4. Build a Movement
When we think about the word movement, what images come to mind? The US civil rights march on Washington, that ended with Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his “I have a dream…” speech; Germans from east and west climbing up and pulling down the Berlin wall; Gandhi, in his white robes, marching with hundreds of thousands of working class people across India; Nelson Mandela speaking to hundreds of thousands after his release from imprisonment on Robben Island.
But movements aren’t just about marches and speeches and breaking unjust laws (though those are all important). They’re also about building trust, leaders, and sustainable organizations that can win the solutions we want. The raw materials of movements are campaigns, leadership, trust, and a certain sense of moral solidarity. The focus of a movement is solving a deep-rooted cultural problem. Movement-building requires three big pieces:
1. Organizing for big change – we’re talking transformational change, not just winning a single campaign.
2. Bringing new people on board – Our first instinct when organizing is to first start with people we know. To bring new and diverse people on board, we must take a step further and engage in deep listening and collaboration with other people and organizations.
3. Ensuring a sustainable movement through trust, commitment and leadership – Movements that succeed are ones that last years. Building trust, commitment–and especially leadership–from the ground up, is critical.
It’s easy to forget about these three pieces while in the heat of organizing a campaign or big event. Since most movements go on for years (and often decades), it’s important to balance the need for short-term campaign wins with the long-term vision of the movement. In the sections below, we’ll give you some ideas and tips on how to integrate movement-building into your day-to-day organizing.
Organize for Big Change
We’ve all had that conversation with a friend or colleague that ends this way: “Well deep down, the real problem is…” Even though they might be right, getting into an ideological argument over which is the deepest problem that ails humankind (of which there are many) doesn’t usually help us do organizing. On the other hand, we’ve all worked with groups that are focused on one event or on solving a very small problem, and seem somewhat adrift in the vision department. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day of campaigning and organizing, or get distracted by tasks that seem to need immediate attention, and forget that we’re in the middle of a crisis and an opportunity to wean our country off of dirty energy. That’s why we need to keep reminding ourselves that this is a transformational movement—a mass movement to significantly change the direction our civilization is headed.
Articulating and sharing a bold vision of what your local group (and the broader movement) is hoping to accomplish in a few months, years and decades is a great way to get everybody on the same page right at the start. Telling your personal stories that display your values are great ways to get this process started. Sometimes, it’s useful to discuss your goals as a group, and write down local, state/province, national and international goals, where applicable:
|Scale||6 months||1 year||3 years||5 years|
|State / Province
Remember that a movement is diverse—there are many paths to reach the same goals—and that cultivating diversity at the strategic level and at the personal level is important to building power. Being a movement-builder and an organizer means keeping your eye on the long-term ball while taking advantage of immediate campaigning opportunities, whether they are elections, dirty energy fights or building solutions from the ground up.
One thing is for sure: balancing what may seem an impossible goal with the immediate steps that need to be taken to get there is an art—one that is both difficult and intensely satisfying.
Bring new people on board
Our tendency when we organize anything is to work with the friends we already have, in the networks we already know about. And that’s a very good idea—it’s how everyone starts. But you can make whatever action or campaign you’re planning far more effective if you work hard to reach out to people you don’t already know. This sounds like common sense, but it doesn’t happen often enough.
Look for shared passions. When we need help with something, we turn first to our friends, then to a wider circle of people who are still within our comfort zone. Sometimes they are friends of friends, but sometimes it’s the people who share our faith, our associations, our passions who can help even more. It’s important to include people who share your vision for a better world but choose to arrive there by different channels. While it’s understandable to feel shy with strangers, there’s also much to be gained from reaching out.
Ask for help early. Whenever you ask people to participate, it holds more meaning when they have had some say in how the event unfolds. The earlier you pull people into the decision-making, the more likely it is that they will become a new ally to work with in the future—even if your event is planned on a snappy timeline.
Think like a fellowship. Diverse collaborations work better as a team than as a hierarchy of leaders. If nothing else, that diffuses any issues about whether one organization is more in control of an action than another, since at least some of the people involved will probably represent some sort of institution in your community.
When inviting people to participate, ask them to be your fellow organizers. Share responsibility. You’ll also be more likely to pull in people who will pitch in because they want to rather than because you asked them for help.
Go local. After you have your list of fellow-thinking groups, you may still want to look for ways to get more people involved in what you’re planning. Find the other groups in your community who have regular meetings. The group should have a goal that doesn’t conflict with what you’re doing and an infrastructure with a track record of success. That way, you kill two birds with one stone—not only will you connect with people who are active in your community and have an established network in place, but you get to extend the reach of the climate change movement by contacting a group less tied with it already.
