Community Organising

Element Descriptor

Who are the people who give a damn, or would give a damn if they had time, encouragement, information and a sense of hope and power? What are the key local issues? How might they be ‘fixed’ or made less bad? If you can’t work with people locally on immediate issues, why would you expect them to join you on a global multi-decade crusade?

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You know who the experienced active respected people in your community are, and their ways of working and issues they think are crucial. You can provide the right amount of reliable support in the right way, without over-committing and/or under-delivering. You can advocate for the use of Active Citizenship Toolkit as a way of helping bring more people in and on…You know who the experienced and high profile folks are, but also the quiet ones, who do an enormous amount of behind the scenes work. You can provide serious amounts of support, in ways that empower rather than create dependence and patronage. You can demonstrate the usefulness of the Active Citizenship Toolkit in everyday ways.You can help people who have lived in a community for a lifetime or a year come together, exchange ideas and knowledge, help them build each others’ skills and confidence on here and now issues but also the “big” ones. And model how others can play that role, so that you are able to make yourself redundant sooner rather than later.You can do everything an expert does, only slightly quicker, with more elan and more ability to help folks find each other’s talents and skills and amplify them. In other languages and across barriers or race, class, suspicion etc.

Element Overview Essay

The causes of failure to do community organising can be found in confusion and reluctance. I mean, the first thing, what’s a community, the term gets thrown around so frequently that I think the satirical magazine Private Eye occasionally has a column about this where they spot examples, ridiculous examples in the media, of, you know, the “dogging community” or the “insurance community” or whatever. For the purposes of active citizenship, I suppose a community is much more likely to be a geographical area, you know, 10 or 15  minute walk in any direction, unless there’s a motorway or a river, or something else that forms a barrier (1).

So the next thing is not to be fooled by the idea that communities are somehow coherent, unitary, united within any given community. There are going to be differences of age as well obviously gender, race, class, political perspective, you name it. So this idea that he could get everyone in the community to agree or that you speak for the community because you’ve managed to get 30 people in a church hall, or a scout hut is one that you really need to be quite careful of. and politicians who are elected often on a tiny number, percentage of votes will push back sometimes and claim they are the only legitimate representatives of the community. It’s just very difficult to do because who has legitimacy to bring together people you know? Is it people of a certain age people of a certain ethnicity people who’ve lived there for a long time? If you’re new, then why should people listen to you? Why should they expect you to have anything useful to say because there are always blow ins, who grandstand and slap up posters and tell you that they’re organising the community. And usually within two or three years, they’ve burnt out or become totally co opted by the organisations that they were ostensibly challenging back in the day. 

So having been gloomy about community organising I suppose It’s really like it’s cousin allyship. Don’t expect it to be easy. Don’t expect it to be quick. Don’t expect to be listened to just because you’re spouting good intentions. And you know that in your own heart you are pure, it takes patience, it takes time. It is a process, you will need to be able to deal with difficult people. Group conflict within your group conflict between groups. You will have to do a lot of convening which we’re coming on to next. And at many points you will think “why on earth am I bothering?”

Footnote

  1. A motorway is not natural and one of the many arguments about motorways is that they destroy communities. 

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Assessment Resources