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

WITH NEW MATERIAL  8/25/04

[And see my full Community Organizing Course with much material: http://hunterbear.org/my_combined_community_organizing.htm ]

 

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 particular approaches. 

 
Here are my own basic ones:

These 17 essential 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 --  among other dimensions -- struggles,  organizing staff and grassroots training capacities, conferences, and university classes. By this time, my little manual itself had 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 oufits: e.g., local union organizations. 
 
Anyway -
 
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 proportionately increased.

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 whenever possible.
 
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 organizers.

 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 organizations.

 

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-going and  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 enormous. 

ADDED MATERIAL 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 in general, 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 have been a DSOC/DSA member since about '78.  Duane, of course, is welcome to share these brief thoughts of mine -- such as they are -- wherever he wishes.]

[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
permanently institutionalized.

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
mutual nature.

Each model, maintaining an effective focus on the here-and-now in the
context of  Vision "over the mountains yonder," has to avoid "ideological
primacy."

Each model has to avoid cannibalism.

Each model has to avoid inter-meddling in the internal affairs of the
respective components.

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 I have said -- sometimes to the point of redundancy -- that's the hardest work in 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´
and Ohkwari'
 

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.

 

 

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