20 Principles for Successful Community Organizing
20 Principles for Successful Community Organizing
By Si Kahn / alternet.org

1. Most people are motivated primarily by self-interest. As a creative community organizer, you are always trying to figure out people’s common self-interest, the glue that binds political organizations and movements.

2. Institutions and people that hold power over others are rarely as united as they first appear. If you can’t get a person or institution to support you, you want to do everything in your power to convince them that it’s in their best self-interest to stay out of the fight.

3. Start the process of strategy development by imagining that instant just before victory. Then, working backwards, do your best to figure out the steps that will lead to that moment.

4. It is generally useful, as a part of any creative community organizing campaign, to advocate for a positive as well as to oppose a negative.

5. The more complicated a strategy or tactic, the harder it is to carry out, and the less likely that it will be successful. You can ask a few people to do a lot of things, particularly if they’re committed activists. If you want hundreds or thousands of people to participate in a campaign, you need to ask the great majority of them to do one thing, and only one.

6. You need to believe that human beings, no matter how much they may hate each other, can somehow find some common connection. To do that, leave your stereotypes at the door.

7. In real life and in actual campaigns for justice, the people are always partly united, partly divided. It’s up to you to reinforce unity and to compensate for the divisions among the people with whom you work.

8. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that demonstrations were only effective in the 1960s--that in the twenty-first century, we need to find other, less confrontational ways to make our voices heard.

9. Be absolutely certain that the people you work with truly understand the risks they’re taking, the things that could go wrong, the losses they might suffer, before they make the decision to act, individually or together.

10. One of the greatest skills an organizer can have is the ability to frame and ask questions in ways that make people not only want to answer them, but also to think deeply, and in unexpected ways, about what the answers might be.

11. Laughter really is therapeutic, and hope does heal. Be cheerful in the face of adversity, and help others feel that way.

12. The more sure you are of yourself, of your experiences in other communities and campaigns, the more you have to struggle to avoid the arrogance of thinking you know what’s right for other people.

13. When an institution that has a responsibility to everyday people fails to do its job, one option is to build another organization to challenge the first one and force it to do the right thing. The other option is not only to build an alternative organization, but to use it as the base for a campaign to take over the original one.

14. When those who have been without power gain it, there is no guarantee that they will exercise it more democratically than those who have had it before.

15. The power of culture can be an antidote to people’s inability to see beyond their “own people” or situation. Culture can transform consciousness and make social change transformative rather than merely instrumental.

16. Organizers are often unjustly accused by those in power of inciting violence. That’s a lie, and it needs to be put to rest. It’s just a tactic the opposition uses to discredit your organization. To shut down a prison; to drive an exploitative enterprise out of business; to make sure a sexual harasser is fired--that is not violence. It’s justice.

17. Go not only with what you know, but with whom you know. Even in the Internet age, personal relationships still count, especially when you’re asking people to do something. When recruiting volunteers, give them a specific list of campaign needs from which they can choose.

18. It’s quite easy to slide from helping organize a community to becoming its leader and spokesperson--even though you’re not really a member of that community.

19. We can never truly predict what human beings working together can accomplish, and therefore we can never compromise with injustice.

20. The beloved community of which Dr. King spoke, rather than something we reach some day in the future, may be something we experience a little bit every day while, as creative community organizers, we walk and work towards it.

About Si Kahn

I’ve been a rabble-rouser and social activist for 45 of my almost 66 years, and have made my living as a professional civil rights, labor, and community organizer, as well as a performer. In my new political memoir, Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice (Berrett-Koehler, 2010), I relate stories from some of the great social reform campaigns in recent American history, of which I’ve been privileged to play a part--including the Southern Civil Rights Movement, the Harlan County coal miner’s strike, and the fight to abolish for-profit prisons and immigrant family detention. The book has lessons that I hope will inspire and motivate a new generation of community organizers and young activists--and anyone else who seeks to make an impact in their communities, from musicians and soccer moms, to teachers and politicians.

3.8 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 13,761 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 11,942 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
No Moral Superpower: Arundhati Roy, Edward Snowden, and the Crimes of Empire
Jake Johnson · 8,191 views today · When Arundhati Roy was preparing, in 2014, for a trip to Moscow to meet Edward Snowden, she was troubled by two things. One of them was the fact that the meeting was arranged...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 5,722 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 4,877 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 4,036 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
Men Loving Men
Bianca Vivion · 3,484 views today · When my father was seven he and his best friend Phil cut their index fingers open and placed them together to create a “blood pact” that they would always be brothers. To this...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,094 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
And After the Election, The Reaction
Ret Marut · 2,387 views today · Could there be any better illustration of the shortcomings of representative democracy than this year’s Presidential campaign? For months upon tiresome months, the whole world...
Writers Tom Hayden and Naomi Klein Talk About Journalism and Activism
27 min · 2,216 views today · Author, Activist and Former California State Senator Tom Hayden talks in depth with the author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, about the state of the fourth...
'The Climate of Fear Is Unacceptable' - Ken Loach on I, Daniel Blake
6 min · 1,901 views today · Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning film I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a man who is denied disability benefit after a heart attack and who is then subsequently caught in a...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,813 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
These Incredible Stories Remind Us of Our Better Selves
36 min · 1,410 views today · #WhoWeAre is a campaign to share the stories of people whose actions show us compassion and to send a message of empathy, hope and optimism. These videos will automatically...
Three Massive Mergers - Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water, and Climate
Wenonah Hauter · 1,194 views today · In addition to advising on all three mega-mergers, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes of the Dakota Access pipeline.
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 1,135 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
The Empire Vs. The People - Police Attack and Arrest Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline
6 min · 1,072 views today · On October 22, just before dawn, hundreds of people, including many families, gathered and prepared to march toward the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near Standing...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 678 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 665 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Social Geographer Shows How Much of You is Determined by Where You're From
3 min · 606 views today · The Professor of Geography examines social inequality and the geodemographics of the UK, using maps created by Oliver O'Brien (UCL, CASA) in 2012 and updated in 2015. You can...
Grow Heathrow: Residents Resisting Eviction Over 3rd Runway
4 min · 587 views today · On March 1st 2010 Transition Heathrow members swooped on an abandoned market garden site in Sipson; one of the villages to be completely tarmacked to make way for a third...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
20 Principles for Successful Community Organizing