Corporations and advocates of growth and opportunity have a lot to learn about grassroots and grasstops organizing. We pride ourselves on laying out an organizational strategy on paper – visualizing it in logical and rational frames of reference, and quantifying it in terms of resource requirements and outcomes. We manage and embrace social media in a similar fashion, viewing it as a means to reach people not easily reached by other, once traditional means. It’s a managed substitute for personal interaction. And, it’s relatively easy to measure its reach and success. That’s important, as “metrics” take a prominent place in our discussions and our planning processes because, in business, the numbers don’t lie…or do they?
The truth is, the numbers only tell part of the story. The element of organizing that goes beyond the numbers is easily as important, but not so easily quantifiable or even evident. It is common interest and motivation to effect change…the thing that binds any good organization together. It’s the messy part. The part that pushes people to think, to talk, to interact and, ultimately, to act.
Community organizer and writer Dave Beckwith offers some insights into this element of interaction. “Binding,” as characterized by providing a common ground for people, is prioritized in some circles and viewed as an important aspect of the “job” of organizing. He lays out some basics that have undeniable value for any effective organization effort and, if taken seriously and incorporated into the strategy, can help fill the need for “binding” a group together. Taken from a guide he authored, his ten rules of organizing…
1. Nobody's going to come to the meeting unless they've got a reason to come to the meeting.
2. Nobody's going to come to a meeting unless they know about it.
3. If an organization doesn't grow, it will die.
4. Anyone can be a leader.
5. The most important victory is the group itself.
6. Sometimes winning is losing.
7. Sometimes winning is winning.
8. If you're not fighting for what you want, you don't want enough.
10. Have fun!
If you’re interested, the full text of his guide can be found here: https://comm-org.wisc.edu/papers97/beckwith.htm.
What’s important here is the subjective, or qualitative nature of his rules as opposed to the overly quantitative approach seen in some circles. When it comes to organizing, business does what business does…flow charts, job descriptions, responsibilities. We check off items and put names in boxes.
We create a job.
While we’re busy doing that, our competitors create an identity with some shared values, pointing towards a goal but understanding that there may be many objectives to achieve on the way to achieving that goal. They establish a level of permanence in the community that survives the day, or controversy. They may lack the precision and specificity of our methodology, but they make up for it in other ways. Organizing is a voluntary endeavor with meaning.
Our challenge isn’t to replace a proven quantifiable methodology, but rather to add elements to it that create strength and resolve.
For a lot of us on the pro-business side, this reality and need has been made much more apparent and understandable by the rise of social media. The importance of using social media to provide a qualitative “binder” or cohesion to our campaigns really can’t be understated. And, its capacity to expand communications venues and working universes is invaluable. Beyond the organizational charts there is a need for ongoing peer-to-peer communications, exchanges of ideas and observations, and the establishment of an activist corps who self-identify as wanting to take on responsibility to impact the community and drive change.
The problem is, social media isn’t a solution to this need. It’s important to understand and use it, but it’s not a substitute for interaction. We have a guiding principal in the campaign business: nothing happens until somebody talks to somebody else. Every major social or economic movement in our history has started ultimately with an idea…
…and a meeting.
So what’s the message here? We should continue to plan our campaigns with great detail. We should be able to quantify results, and that creating jobs – for campaigns or otherwise – is always a very good thing.
But also that we should complete the narrative by adding real involvement and ownership by the community, and people, as one of our priority goals. That we seek to build a permanent sentiment that favors our position, in the community, regardless of whether the castle is under siege or not.
And, the best way to move that critical component forward is to start where great movements all start: with a meeting.