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An Organizer's Dilemma

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I'm sure there are many people here who have much more experience with organizing than I do. If anyone of you could share some experiences or thoughts on this I would be very thankful.

My general approach to organizing is that I don't try to sell anything, or to convince anyone in that sense. I wouldn't want anyone to approach me like that, so I'm not going to do it myself. The way I approach people is by asking them how their situation is, what their problems are and which goals they want to achieve. If I think they could benefit from participating in an organization, if I think it could help them to achieve their goals, I suggest that they might have a look at it. If they don't like it I ask them to indicate their issues with it. That way I learned a lot. If they do like the idea – it's all the better.

In doing so I experienced a variety of reactions. To me it seems as if there are basically two types. Those who are comfortable with the situation and those who aren't. Those who are comfortable with what's going on in our society obviously do not have any intent to change pretty much anything at all. Why would they? Well, when I try to discuss this question I often find myself in, what I perceive as, extremely odd conversations. Like having to discuss why justice would be preferable to injustice. People aren't even ashamed of saying things like: What's the problem with racism, if I'm white? What's the problem with sexism, if I'm a man? Why would I care for anybody else as long as I'm fine? In such cases, which are by no means rare, I try to point out that they should question were the clothes they are wearing come from, who produces them, who produces all the devices they use on a daily basis and where the resources for that come from and so on. I don't think I got many people to question anything at all.

Those who aren't comfortable with the situation respond differently. Actually they are often quite open for anything which would at least improve their own situation, often also receptive to ideas how the situation of other's could be improved. The problem in those cases is that such people have only extremely narrow options. That's not their fault of course, quite the contrary. But the fact remains that even here, in an awfully rich country, it's inconceivable how much ordinary folks have to struggle just to get through the day. The last thing I would want to do is to ask those people for their time, they are already stuck with a lot of problems.

You see the dilemma and I'm sure many of you have already had similar experiences. Those who could change the situation don't want to and those who want to change the situation just can't do it. Who's left to organize?

Discussion 11 Comments

  • Stephen Roblin 30th Mar 2012

    Hi Johannes,

    My guess is that anyone who has been involved in organizing has experienced the dilemma you describe. Regarding the latter group -- those who may want to fight for change but are burdened by circumstances --, it's crucial, I think, that we experiment with modes of organizing that incorporate immediate material relief. This can come in many forms. Let's just take food.

    A chapter can always raise money internally, where those with the means contribute, and use it towards preparing meals for meetings. For a struggling individual, a free meal may make it easier for her to attend meetings. She's provided real relief. The idea can be broadened. For instance, a group could pool resources based on some means-based norm, purchase food from a local food collective every week, and distribute food internally. Again, relief is being provided to those who are in need as they participate in the chapter. Plus, the chapter is providing support to a local workplace democracy.

    These are just two ideas that come to mind. There all sorts of ways to address the issue you raise.

  • Graham Bunn 30th Mar 2012

    I have found that when I talk to people about a range of social issues to people I work with, I have a range of responses.
    The first group are those who we may find some area of agreement on a few points E.G the war is about oil, Bankers are greedy or most politicians are corrupt, most people know these things are more or less true, but hey that's just the way things are, Why bother to put effort into trying to change things. Life's to short and I have my own problems.
    The second group have no interest in any of these issue's, even bringing them up in conversation makes them feel uncomfortable and respond with hostility to any new perspective. They will often defend the values of the power structure,and who can blame them, they feel they depend on it to survive in the dominant culture.
    One of the main problems we face in this culture is, a problem of self denial.People seem to spent most of time telling lies to themselves about the reality of the world we live in. We simply can't accept that the dominant culture is destroying the land base, our environment and future, that our material benefits come off the back of systemic violence carried out by this culture. It's too much to contemplate.
    I work in the public sector in the UK. We recently had a number of strike days around austerity cuts. I was the only person in my department to take strike action. The rest were not even interested in the issue. it's so frustrating.
    If we are to reach people and at least be able to debate these issues we have much work to do on this.
    Even within the local trade union, the range of acceptable thought can be limited.
    I am sorry if this sounds a little negative. This is my experience within the workplace, in a very conservative town.
    On the other hand there are some amazing activists around doing some real inspiring work. We recently shut down a branch of Barclay's Bank in a sit-in. Most of the public were very supportive. Just how you get people to take the next step and become involved, is something a think Michael Albert called " The stickiness Problem ".

  • Matthew Nereim 31st Mar 2012

    I work for a Silver Gold company as a writer and also educate people when they first call us as to why they should buy precious metals.

