One Way to Organize is…

I see five options for dealing with the political world: 1) everything’s cool, disengage, 2) take to the hills with a rifle and some dried food, 3) electoral politics,...

I see five options for dealing with the political world: 1) everything’s cool, disengage, 2) take to the hills with a rifle and some dried food, 3) electoral politics, 4) alternative systems, 5) the tools of nonviolence.  I reject the first two modes as they won’t get me the world I want. The last three interweave nicely as we saw with Sonoma County’s GMO-free campaign. Volunteers worked hard to pass measure M and ban the growing of GMOs in Sonoma County.  At the same time other people were promoting alternative foods with alternative labels that boasted GMO free, while others boycotted and still boycott GMO-laced foods.

You have an issue you want to fix. Where to start? First, you’ll need a team. Start with your friends, your union, church, sports team; the people you hang with.  Throw a party and let them know you’ll be discussing your issue there. If you’re not ready to address the subject yourself, consider inviting a guest speaker or showing a short film. Early into the party discuss your issue.  Keep it brief and to the point. Your goal at this time is to find people who are interested and invite them to a meeting at a later date. Initially, you’ll provide the agenda and the leadership.  Now you have a team.

At that first meeting you’ll have to decide how you want to operate as a team. Do you want to elect a president who decides the course of action for others to follow? Do you want to work by consensus where group process decides? It’s up to you and there are several models to choose from. There are certain roles that are common in all organizations.  Every meeting will need a facilitator, a note taker and a time keeper.  Rotate jobs if you want to generalize skills within your group.  Who you work with will determine how you organize and the tactics you employee.

Your organization will need to decide when and where to meet. If you want an egalitarian organization, I’d recommend meeting in public places or rotating whose home you meet in. Some groups meet weekly, some monthly and some bimonthly. This is not fixed. You can change it at any time.  Face time is essential. Celebrate successes, for they are few and far between. Also celebrate the important moments in your members’ lives: graduations, births, marriages. Spend time together socially to build personal bonds.  Food helps.

The next step is to identify where the fulcrum of power is.  Who do you need to influence to fix your issue? This will help suggest your strategy. Your strategy will be the overriding framework for the tactics you use. For example, if you want to influence members of government, your strategy will be largely electoral. The fulcrum of power will likely be members of government. Study them and find what specific issues are important to them.  What organizations do they belong to?  Find where their interests and your issues intersect. Use their issues to influence their vote on your issue. Let’s say you want to change a businesses practice. Your strategy will be one of nonviolence. Tactics will include educating the public, picketing the store, boycotts, etc.  Promoting alternative systems will strengthen your arguments. Strategy guides tactics. Both need to mold themselves around what you need to do to influence the fulcrum of power. Education is always part of the mix. Constantly reevaluate your tactics and change them as needed.

Try to frame your campaign in a positive a way.  How you frame an issue is important for all politics is moral and morality is subjective.

The first governing body we encounter is the family. A moral conservative family is led by a strict father whose job it is to instill discipline. Failure to be disciplined is immoral. People who fail lack discipline and need to be punished into obedience. Leadership is to be followed and rebellion is immoral. In a moral liberal family the parent guides the family with empathy and compassion. Honesty, fair play and caring for others are moral. Bullying is immoral. Both see themselves as empowered to act and both are moral. Humans are not rational, but emotional, moral creatures who will do that which best fits our perspective of morality.  Use this when framing your issue.

After a while you’ll run into limitations. One solution is finding allies. If your cause is part of a larger movement, align with it.  Coordinate local actions with national and international campaigns to increase your likelihood for success.  Another option is to form coalitions with unrelated groups with whom you have overlapping issues. Groups working in coalition must support each other’s causes and events. It isn’t necessary for every member of your group to be at everything they do, but there should be regular representation. The more you work with others, the more you’ll learn and the stronger you’ll become.

Congratulations! You are on your way to achieving your goal, be it reform or revolution.

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Op-Ed

Rebel Fagin is a writer who has been politically active in Sonoma County since the 1970’s. He writes regularly for the Sonoma County Peace Press and the Global Critical Media Literacy Project (gcml.org). He has a book documenting nearly forty years of street activism in Sonoma County called Tales from the Perpetual Oppositional Culture – a Journey into Resistance. He lives in Santa Rosa, California and is active with many activists’ organizations.
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