Do easy favors easily. Look for easy ways to help the people who help you. If you ask a local group to donate money or services to your event and they ask for something easy in return—like publicity—give it. For example, you might ask an outing club to help spread the word to their members or a local band to provide a sound system. They might say yes, but on the condition that you put their logo on your website, the kind of thing that helps them and doesn’t hurt you. Say yes, and fast! In fact, don’t even wait for them to ask. Offer it to them first.
Doing favors is also a good way to quell tensions. If you have created a webpage for your group or action, it may have a blog or other venue for writing under a byline. When that person—we all know one—insists on making a political speech during your logistical meetings, ask him or her to write an article about it so that everyone can have the opportunity to hear and consider the point. The chance to be heard in public will often be enough to get everyone back to work on the tasks at hand.
Take-home message: You need to have a leader to get thing things started, but the realization that you don’t always need to carry all the weight, and that others are committed and responsible, means that you can feel confident that there will be someone else to take the reins in the future.
One of the things we have learned is that you can become acquainted with folks by going to parties with them or sharing a common interest. But you become friends with someone by working with them and depending on them—as you and your fellow organizers will discover.
Start out by having a planning meeting well ahead of time. Invite all people who might be interested to get involved in the planning of your event and your local campaign, and brainstorm what kind of action you may want to host. Often, an event can be a great focal point for bringing diverse groups and individuals together to collaborate. Here are some tips on getting people involved:
Make it personal. You can find interested folks by sending emails or text messages to your friends, talking to people in your workplace, school or place of worship, making announcements at meetings of related groups, or putting up posters in key places with meeting information. By far the best way to get somebody to come to a meeting is to ask them personally: a one-on-one conversation is more effective than a group email or putting up lots of posters (though those help, too).
Unlikely Allies. Reach out to the usual suspects to get involved – your local environmental or conservation group – but also think about faith groups, sports leagues, schools, civic societies, labor unions, and other organized groups in your communities that may want to get involved. Attend meetings of other groups you think might want to get involved and pitch in to help with their work, then be sure to announce to everybody there how to get involved with your climate activist group.
Run a good meeting. There’s nothing worse than sitting through a meeting where one person talks the whole time and nothing gets done. There is an art to running an effective, dynamic meeting. Here are a few tips that will help you get the job done:
- Make sure to have an agenda with approximate times for each item, and circulate it ahead of time. Leave enough time for others to make their points, but try to stay on schedule. Circulate the agenda before the meeting, and ask for input.
- Assign somebody to run the meeting (a facilitator), and a note-taker to write everything down and distribute the notes to the group. The facilitator and note-taker could be yourself, but it’s often better to delegate those tasks to somebody else who may not be distracted by other leadership tasks. Sometimes it may be appropriate to agree on hand signals ahead of time to make sure that the conversation moves along.
- Listen, understand and share ideas with others; understanding is different than agreeing, so you should learn to understand and accept even opposite opinions. The leader uses his/her heart as well as his/her head. The leader has an open mind and is nonjudgmental but rather accepts others for what or who they are.
- Stay positive and have fun. Smile at everybody. It makes communication much easier. It is very important for the leader to enjoy what she/he is doing, and to have a sense of humor. She/he has a humble spirit and can laugh at him/herself.
- Circulate the notes after the meeting, with action items delegated and clearly highlighted so that people on your team will know exactly what they need to do before the next meeting. Decide on a next meeting time.
Delegate. Make sure everyone goes home with something to do – and be sure to follow up with those people who were assigned a role or responsibility. Setting deadlines and goalposts along the way can help you and your team succeed–it may seem awkward at first, but your friends and colleagues will love the feeling of accomplishment after a job well done. (See the Build Leaders section for more tips on delegation.)
Be equal. You may have learned about the issue first, and called the first meeting, but make sure that you treat your fellow organizers as equals. Each person in your group has talents or skills that will be critical to the effort; let them take responsibility for parts of the planning process and make sure to include everybody.
Learn from your mistakes. It’s ok to make mistakes; the important thing is to learn from them. Make sure that the whole team also knows about your mistake so that they don‘t repeat it as well. A leader will be criticized from time to time, and she/he should accept it and act upon it. A leader is not expected to know everything, but is able to learn from others, especially his/her teammates. The leader has faith in people.
Make it fun. Fun is probably our number one strategy. People are much more apt to be a part of the effort if they’re likely to have a good time doing it. Good ways to keep morale up are to work with others, bring food and beverages to meetings, be positive and creative about your planning (no idea is too crazy!), hold meetings outside, and try opening or closing meetings with a song or game.
So many of us who are passionate about climate change don’t think twice about putting in long days and long nights thinking, strategizing and working to solve the crisis. It’s that energy and commitment that forms the heart and soul of this movement. But too often, especially after a particularly arduous event or campaign, we find ourselves “burnt out,” having to deal with flagging energy and passion. Sometimes, life events happen that we can’t even predict that might get in the way of our organizing.
