“Organizing is for people with problems. It is good as a tool, a weapon, a means. But it is also an end in itself. As we organize, we reclarify ourselves as individuals because we learn to speak for ourselves in ways that make us heard.”
Si Kahn: Organizing. A Guide for Grassroots Leaders. NASW Press, 1991
Who doesn’t have problems? Even though organizing is “for people with problems”, it mainly is of use for people with problems caused by the unjust structures of our societies which require collective responses. Again Si Kahn:
“In organizing we begin to rediscover our own needs and demand that they be filled. In doing so we rediscover our strengths, our roots, our heritage. We relearn the skills of cooperation, of collective action, of working together, of supporting each other. In this knowledge and this experience is the beginning of real power for people.”
Organizing adds to the work of social movements an understanding of power. Saul Alinsky, considered the “founder” of the concept of community organizing, was inspired by trade unionism and said: “As the trade unions organize their confederations I would like to organize neighbourhoods”.
We can define some core themes of organizing:
Building alliances between organisations, groups and identities in a given shared territory to achieve the construction of community and power.
Establish concrete and achievable demands, achievable within a short time, and at the same time maintain a vision, an idea of structural social change at several levels, which includes economic, racial, ecological and gender perspectives, among others.
Emphasise the complete process, and not get carried away by specific goals. Maintain a dual strategic and tactical vision. Empowerment, mobilisation centred in the needs and rights of each person, the development of leadership for social change are as important as success
Even though organizing is about – in the words of Saul Alinsky - “how to organize for power: how to get it and to use it” - it does not aim to take over the power of institutions. John Holloway says: “The problem of the traditional concept of revolution is perhaps not that it aimed too high, but that it aimed too low. The notion of capturing positions of power, whether it be governmental power or more dispersed positions of power in society, misses the point that the aim of the revolution is to dissolve relations of power, to create a society based on the mutual recognition of people's dignity. What has failed is the notion that revolution means capturing power in order to abolish power.” (John Holloway: Cambiar el Mundo sin Tomar el Poder. El Significado de la Revolución Hoy. Buenos Aires, 2002)
If we do not talk about taking over the power institutions, what are we talking about in organizing when we talk about power? When we talk about power, in the great majority of cases we refer to something which we could call power-over, the power of governments or corporations, the power of domination to impose on us the things that those with power or privileges consider convenient (to them). But power-over is only one of the possible forms of power. There are others which are more favourable to social change:
Power-within: The sense of a person about their own values and knowledge, the capacity to imagine and to construct other possibilities, to have hope. It also includes the conviction that each person has the possibility to influence one’s own situation and life and change it.
Power-with: Encounter a common base and jointly construct collective force. The group allows to join capacities and knowledge, and to generate dynamics of mutual support. Power-with is related to the power of numbers, the collective power we create when we join with others, when we build organisations, networks, and alliances.
Power-to: This is about the relationship between our own power to achieve our objectives and the power of those dominating society. It is the power to achieve objectives and to open up the possibility for collective action for social change.
Organizing helps us to build our power-within, power-with other and power-to achieve social change and thus limit the power-over employed by those in power. It is a tool so that “people with problems” construct their power, power that is horizontal and collectively shared.
Together with the understanding of power and process organizing promotes the development of effective strategies and tactics to navigate the conflicts with those in power. And is based on the understanding that without assuming and confronting conflicts in a creative way – conflicts with the municipality, a housing corporation, the central government or multinational companies – real social change is not possible nor realistic.
To conclude, organizing is for us. For all of us – ecologists, workers, feminists, trans, queer o lgb people, for marginalised or excluded people. It is for us who have not stopped dreaming of a better world, of another world that is possible. Timur Kuran says: “Where a small pressure group fails to push a bandwagon into motion a slightly better organized or slightly larger one might.” (Timur Kuran: Now out of never. The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. World Politics Vol 44, No 1, October 1991).
Organizing allows us to design strategies and tactics to push into motion the revolutionary bandwagon without leaving behind the fundamental objective to build a better world for everyone.