There is nothing essentially wrong with power. Dr King once said it best:
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.
Community Organizing at its core is about justice. Community Organizing brings the talents, resources, skills and knowledge of a community together to increase their collective power. When used correctly this collective power is used to transform lives, not just the lives of of a few but the lives of many. Organizing is different than advocacy . Its different than service work and its definitely different than mobilizing. It is using power to correct everything that stands against love.
So lets get started . If you can not honestly answer YES the following questions do not pass go, do not collect $200 and DO NOT start a project where organizing is critical to its success:
- Are you courageous? Are you able to work through your fear?
- Are you willing to take risk to achieve your goal?
- Do you value new voices? Do you create space for emerging leaders?
- Are you committed to change? Do you walk your talk?
- Do you believe in the people in your community?
At the heart of community organizing are inclusion, ownership, relationship building and leadership development.
Organizing is a long term process. It’s extremely important that you get to know the community you will be working in and the history of the issue you will address. Let me say that again get to know the community. Deeply. Allow two to three months to become familiar with the community, its history, make-up, demographics, geography and political leadership.You need to articulate passionately about the history and culture of the people in the communities you serve. Attend football games and potlucks. Go to church and This will help you learn about the concerns of the community and develop personal relationships. None of this happens overnight- this is a marathon my people, not a sprint. Building healthy relationships is fundamental to successful organizing and we all know that building HEALTHY relationships take time.
What you do and how you do it are equally important. Being credible, trustworthy and accountable – doing what you say and living up to your promises are critical. Truthful and open dialogue are key. Innovation should be encouraged and supported. Always bring maximum benefit to your goal through the resources your given.
Just because you think it is an issue does not make it an issue. Just because you think it is not an issue does not mean it is not an issue.
Issues must be made specific before anything can be done: there is a big difference between a concern and an issue. You can’t do anything about concerns; you can win issues! Bad housing is a concern. The building at 1283 MLK Drive with no heat, broken porch railing, owned by absentee owner Mr. Smith, is an issue and can be organized on. The people who live in that community get to determine what’s an issue and what’s a concern.
We organize to build power for social change. There is an ancient Chinese saying: “Talking will not cook the rice.” Cooking the rice makes space for change, for justice, for equity. Its hard work but someone has to stand up and cook the rice. Will it be you?