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Structuring Collective Action

Selecting a structure or structures that works for your community and your issues

 Forms of collective action
1.  Tenants organization:  A TO is a semi formal voluntary association of tenants with a common interest-usually living at the same property or community.  TOs have formal (elected) leaders and by laws that spell out how the organization operates.  Many organizations strive to meet the HUD definition of a bonafide tenants organization
  • meets regularly
  • operates democratically
  • inclusive of all the tenants at the property and
  • completely independent of management
2.  Organizing committee:  An organizing committee is a less formal gathering of activists who are seeking to form a tenants organization.  Organizing committees usually operate by consensus rather than bylaws and have informal leadership structures.

3.  Campaign: a campaign organization is an informal, short (or fixed) term of existence usually with a single issue or purpose.  An example of a campaign might include a group brought together to lobby for a piece of legislation.

4.  Coalition, Federation, Alliance, Association: When a number of organizations band together in a formal structure to fight for a common goal.  Think of this as a "group of groups"  A city wide tenants council is an example.  Unlike a campaign, a coalition or federation has a formal structure, elected leadership, and works on multiple issues.  Traditional community organizations (following the Alinsky model) are in fact Coalitions or Federations of smaller constituent groups. Toledo Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalition guiding principles are appended below.

5.  Network:  A network is a structure of organizations and individuals that has no formal structure or leadership, but with some common interests. Networks exist to foster sharing among people with similar interests.  RHINO is a network.  Another example might be Tenants Against the Connor Group

 Four basic principles
1. Coalition efforts. Most change efforts succeed by combining the efforts of many groups with diverse interests around a single common cause.
2. Facts, not feelings or values. It is really hard to change values and beliefs, easier to change behavior based on facts. Once behaviors change, then values and beliefs will moderate. This is sometimes referred to as "acting our way into a new way of thinking."
3. No blaming. Blaming the opposition for the problem hardens their resolve to resist change. Taking a "no fault" attitude towards the opposition defuses their resistance and makes you seem rational to the great mass of undecided citizens. Another variation of this is "blaming the system, not the individuals."
4. Persistent education of the opinion leaders and decision makers.  Opinion leaders and decision makers are instinctively aligned with the opposition because of their personal interests and limited engagement with the disenfranchised. Advocates must continuously and persistently educate opinion leaders and decision makers about the facts and feelings of the community they stand with.

An inclusion practice-Distinguishing values, identity and interest.

Two stories in Slate magazine during the week of April 10, 2016 bring home the message of inclusive organizing. The first story is a remembrance of Merle Haggard, in Slate magazine, the singer songwriter who died this past week. The story traced his evolution from his polarizing first hit songs ( “Okie from Muskogee” and “Fighting Side of Me”) into a more nuanced understanding of the pain of those who “left behind” by deindustrialization. These days it's easy to dismiss White Males as Trumpists, without seeing the opportunity to reach out to them.

The second story, also in Slate, reports on a confrontation between Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union and some young African American activists. “While Lewis, who is black, was speaking, a group of young black attendees at the front of the crowd started chanting 'Get cops out of schools!' loud enough for her to hear, according to several rally attendees. Lewis paused and told the chanters, 'I tell you what—the cops are not our enemies. ... If they let us, we will make them more helpful.' ” (emphasis added). Inclusive organizing! What a contrast to the confrontation between Black activists and Bill Clinton, during which the former President wagged his finger at the protesters and tried to “educate them” about his record as President.

In the 1960s it was fashionable to organize among people with shared values. These were called "affinity groups." While affinity is necessary for group cohesion, affinity can be used as a "litmus" test to see who's pure enough to be included. Then in the 1980s it became all the rage to create "identify groups' of people around racial, ethnic or gender identities. Again, there's some value in cohesion, but worse consequences in exclusion.

The point is that advocates build movements by bringing people together around common interests.  Poet Edwin Markham wrote:

He drew a circle that shut me out-- 
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. 
But Love and I had the wit to win: 
We drew a circle that took him in! 

RHINO suggests: Keep an open mind. Listen intently. Find allies where you can.

 Notes & Links

Strategy and T

 Thanks to....
GregS for engaging in a discussion)

Subpages (1): Strategies & Tactics
Spencer Wells,
Aug 21, 2016, 8:49 AM