Reality check for grassroots organizers

It’s so obvious, but nobody does it. We say we’re working for “The People” (or poor people, or immigrants, or women, or African Americans, or whoever) but do we really accept their leadership? Do we even listen to the voices we think we are empowering?

Zack Exley’s manifesto “An Organizer’s Guide to Trusting the People” lays out a network-centric approach if I ever heard one.

Those and other experiences like them gradually woke me up. I started approaching groups of workers with the assumption that they were, taken as a whole, savvy and strategic, not apolitical and apathetic. That opened the door to all kinds of great collaborations. I started assuming these groups of people were strong, deep, strategic and concerned — “even if they were” made up of Evangelical Christians, survivalists, muscle car drivers, trailer park dwellers, pit bull breeders, and anything else my Northeastern Liberal upbringing had taught me to ridicule.
An Organizer’s Guide to Trusting the People

To me this isn’t just something that it helps to think about when organizing or to try to believe, it’s something that I must believe to be an activist and organizer. In fact, it’s fundamental to the whole idea of network-centric advocacy. The People = The Network. They collectively are the leaders, our job as organizers is create tools and infrastructure that allows them to do their thang.

More highlights:

1) All groups of people — even very small ones — are strong and brilliant. This is not true of all individuals.

2) Leadership is not a role played only by “leaders,” but equally by “followers” in the act of temporarily and voluntarily granting to leaders their special role. Also: leadership is ephemeral in individuals and is sometimes expressed by the most unlikely people.

3) Groups will fight for a cause only if (A) it is worth of fighting for and (B) they can see a winning plan.

Now, go on and read the whole thing.

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