By Joyce Yin
New Organizing Project blogger
(Photo Credit: ideachampions.com)
With the general elections a little more than a year away, many organizations have begun strategizing about how best to advance their respective agendas during a time when we have a divided Congress and when the outlook on advancing progressive agendas is bleak. But regardless of the circumstances, organizations including NAKASEC are continuing to think critically and intentionally about how best to move forward.
Last week, NAKASEC attended the New Organizing Institute’s Issue Campaign Boot Camp in Washington, DC. After 4 straight days of intense training where my brain felt like imploding at the end of each day, I finally had some time to digest the massive amounts of information that were fed to me about organizing, campaigns and all the nitty gritty things in between. And well, here are some questions I’ve learned to ask myself when thinking about how best to rally up people around one’s cause:
- Who exactly are the people you are organizing? No, really. Who are they? Aside from big, general labels like ‘progressives’ or ‘Asian Americans’ or ‘youth,’ get as specific as you can. Are you targeting low-income, second generation Korean Americans in a specific congressional district in Texas? Or are you targeting Chinese American business owners in a particular county in Illinois? The more detailed you can get, the better you are able to customize how you’re going to reach out to these people, the data you’ll need about that particular community, etc.
- What do they care about? What issues are they dealing with right now? Do they lack basic access to decent healthcare? Can they not afford to go to college? What is it that they’re passionate about? Don’t make assumptions about anyone and assume you already know. Take the time to sit down and listen.
- Educate them about the issue(s) they care about. So now that you’ve found out what it is that matters to them, the way I think about it is that it’s a mutual exchange of information. They’ve shared all that they know with you, so now it’s your turn to fill in any of the gaps, to provide resources, contacts, etc.
- Get to know the person outside of the work you’re doing. You’re probably thinking, ‘isn’t that what you said to do in step 2?’ and yes, they are indeed similar. But while in steps 2 and 3 you’re exchanging information about the issue(s) at hand, here is where you get to know the person – what are their hobbies? What brought them to this movement? Where are they from? Through these conversations, not only are you reinforcing that human connection but hey, you might even make a friend or two. And sometimes it’s through casual conversations that aren’t about the work but about our general interests and what we like to do for fun where we sometimes discover hidden gems about each other that turn out to be beneficial to the work at hand. For example, ‘Oh you’re in a band? It’d be so cool if we could put on a concert about social justice with your band performing and all the proceeds going to X organization!’ Get what I’m sayin’?
- Teach them how to advocate for themselves. At this point, you’ve talked, you’ve bonded, you’ve shared resources. Now you need to give them the tools so that they can go out and share their stories, strategize with others and in the end, build power and be empowered. Something that I really took to heart at the NOI training was the ‘story of self, us and now.’ The story of self was, as you can imagine, one’s own personal story about why they’re involved in a certain movement but structured in a way that you are presenting your audience with a challenge, choice and outcome; these three things are specific and clearly defined in your story of self.
The story of us and now are still structured around those three elements but contain more action-oriented pieces. You’ve tugged at the heart strings but now it’s time to make the ask on if they will join you in your fight and give them tangible choices to take action on.
I think sometimes, as organizers, we get so caught up in simply telling our stories that we don’t stop to think about how we can be much more intentional about the stories we share. Yes, you can move someone to tears with your story but if you’re not giving said person a next step, then what’s the point? Advocating for one’s self not only means divulging a piece of yourself to someone but also ensuring that your story is being told for a reason and not getting lost.
- Mobilization. By now you’ve hopefully built a base of constituents that you’ve engaged in on multiple levels. You’ve shared stories, exchanged resources but now it’s time to mobilize them to action! Whether that means visiting your congressional representative, collecting petition signatures, facilitating workshops, VOTING, etc. All of you are working together, taking the information you’ve gained from each other and putting it to good use. You want to make sure that your constituents understand that they have the power and the ability to make change and that that change can come from something as small as getting one person to sign your petition or getting one person out to the polls to vote for progressive policies.
- Remind yourself that you’re not there to ‘fix’ anything. You’re there to work with the community. Savior complexes are not welcome here, kthx.
As someone who is still relatively new to organizing [outside of organizing on my college campus], these are concepts that I’m still grasping and putting to use. I’m still learning and would love to hear from all of you. What are some tips and suggestions you all have on how best to rally up your base to advance a progressive agenda?
nice piece, joyce! i really enjoyed it. currently blocked my own access to facebook so i can focus on writing my applications but will be re-posting this. keep up the good work!