Our Organizing Toolkit
To succeed, your campaign needs a voice, and as much as possible you want that voice to be people who have direct experience with the problems you’re trying to fix. This means workers and community members rather than just experts and organization heads. Opponents may be able to argue with you, but it’s hard to argue with compelling personal testimony by dedicated leaders trying to improve their lives. Getting beyond the “usual suspects” isn’t easy, which is why workers and grassroots activists aren’t a part of every campaign, but they should be part of yours.
Recruiting grassroots leaders for your campaign requires a significant commitment of resources and a lot of creativity. While you will probably be working with key coalition partners — including unions or community organizations that represent workers and grassroots leaders in the sector or region you are targeting — you will also be working to activate your own base and recruit new leaders. As noted above, we have been at our best when we partner with organizations that have a real organizing plan in the industry or geography we’re trying to affect. Your union or community partner can be one of your most important allies, if they can bring you troops who can mobilize and people who can explain and help shape your campaign.
An organizer’s best tool is the one-on-one. Our main goal as organizers is to develop deep relationships with the people we are organizing in order to build trust, confidence and accountability with one another. During the one-on-ones, the organizer and the participant get to know each other, generate excitement about the plan to win and make commitments to move the campaign forward. For this reason, one-on-ones should be done in person rather than through phone calls, email, text or letters.
Preparation for one-on-ones is critical, especially in the initial stages of relationship building. Before sitting down with a prospect, an organizer should do the following: establish the goal of the meeting and the action plan you will develop jointly; prepare to share your personal story — why you as an organizer choose to be involved in this campaign; and identify a set of questions to pose during the meeting to get to know the person better. If you expect to have a difficult conversation during your one-on-one, do a role play beforehand to prepare.
One good way to start recruiting grassroots leaders is a neighborhood survey. A survey plan often involves working with a researcher to develop the right set of questions and then recruiting and training a team of people to knock on doors, talk to residents and identify leaders. Another is asking the people involved to introduce you to their friends and family or host small meetings of neighbors. Don’t forget that your best asset can be those workers who, after all, are residents too and have friends and family who can get involved.
Leaders Not Bodies
It’s essential to mobilize your grassroots leaders and activists in order to demonstrate your power and the broad interest of a lot of people in the campaign. Asking them to show up to hearings and marches can be fun, but it is also necessary. It’s important, however, that these leaders are more than just bodies, or even spokespeople. They know the issues better than anyone, and the most dedicated of them must be a part of your strategy and planning sessions. They should be recruiters, asking others to get involved. They should help your researchers and serve as policy advocates. For that to happen, they’ll need encouragement and training, and it’s your job to provide both.
Participation in the campaign gives everyone an opportunity to build their skills. Organizers need to work with community and worker leaders to develop leadership plans tailored to the person’s individual goals and the campaign’s needs. Leadership development plans can train people how to identify and recruit others, how to take a lead role in strategic planning and facilitating meetings, events and actions, and how to become more effective advocates. It’s essential to make explicit plans with grassroots leaders to practice their skills — otherwise there’s a good chance the organizer will try to do everything, thereby weakening the campaign and missing a great chance to develop new leaders.