Posted July 27th 2010 at 4:12 pm by
in The Urban Labs

Organizing Is Not Campaigning, and High Numbers Do Not Mean Effective Organizing

Last night I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is  creating a tech start up catalyzing local civic engagement.  My friend is engaging in conversations with many companies much larger than hers to find resources to expand their model nationally.  The offers this start-up is getting are exciting and come with the expectation of being in hundreds of cities quickly.  Scaling this local organizing effort fast is the way they will be able to continue to fund doing this work.

In talking with my friend about organizing models to use to scale its organizing I realized we were looking for an answer that doesn’t exist.  There is no quick way to organize a community and you don’t need millions of people to have a successful organizing effort.  Organizations should take this decision to scale quickly very seriously; how they do it will determine their true impact in society.  The concept of scaling in organizing also begs the question: why must one thing be in hundreds of cities quickly, and has that led to us being more effective in pushing our policies?

Is our culture so mass marketed that we must recreate the momentum and look of Obama 08 regardless of what the momentum gets us? Of the millions of people who participated in Organizing For America, very few of them are active in supporting the work it takes to get to hopeful change.   They we’re easily discouraged because the relationship was not deep enough to withstand the disappointment of the expectations they had of Obama.

Scale and impact are not interchangeable when your goal is organizing.  It’s a choice.  So often organizations sacrifice organizing to be able to hit numbers.  The problem is in doing so is that you also sacrifice your relevance to people.   This kills any deeper growth because your communities may not be as with you as you think.  Easy come easy go.

If civic organizations can hold the space for organizing when campaigns do come into town they can be absorbed by the on-going community efforts and feed into the on going business of hope and change.  Campaigning is not organizing.  McDonalds does provide food products to millions of Americans but nobody pretends it’s the same as a home cooked meal.

This post is by Malia Lazu and originally appeared on The Urban Labs site. Read more about The Urban Labs’ projects on Malia’s blog feed on CoLab Radio.

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