Because of a series of poor decisions, cost-saving cuts, and bureaucratic indifference, the people of the town of Flint, Michigan were put into grave danger. The community’s water supply was tainted, rendered unusable, and undrinkable by high levels of lead. Despite repeated pleas to their town’s leaders, nothing was done about the situation. It wasn’t until Flint residents organized their community and made a ruckus that reached national and even international media that something was done to clean up their water supply.
The power of community organizing is often labeled as subversive or even dangerous, but this is because it helps unify your neighborhood, your town, or your city. It is the power to form consensus, to mobilize people towards a certain goal. At its core, community organizing has no politics, it is simply the act of banding people together and bending their energies towards a specific outcome.
If your community is under threat or there is a local issue you want to address, below are some tips on how you can effectively organize your community.
Determine a Goal
Meetings are the seeds of community organizing and no one is going to attend your meetings if they don’t care about your goal. This is why community organizing is not done for trivial matters. People in your community need to care about what you want to achieve. Prior to calling a meeting, determine what is the goal you want to achieve.
Are you looking for criminal justice reforms in your state? Do you want to address infrastructure problems in your area? Is there a local health crisis that no one is stopping? Remember that people may not be aware of the magnitude of the issue and your meeting can draw in attendees by giving answers or new perspectives. When you find a goal your community cares about, you can proceed.
- Seek Diverse Approaches
In today’s globalized landscape, it’s very difficult for communities to remain insular or secluded. Your community is most likely full of different people with varying ethnicity, schools of thought, and perspectives. It is vital your community organizing methods seek out different approaches and strategies from your community. For example, the basics of Catholic social teaching could be useful when empathizing with other people.
But this goes way beyond abstract principles. Diverse approaches can be as simple as ensuring your group has Spanish-speaking members so you can include Hispanic people in your movement. It can also include asking people from different levels of affluence how the issue you’re tackling has impacted them. Diverse approaches help build a stronger and larger network within your community, which is essential in harnessing its full potential.
- Identify Methods
Next, identify what kind of methods your advocacy group or community organization is going to use. If your group relies on systems advocacy, you may wish to work within the parameters of the systems you wish to change. For example, state congresses and city boards have scheduled times for petitioners to take to the floor and air their concerns. Your group could make an appearance at such an event make your voices heard. Or you can organize letter-writing campaigns for your local representative or an authority figure you want to persuade.
These methods are simple and can be very effective for enacting certain types of changes. Other methods may require more preparation, manpower, and resources. If you want to assemble a caravan or a march, you will need to coordinate with authorities and your colleagues. Identifying the methods you want to use beforehand is crucial in organizing them properly to ensure maximized effectiveness.
- Reach Out
A key part of organizing your community is making sure you reach out to as many people as possible. Everyone who can get behind your advocacy and your goal can add their resources, talents, and voice to achieve it, which means you can’t afford to alienate or ignore too many people. There are a variety of methods you can use to reach out to people. First, you could go door-to-door and explain in person just what you aim to accomplish. Or you can hand out flyers detailing your mission to people in the community.
Lastly, you can always turn to the power of social media. Your group may even begin as a Facebook page or a chat group among concerned citizens. Remember that our movement grows with its membership and continually reaches out to people.
Organizing your community can take a while and there are many challenges you may face along the way. But the results can be worth the effort, whether you’re looking for a systemic change or a solution to a local problem.