    The important thing is to keep things as simple as possible. I think it's critical to stay on issues that relate and apply to all people no matter what they're politics are. To me these issues are

    1. Justice due-process of law, and accountability, especially for those in Power who should have a fiduciary responsiblity to the common good of mankind.
    2. Personal Liberty for all.
    3. A currency that is not subject to inflation through the evils of Fractional Reserve Banking.
    4. Against War-Profiteers and pre-emptive war.
    5. The harnessing of free-energy and/or geothermal energy.
    6. Public Infrastructure and transportation stsyems that are efficient and state of the art, and revolutionary.

    To me these are issues that appeal to almost everyone.

    Issues like Global Warming which I personally do not agree with (the man-made part of it), Abortion, Religion etc. are ones that good honest people can disagree on which can sap energy and cause inefficient use of time.

    If you approached people and told them you are taking a poll and asked them these questions it is hard for annyone to say disagree with any of them.

    BUT...It would be even better and more efficient to hand them a card that had these questions printed out on them and the could check yes/no or undecided. A line could be left for them to put down the most important issue to their heart. This would make it painless, and if they were interested they could leave their name and number on the card and they could be contacted move to step 2. Or could be directed to the website. If we had these bullet points as our mission and simply ask if they are willing to dedicate less than an hour a week to work towards these goals we can simply make posters and hang them up in coffee shops internet networking sites etc.

    I think it's also important for each member to first appeal to each of their friends and family similar to the multi-level marketing strategy which is what they have you do first. If forms with questions like these were distributed to all we know...we could grow this thing like a snow-ball.

    Eventually we can create calls of action, like boycotts, mass emails and calls to corrupt politicians or business', organize charitable events like food for the poor etc.

    But a simple and clear vision needs to be articulated with bedrock issues that appeal to all mankind. I just joined bc of Donald Jordan someone I know through Facebook and who I respect a lot. SO I am still learning about what we're doing here. But thought I would give my 2-cents.

    One other thing. We should find not just dedicated activists, but also people who are busy that do not have a lot of time. Find a way to get busy people to give just 10-20 minutes a week making phone calls sending emails etc. If we could get 3 million people willing to work at least 20 minutes a week towards social justice and equality we will change the world faster than we can imagine. Too many people talk about things which is one thing. We need people doing things, even if it's less than half an hour a week.

    Hope this helps. Looking forward to doing my part! Matthew

  • Matthew Nereim 31st Mar 2012

    I just thought of something. Instead of a card that had yes no etc. Have them rank the issues from most important to least important even allowing them to abstain from giving an issue a rating at all if they do not believe in one for some reason...this would allow them to write in their own issue and even put a number 1 on it. This would make it interactive and give us feedback as to what issues should be at the top of our agenda.

    The first order of business should be determining what the specific goals are and their priority. From there we can elect people to manage the plan of action. Without a clear vision and plan of action it will be just us talking.

  • Johannes 31st Mar 2012

    Stephen, what you wrote makes a lot of sense to me. I always thought of IOPS not only as a burden but also as a benefit for its members. It's not only about doing work that benefits others (although that is an important part naturally), it's also about benefiting from real social structures (which our atomized society lacks), being able to learn from others, helping each other out and so on. I like your concrete ideas, they're simple yet effective, at least as long as they're not used to simply lure people, of course. The dilemma itself, in this case, who would be willing to donate money for food in the first place, remains however. It really is a dilemma I guess…

    Graham, I understand your frustration and agree that there's a lot of work ahead of us. But that's why we're here, right? I think it's just the way our society “works”. People are purposely distracted with superficial, shallow things. Only obedient workers and entertained consumers are needed. It is not easy to try to even out all the indoctrination and propaganda coming from the states and corporations.

    However, in some cases people are in fact asking for solutions, “wanting to help”. If I mention the few, trivial answers I know of (organizing, activism, …), which imply some work nonetheless, I often get extreme responses. Like when implied that it is necessary to educate yourself in order to make informed decisions on critical issues once, I got the response: What's next, do I have to sell all my belongings and starve?

    This touches on what Michael Albert refers to as «The Stickiness Problem». How do we get real involvement, especially in those cases were people are at least somehow receptive? I read the piece you were referring to, it raises some good points I think:


    Matthew, I think you brought up some good points on a very practical level. I guess it makes sense to appeal to friends and family first. I'm skeptical however if there is one right way to approach everyone. I for one hate simple slogans. I am sick and tired of politics reduced to “easy communicable” slogans, let alone the Twitter-, YouTube-, Facebook-culture.

    I strongly disagree that Global Warming is not an issue or not an “easy communicable” issue (which are two separate things). For me it has top priority and judging from personal experience people are extremely receptive to it (at least were I live). I also think that it incorporates many political, economic and other issues we face.

