COMMUNITY ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES -- OR,
GETTING PRACTICAL [REVISED DECEMBER 25 2003] BASED
ON MY 50 YEARS OF ORGANIZING EXPERIENCE. HUNTER GRAY/JOHN R SALTER, JR
PUBLISHED IN OREGON SOCIALIST WINTER/SPRING 2004
Missing -- way too often -- in radical and
general social justice circles and related settings is a willingness to get
down into the grassroots and engage systematically in some of the most
challenging work there is: organizing the grassroots into genuinely
effective and enduring outfits. That's Genesis in the Save the World
Business. It's often far too easy to engage in essentially empty "jaw-smithing."
Fortunately, there are always those -- organizers and grassroots
people -- who are willing to do the really tedious and tough organizing work
over the long pull. Those who are reasonably experienced have their own
Here are my own basic ones:
These 17essential organizing principles were created formally by me in early
September 1963, after what had already been a number of years of successful
social justice organizing -- and then modified and supplemented
a bit over many decades of grassroots organizing
campaigns. Now I've transcribed them yet again -- with
some changes -- on December 25 2003. They are part of a
considerably larger work that I also wrote in September 1963 -- "Organizing the
Community for Action." This was initially about six tightly packed single-spaced
legal size pages. I made several dozen mimeographed copies and sent them
around -- and they were well received. I continued to expand and polish
up all of this and used "Organizing" and my following
17 component principles many, many dozens of times in organizing
campaigns, including --
dimensions -- struggles, organizing
staff and grassroots training capacities,
conferences, and university classes. By this time, my little manual
grown to nine tightly packed and single-spaced legal size pages. Copies of
all versions of"Organizing the Community for
Action" are in my collected [Salter/Gray] papers at State Historical Society
of Wisconsin and Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The
basically full ones began in March, 1965 and
August, 1966. In addition, I have copies of all of these editions of mine
right here in Idaho.
I'm presently rewriting parts of "Organizing
the Community for Action" -- streamlining and updating -- and we are right
now discussing the 17 principles themselves here
in the Pocatello region as we get set for
some anti-racist action.
The following applies primarily to
organizing staff and broad-based grassroots community organizations. But they can can also
apply substantially -- with only a very few changes -- to other types of
e.g., local union organizations.
1] The organizers
should insure that the
community organization is significant in size and composed primarily, if
not completely, of those people "with the fewest alternatives".
2] The organizers should insure that active and potential community leadership
is developed in such a fashion that the organization is led primarily, if
not completely, by those people with the fewest alternatives.
3] The organizers should insure that the organization functions democratically,
and not in an authoritarian fashion and that, among other things, formal
rules of democratic procedure are established and followed and that
widespread grassroots participation and decision-making in the affairs of
the community organization is a continuing fact; and that there is ever
developing local leadership. The executive and public meetings should be
well attended and organizers must insure that an atmosphere exists in which the
individual at the grassroots feels -- as is genuinely the case --that
he/she is an individual; that his/her active participation in the
organization is needed and welcomed; that right from the very beginning,
he/she can make their voice and presence felt within the organization; and
that, as the group's endeavors advance, winning victories, his/her power and
ability to affect those forces out in the problematic/crisis environment and
beyond, which have been affecting his/her life, will be steadily and
4] The organizers should insure that the youth are involved in the affairs of
the community organization -- either within it and with leadership
participation, or in a parallel and cooperative youth group of their own.
5] The organizers should insure that the community organization, right from the
beginning, is characterized by maximum autonomy.
6] Although the initial formation of the community organization may be
around one paramount and pressing local issue, the
organizers -- not through rigid superimposition but through
diplomatic and effective teaching -- should insure that, in the interests of
the community organization's longevity and effectiveness, the leaders and
membership of the group become aware of all issues directly and
indirectly affecting them. The organizers should insure,
therefore, that the community organization functions on a multi-issue basis
7] The organizers should insure that, prior to
reaching a decision on a particular course of action, the community
organization is aware of all relevant tactical approaches and the various
ramifications of each.
8] The organizers should insure that the leaders of the community organization
can effectively handle the matter of publicity.
9] The organizers should insure that the community organization can
effectively handle the raising and administration of funds -- including,
when applicable, the preparation of funding proposals, the negotiation of
such, and the effective administration of the money received.
10] The organizers should insure that the community organization becomes
connected with various relevant public and private agencies and is able to
negotiate and secure the necessary services from those agencies without
surrendering its autonomy or compromising its basic principles.