As you become an experienced leader in this movement, it’s incredibly important to bring others around you into leadership as well. Often, it will be easier for you to accomplish a discrete task much more quickly than somebody less experienced than you. However, the more you impart your experience and train others to do the work that you’ve been doing, the more impact you will have. Simply put, the art of leadership and means multiplying your ability to make change by effectively managing others, and helping them become leaders.
Here are a few tips on how to build leaders:
Assign roles. Everybody likes to feel important, and most people tend to invest more in the work, if they have specific roles and responsibilities to fill. You don’t need to do this at the first meeting, but it’s often useful to identify a media coordinator, spokesperson, logistics, fundraising, partnerships and team coordinator (to name a few).
Bank on existing skills, develop new ones. People on your team will have a variety of skills and experiences. Before assigning roles, take the time to meet with each team member over coffee or beer and learn about their lives and what brought them to this work. You’ll be surprised (and they may be too!) by how many skills they can bring to your team. If you have specific skills that might be useful for your team, take the time to coach one or more people to fill those roles so that they can develop new skills, and you can grow your team’s effectiveness.
Be explicit. We’re nice people. We care about the planet and each other, and often, we don’t want to seem “bossy” in meetings or as part of our organizing. Now is the time to get over that fear. To be an effective leader, you must be very clear about what you expect from others. More often than not, we don’t have high expectations of our team-members, because we don’t know if they’re committed, and we compensate by not asking a lot from our team members, or asking in a mushy, unclear way. Instead, the best way to respect peoples’ time and skills is to talk with them, figure out how much they can accomplish, and ask that they complete a task or responsibility by a specific date. Be respectful, courteous, and always openly accept feedback, but make sure to be explicit about your expectations.
Listen. This is perhaps the most important management skill. Practice active listening. Get to know your team members and find out what they bring to the table, and what their hopes and dreams are. If your team members and volunteers are feeling stressed, find out why by holding a meeting or talking with each person one-on-one. If you find yourself talking a lot, take a step back and let others participate–encourage those who don’t speak to step up and offer their thoughts.
Generate trust. Corporations are built on money. Movements are built on trust, which bonds us together much more strongly than money every could. Trust your co-organizers and team members to have the right intentions and do good work. If you start from a place of trust, people will feel comfortable joining and committing to your team.
Foster creativity. Encourage your team to take the time necessary to brainstorm any ideas, no matter how crazy they may be. Even as you stay focused on key campaigns and goals, creative thinking can help you and your team stay engaged and develop new and exciting ways to tackle challenges.
Manage, don’t micromanage. As leaders, we often think we’re experts at everything. But let’s think about that for a minute: if I’m an expert organizer, wouldn’t we have won national climate legislation years ago? Wouldn’t my community be 100% clean energy right now? As managers and organizers, our focus should be on sharing skills we do have, and learning skills from others. Try to delegate responsibilities or roles instead of delegating tasks. For example, ask a team member to take on the responsibility of designing, printing and posting flyers around town, rather than describing exactly how you want the posters to look, which print shop to use and where exactly to post the flyers. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress, and at the same time give opportunities for your team members to be creative and develop new skills.
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” – Bertolt Brecht
Why art? Art is about communication. We use art to explain, both to ourselves and to others, what is happening on our planet. Art can change the way a person or a whole society thinks about something. Both art and creativity have the power to reach people in new and exciting ways. We are often bombarded with facts, rhetoric, campaign slogans and data — yet sometimes this important information alone does not motivate people towards social change. We need to try something new. Let’s get creative.
Creativity has a long history as an integral part of every social movement. Think about the freedom songs of slaves, the powerful music that transformed the way the western world viewed itself in the 60s, or the grafitti that spread across Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian revolution – creativity is how we express our world-view, and how we share that with others. Art helps to visualize (or to put into words) a common thought held by a society.
Art as Uniter. Art has the ability to bring people and groups together. Working on a common project is a great way for people to physically work together to make something real happen. This sense of working towards a common goal can be a great tool for bringing different people and diverse groups together. When people are working with their hands on a project, they have their minds and mouths free to talk to each other in a relaxed and communal atmosphere. This is a great resource for growing your team and creating a space for people to communicate to each other about the different projects they are engaged in.
Art as Motivator. The climate crisis isn’t going away anytime soon. We need to make sure our movement continues to enjoy its work so that it can continue for the important years ahead. Being creative keeps things fresh, and most importantly, fun! Art and creativity are great ways to keep people motivated. Organizing a group to make art for a project, campaign or event is also a great way to pull new people into your projects and to bring in new creative energy.