    I do agree that we should reach out to everyone and we should realize that different people can only spend different amounts of time, in that sense that it is our responsibility to create an organization which is flexible enough to adapt to the different capacities of its members.

    • Matthew Nereim 2nd Apr 2012


      I am all for protecting the planet. I do not believe at all in the idea that man and CO2 have anything to do with Global Warming. Please watch the video The Great Global Warming Swindle on Youtube. If you can refute the movie...please show me where I can study the evidence. The movie is a slam dunk IMHO. I assumed man-made Global Warming was real until I looked at the evidence...and I don't see any evidence. Less and less people are believeing in CO2 ='s climate change. So I am not sure who u r talking to but less than 50% of people buy into what I believe is a sham. The fact that we are here debating it, goes into my premis that we must all focus in the beginning at least...on issues that are already considered fact by the masses. So we are not wasting precious on issues that will deem our efforts less efficient.

    • Matthew Nereim 2nd Apr 2012

      BTW, there is no one right way to approach this I agree. But many people are not comfortable (I am not shy, but many are) reaching out to strangers. So we can have more than one approach of course...but reaching out to friends and family is something we all can do. Also, many strangers are so busy or not receptive to "activists" trying to "recruit" them. So for these reasons there does have to be many ways from socoal media, friends, to face to face, to spread the word and get people on board to do there part to a better world. In my last sentence above I left out (precious) time after the word precious. Long day :)

  • Cheri Roberts 31st Mar 2012

    While there are always going to be those that are perfectly content with status quo, there are countless others that are easily grouped in with them simply because no one has yet found an effective way to reach them.

    Although I agree that I do not want people "selling" me on things let alone ideals, it is true that all communication is marketing in some way and often we do not or cannot reach outside our generalized choir simply because we have yet to craft a compelling message. It takes more than a single message or angle. Everyone orders their eggs differently so as to be palatable to themselves, we just need to serve a lot of varieties of eggs...the beauty is, their still eggs and we can crack'em! ;)

  • Fabio Sallustro 1st Apr 2012

    Here in Italy I can say it's not so hard to find groups "against" something.
    We are in the middle of an economic storm and, cynically, this is almost the perfect ground to start a new way of looking at things.

    But this is just the beginning: one thing is being against a government (and let's say it: for the first time in the western world we have a bankers government! Not just a country ruled by someone who's under pressure from economics group but a REAL AUTHENTIC TRUE bankers government. At least we are firs in something! :-( )
    another thing is proposing something different from the old same vision.

    This is a completely different topic: when you are fighting to destroy the emperor, sometimes, you find yourself sitting next to someone you don't like.
    But, once you've achieved the goal, there's the need to build something new.
    And here's the problem.

    Gracia, Spain, Italy, Portugal: we are all facing the same capitalistic threat.
    We are all struggling together (?) to survive.

    But the question is: what's right the method to survive? And to win?
    Do we have to accept the rules of this game?

    Getting back to the point we have to move in places, real physical places, where we can meet people.
    Telling them about the site it's useless: imagine someone, in Porto, Madrid, Barcellona, Rome, Milan or Athen saying to someone else "visit this page, you'll change your mind!" It doesn't work: I cannot ask them this. (not considering the linguistic barrier)

    We have to meet them everywhere (yesterday I was attending a rally in Milan: occupypiazzaaffary, we'll have a big strike in Italy this coming month, I'll continue to work on some other stuff) and we have to offer an alternative.
    This is the right time because this is the worst time.

    Regarding "HOW" there isn't a single answer. It depends on the listeners, on the moment, ON THE PLACES.
    Sometimes it will be just an explanation paper talking about common things.
    Sometimes it will be a rally.
    Other times an open discussion with union workers.
    Other times it will be a "selling contest" (it's bad to say it but WE ARE selling something. Something right but something they don't want to listen).

    One thing is talking about IOPS yesterday, during the radical rally in Milan.
    I can find a lot of willing, curious listeners there.

    But in the "real life" I have to find another solution starting from the reasons of this economic collapse.
    And I have to find words that don't scare people.
    Easy, understandable words.

    We'll see.

    Good luck.

    • Matthew Nereim 2nd Apr 2012

      Easy understandable words. I like that. This cannot be about looking or talking smart. We have to find a way to paint a clear, yet simple picture for whatever issues we want to devote energy too. And of course, we can go into more detail on a case by case basis to those who thirst for truth/knowledge. But we have to make it as simple as possible up front. The economic issue surely presents an issue that relates to the great majority of people. So finding a way to get people to understand the evils of our banking system in ez to understand terms is paramount. I can help with that...that is what i do for my job, educate people on why they should buy gold/silver instead of having paper money that is subject to inflation.