11] The organizers should insure that the community organization is able to
function politically in a realistic and sophisticated fashion without
surrendering its autonomy or compromising its basic principles.
12] The organizers should insure that the community organization can utilize the
services of professionals without becoming dominated by such.
13] The organizers should insure that the community organization is able to
enter into functional alliances with other groups without surrendering its
autonomy or compromising its basic principles.
14] The organizers should insure that the community organization is aware of the
use of effective and rational protest demonstrations and, further, that it
is fully cognizant of the merits of tactical nonviolence.
15] The organizers should insure that the community organization is aware of
the effective use of legal action approaches and is aware of public and
private legal resources.
16] The organizers should build a sense of the
oft-visionary and just world of a full measure of bread-and
butter and a full measure of freedom -- and how all of this relates to the shorter term steps.
17] The organizers, who at the outset may well play a very key role in the
function and affairs of the community organization, must, on a step-by-step
and essentially pragmatic basis, shift increasing responsibility to the
leaders and membership of the group, to eventually:
A] First, insure that the community organization can function
effectively with only occasional involvement by
B] And then, that the
community organization can function effectively with no involvement by
organizers to the point that, in addition to
conducting its regular affairs, the group can "organize on its own"
--bringing in new constituents and/or assisting other grassroots people in
adjoining areas in setting up and conducting their own community
I'm an organizer -- a
working social justice agitator. I've been one since the mid-1950s and I'll
always be one. In many respects, it's one of the toughest trails anyone
could ever blaze.
An effective organizer
seeks to get grassroots people together -- and does; develops on-goingand genuinely democratic local
leadership; deals effectively with grievances and individual/family
concerns; works with the people to achieve basic organizational goals and
develop new ones; and builds a sense of the New World To Come Over The
Mountains Yonder -- and how all of that relates to the shorter term steps.
An effective organizer
has to be a person of integrity, courage, commitment.
And a person of
solidarity and sacrifice.
The satisfactions are
FROM HUNTER BEAR 8/25/04
These are a couple of thoughts apropos of coalitions, based on Duane's
[Campbell] thoughtful and feedback-soliciting comments with which I am ingeneral, though not total accord. [I never am in total agreement with
anyone!] I am not a member of the DSA member discussion list, though I havebeen a DSOC/DSA member since about '78. Duane, of course, is welcome
toshare these brief thoughts of mine -- such as
they are -- wherever hewishes.]
[I have been up a fair part of the night on a Pocatello [Idaho] police
matter -- which has been satisfactorily resolved. They, BTW, functioned in
a perfectly appropriate fashion and I trust the principals are finally
getting some sleep. Now, even my super loyal half-Bobcat cat, Cloudy Gray,
is sleeping at this computer.]
First, I make a distinction between "alliances" and "coalitions." The
former is loose, flexible, and explicitly pragmatic, sometimes relatively
short lived, and definitely observes all of the autonomy and "identity
integrity" of the partners. [It can sometimes be mercurial.] Those
qualities should essentially apply, of course, to "coalitions" -- but I am
inclined to see coalitions as much more formal and cohesive and generally
characterized by substantive direction and longevity.
Each model is frequently quite useful in our necessarily pragmatic and
statistically limited existence -- whoever "our" is. And nothing human can
be an erector set. But neither has to be viewed by its components as
Each model has to be grounded within a bona fide mutual respect.
Each model has to be based on "enlightened self interest" of an explicitly
Each model, maintaining an effective focus on the here-and-now in the
context of Vision "over the mountains yonder," has to avoid "ideological
Each model has to avoid cannibalism.
Each model has to avoid inter-meddling in the internal affairs of the
Trite as it sounds, "continual communication" -- preferably face to face --
is critical in any alliance or coalition.
And, of course, in the last analysis there is no substitute for fresh,
grassroots, democratic and direct face to face community organization! As Ihave said -- sometimes to the point of redundancy -- that's the
hardest workin the Cosmos. And, if that
organizing is genuinely effective in the
"radical" sense, it is never "respectable" in the eyes of the Big Mules.
Anything organizational [or union contract-wise] is only as good and
effective as its members wish to make it.
Fraternally / In Solidarity -
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR] Micmac /St. Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk --
and DSA, CCDS, SPUSA, Solidarity [and UAW and UALE] www.hunterbear.org
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
Late December 2003 and August 25 2004
It's critical to always keep fighting -- and to always remember that, if
one lives with grace, he/she should be prepared to die with grace.