Movement elder, Marshall Ganz, shares his organizing wisdom

Marshall Ganz is one great social movement elder.  He organized with Caser Chavez to build the United Farm Workers of America Union in the 1960s. He helped set the grassroots strategy that underpinned Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  And Ganz has also spent the last decade or so teaching and writing about social movements at Harvard University.

Ganz has a lot of useful information to share!  His two websites (he’s got the Practicing Democracy Network one and then his Harvard University one) are chock-full of ideas, tools and resources for organizers.

Some highlights include the detailed lecture notes of Marshall Ganz Organizing: People, Power, and Change course.   This 100 page document contains the essence of 50 years of social movement campaigning.  In this document, Ganz outlines his understanding of organizing, the art of learning to organize, campaigning, story telling, building leaders, and  more.

I enjoy Ganz’ anologies – comparing campaigning to snow falling on the ground, slowing building momentum, flake by flake.  I also appreciate Ganz’ neat way of breaking down hard concepts, such as distinguishing organizing from other social change efforts, like social service and social marketing. I am often faced with this question when I’m talking to people who are new to activism. Check out this diagram.

 I also appreciate his diagram documenting the stages of a campaign.
Ganz’ theory of a campaign complements the campaign diagram typically used by organizers with the Ruckus network.
Other useful resources on the website include:

Ganz’s theory on narrative, which is being embraced by social movement groups across North America.  Essentially, Ganz argues that organizers should a) encourage individuals to personally develop a story of why they have been called to action (a story of self), b) help a group develop a story of why we have been called (the story of us), and c) help the group collectively develop a story about the urgent challenge on which we are called to act (the story of now).

Ganz uses Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention to expand his theory.  To quote Ganz, “In Obama’s “story of self” he recounts three key choice points: his grandfather’s decision to send his son to America to study, his parent’s “improbable” decision to marry, and his parent’s decision to name him Barack, blessing, an expression of faith in a tolerant and generous America. Each choice communicates courage, hope, and caring. He tells us nothing of his resume, preferring to introduce himself by telling us where he came from, and who made him the person that he is, so that we might have an idea of where he is going.

“Obama moves into his “story of us” when he declares, “My story is part of the American story”, and proceeds to lift of values of the American he shares with his listeners – the people in the room, the people watching on television, the people who will read about it the next day. And he begins by going back to the beginning, to choices made by the founders to begin this nation, a beginning that he locates in the Declaration of Independence, a repository of the value of equality, in particular. He then cites a series of moments that evoke values shared by his audience.

“Obama moves to his “story of now” with the phrase, “There is more work left to do.” After we have shared in the experience of values we identify with America at its best, he confronts us with the fact that they are not realized in practice. He then tells stories of specific people in specific places with specific problems. As we identify with each of them, our empathy reminds of pain we have felt in our own lives. But, he also reminds us, all this could change. And we know it could change. And it could change because we have a way to make the change, if we choose to take it. And that way is to support the election of Sen. John Kerry.Although that last part didn’t work out, the point is that he concluded his story of now with a very specific choice he calls upon us to make.”

For a more detailed breakdown of Ganz’ narrative theory check out the:

Other useful resources on Ganz’ websites include:
  • Caser Chavez recounting his experiences organizing the United Farm Workers of America Union in the Organizer’s Tale and
  • The Citizen’s Handbook, which is Charles Dobson’s super comprehensive handbook on community organizing.

Yep, there’s a month of reading in here! And it’s valuable stuff.



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