Art is lasting. One more great thing about creating art is that it is long-lasting. A mural painted on a wall, for instance, can last years and be seen by thousands and thousands of people- just by being where it is. A song can spread far and wide, and powerful images get picked up by others and used in other actions and even other continents.
Art is inviting. If people see a beautiful image as part of an event or on a poster advertising the event, they are more inclined to be curious and ask what is happening and to want to participate. By making actions visually inviting, it is sending a message to people that this movement is something exciting–something that they want to be a part of. In the words of Toni Cade Bambara, activist writer and teacher, “The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.”
Art and Organizing
We have already talked about what art and creativity can do in a general sense, now let’s look at a few specific ways in which using creativity can help you in organizing an event or in bringing together a community.
OUTREACH (before an event). One major way in which creativity can play an important role is in outreach before an event. Creative projects have the ability to generate a buzz around themselves, so making something even a little abnormal might help to get people talking about your event before it happens. Consider doing a creative stunt the week before the main action to get some press before the upcoming event. Invite the press. Getting some exciting pre-event photos into a local paper is a great way to get the word out!
Grow your team. A creative project can be used to grow your team and bring in new people. Asking people to help paint signs or organize a concert, might be a way to engage people for the first time in organizing. This is also a way to integrate new people quickly into a team, as it gives people time to casually talk, listen, reflect and laugh while building trust and community. By working constructively on a project, its easy for people to feel like they have created something tangible, and to leave with a sense of accomplishment.
Get Creative, Get Press
Photo – If your aim is to get into the newspaper, think about what “photo opportunity” you can create to ensure that press gets a great image or organize a specific moment during the action that can visually capture the essence of the whole action. By creating a strong visual, you also have much more control over how your event gets represented in the press. Making a visually exciting image improves your chances of getting covered, and colorful images look great online!
Video – Video can be one of your strongest and most important tools. Always assign a specific person to document (both with video and photographs) any action, and identify someone who will take responsibility for editing the clips. The quicker you can get a video out after an action, the more impact it will have. Nowadays, its common that many, many more people see a video of an action than the action itself, so it is worthwhile to think about the video as an important part of the project.
Sound – If you’re aiming to get on the radio, think about how to make your event sound dynamic. Making drums out of buckets, asking people to bring pots and pans, or making marrachas by putting small rocks, rice or beans inside soda cans will make a great background sound for a radio interview and will help to amplify the number of people there.
Basic Tools for Creative Change
As creative communicators, there are endless tools at our disposal to create art that can amplify our message. Here are a list of some of the most common (at least in our team’s experience) tools used by people to communicate for social change. Note: All of these tools can be made using recycled or repurposed materials – especially cardboard.
Banners – Perhaps the simplest way of communicating. This is basically just writing your message very large so it is easy for people to see, both in press photos and on the ground. Think carefully about what message you put on your banner, keep it simple and understandable. For many people, this is all they will see. While you want to make sure this is clear and easy to read, don’t be afraid to make it creative – that will help it to stand out (People see banners all the time – make yours pop out). The more beautiful it is, the more likely it is to get photographed and the more depth and context it can give to the words written on the banner. (Tip: Don’t put dates on your banner so you can use it again and again).
Stencils – Stencils are a great way to reproduce an image multiple times. This technique can be used for groups to make their own t-shirts, to make flags, or to paint directly on walls. you can find some pre-made stencils at 350.org/350-stencils
Songs/chants – Never underestimate the power of a good song or chant – they can last for years and spread quickly. Make up your own and see where it goes! Create new words to a traditional or popular song. This is also a fun project to work on while you are doing something else in a group, such as traveling somewhere, or anything physical that allows your body to work while you sing and talk.
Puppets/Masks – Masks and puppets can be easily made to communicate in an entertaining way. Puppets can interact with each other as theater or can stand alone and still communicate clearly (imagine a puppet local politician holding a bag of money). Puppets look great in photos, (and politicians hate seeing themselves depicted at protests).
The purpose of this exercise is to imagine real world examples where different forms of creative messaging and communication might benefit our movement and specific projects you plan to work on.
|Total Time: 30 minutes|
|1. Gather in your team. Timekeeper begins keeping time.||5 min|
|2. Answer: what real-world creative approaches can you imagine for projects you’ll work on or for the climate movement more generally? Brainstorm. Open discussion.||12 min|
|3. Select 1 or 2 ideas the group is most excited about and decide what the next steps are to make the idea real — who will organize the efforts, what materials are needed, how will you access materials, etc?||10 min|
|4. Select ideas to report back to the rest of the group||3 min|
Write (or sketch) your artistic ideas here:
- Banner Making Guide: http://www.350.org/banners
- Franke James’s “6 Tools for Climate Change Art:” http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?page_id=6012
- eARTh guide: http://earth.350.org/get-involved/make-your-own-art/
- Artivist Guide (coming soon!)