Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What to Think About While Organizing Organizations

           Day 9 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Struggle, applied to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who is serious about stopping climate change. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.

I have some experience with both well-run and poorly run climate organizations.

A little more than a year ago I was working for a climate organization where nothing worked.  Meetings and conferences never went off as planned, nothing got done on time, and no one was in the loop about what the executive director’s agenda was.  I certainly wasn’t, and there weren’t that many of us.

On the other hand, in April of 2011 I attended the PowerShift conference in D.C.  It was the largest organizer training in history, and it was very well-organized.  Over the course of a weekend, people were able to meet other activists from their own regions, learn effective organizing techniques, brainstorm on solutions, and also have fun!  (The only thing they don’t do right is they don’t hold their conventions in election years, which would provide a great springboard for a summer of organizing and activism.  Instead, over a year passes between the conference and the next campaign season, by which time the conference is a distant memory and attendees have scattered to the winds.)

As PowerShift demonstrated, a good organization provides a framework to make people work more effectively.  Bad organization provides no framework and people end up leaving. 

Last Sunday 60 Minutes did an excellent segment on  IDEO’s David Kelly, who’s design company builds on the ideas of many people.  It could be a great model for a really powerful climate movement.  The movement needs to be creative and democratic, it needs to be outspoken and not secretive about it’s strategies, it needs to encourage initiative, and must have unwavering commitment to nonviolent principles.

That’s what PowerShift’s convention did.  Their framework created a place for ideas to form and grow.  Otpor did it in Serbia, allowing complete freedom for activists so long as they kept the focus on ending Milosevic’s reign and as long as it was nonviolent.  Earth Guardians is attempting to provide the creative structure for youth environmental activists in the U.S. and abroad.

But time and thought need to go into the organizational framework so that the organization will easily grow in the right direction.

In Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Sharp shows four categories where organization is necessary:

-       “The public: publicizing the facts and grievances; promoting sympathy; disseminating solid information about the nature and requirements of nonviolent struggle."

This is huge for us, not just publicizing how serious of a crisis climate change is, but also how effective nonviolent struggle can be!

-       "The volunteers: recruiting; training and incorporating participants into the movement; promoting commitment."

The CANVAS website gives more details on how to recruit and train.  Otpor had an action, recruit, train triangle, where street actions doubled as recruitment opportunities.  The new recruits would then be trained, and would often themselves be doing the next street actions.

-       "The leadership: preparing replacements for arrested leaders of the movement; setting the procedures for further selection of leadership; supplying information to the leaders."

Again, I personally think this movement would be stronger with many leaders empowered to lead fun groups in their towns.  It would make it very hard for the fossil fuel industry to effectively combat us.

-      "The movement in general: supporting morale and discipline; preparing participants to act without leaders in times of severe repression; maintaining communications.”

A big thing we need is simple morale, a belief that we can indeed save the day before it's too late.

In The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Sharp concludes: “Strong commitment of the volunteers to participation and adherence to the campaign’s plans and standards remain crucial...In preparing the volunteers and the general population for the struggle, extreme attention must be given to three closely related qualities of this technique: fearlessness, nonviolence, and…openness or nonsecrecy.”


Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

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