a dance that has yet to begin. The Internet is a market place, not an organization. As such it offers motivated participants an opportunity to give money, exchange information, and market causes. Organizations, however, as Alinsky organizers know, are built of interpersonal commitments people make to each other of their time, money, and energy. With skilled leaders, organizations have the capacity to strategize, motivate, and engage in purposeful effective action – and develop more skilled leaders. But in the last election, opportunity created by the Internet was only intermittently translated into action because there were few organizers. This time, perhaps it will be different.
Third, the recommitment to organizing by the labor movement during the 1990s, especially by SEIU and its associates, afforded thousands of young people an opportunity to learn organizing skills, acquire experience, and make a real difference. This is true not only of young people recruited from colleges, but also new immigrants, one of the most energized constituencies in America and which has only begun to develop its political potential. Similarly, some campaigns offered unique training grounds for organizers, such as the New Hampshire Dean campaign, the Iowa Kerry campaign, and others.

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