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July 21, 2023


What is community organizing? A simple guide for your campaigns

Jono Kupferberg

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How do you make a positive impact in your community? And how do you bring change and create a better future for those around you? Community organizing, also known as community change, is the key to achieving goals like this.

In this comprehensive but simple guide, we will go into the world of community organizing, exploring its definition, purpose, and evolution over time. We will discuss different aspects of community organizing, including types and models, and how communities can effectively organize themselves. 

Let’s see how community organizing is a powerful tool for driving meaningful change and how you can become an active part of the transformation in your community.

What is community organizing?

Community organizing is a robust process that mobilizes individuals to address social, economic, and political issues. By building relationships, identifying shared concerns, and working collectively, community organizers empower the people and amplify their voices in the democratic process. 

Individuals use community organizing to join forces, address shared concerns, and work to drive social change. When community members are empowered and mobilized, they can take collective action for social, economic, and political justice. 

Formal community organizing training can enhance organizers’ effectiveness, providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge to create real and lasting change.

How do communities organize?

Communities organize by mobilizing individuals, fostering grassroots efforts, and addressing common concerns. 

Community organizing aims to empower individuals and create positive social change. It involves building relationships, mobilizing resources, and advocating for the community’s needs. The ultimate goal is to create a unified community voice, aligned on shared interests and working towards a shared goal.

While individuals are the key element of community organizing, your campaign will need the right set of tools as well. For instance, peer-to-peer and broadcast texting from HubDialer allows community organizers to reach out to more people in less time and personalize their messages.

The evolution of community organizing

Community organizing has played a vital role in social movements throughout history. From its origins in the early 20th century to present-day strategies and tactics, community organizing has evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of local communities.

One key aspect of community organizing is understanding its historical roots. It has been deeply intertwined with various social movements, such as the civil rights and labor movements in the United States. These movements utilized community organizing principles and strategies to mobilize individuals and advocate for social justice.

From the civil rights movement in the 60s to modern-day initiatives like Black Lives Matter, community organizing has proven effective in bringing about real change. Through the collective power of organizing, local communities have challenged power structures, addressed systemic issues, achieved social progress, and increased civic engagement.

In addition to its historical significance, community organizing has been dramatically influenced by technological advancements and the rise of social media. These tools have drastically changed the way organizers communicate and mobilize supporters. Through online platforms, community organizers can reach a larger audience, organize virtual events, and mobilize support for their causes.

Looking ahead, the future of community organizing holds promise for creating social change. Young people are increasingly getting involved, taking up the mantle of organizing to fight for causes like climate justice and racial equity. By leveraging collective action and managing strategies, these young organizers are driving conversations and pushing for much-needed societal transformation.

How does community organizing differ from traditional activism?

Community organizing differs from traditional activism by building long-term change through collective action. It emphasizes relationship-building, coalition-building, and grassroots organizing, while traditional activism typically refers to individuals. Often a community organizing effort is made up of many individual activists as a starting point.

What is the first step in community organizing?

The first step in community organizing is identifying the specific issue or cause you want to address within the community. This step involves conducting research, engaging with community members, and understanding the concerns and needs of the community.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of what this first step should consist of:

Issue identification

Start by identifying the social, economic, or political issue you are passionate about and want to work on within your community. The issue could be anything from affordable housing and environmental sustainability to access to healthcare or educational opportunities. The key is to focus on a subject that aligns with your values and needs attention and improvement.

Research and understanding

Once you have identified the issue, conduct thorough research to understand its root causes, impact on the community and potential solutions. This research will provide you with a solid foundation of knowledge, helping you formulate informed and effective organizing strategies later on

Engage with community members

Community members are crucial in community organizing. Attend local meetings, events, and gatherings to listen to their perspectives and concerns. Conduct surveys or hold focus groups to gather more in-depth insights. Understanding the community’s views will help ensure your organizing efforts are relevant and resonant.

Establish trust and relationships

Building relationships with community members is vital to thriving community organizing—approach community members with respect, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand their experiences. Establishing trust is essential for them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and working with you.

Clarify goals and objectives

Clearly define the goals and objectives of your community organizing efforts. Determine what specific outcomes you want to achieve and how they will benefit the community. A clear vision of your goals will guide your organizing strategies and keep your efforts focused.

What are the other steps in successful community organizing?

Once you lay out the proper foundations of your community organizing efforts, it is time to focus on the following steps:

  1. Mobilize the community through outreach, education, and engagement, mobilize community members. Hold community meetings, workshops, and events to raise awareness about the issue and gather support.
  2. Empower and educate community members by providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to take action. Offer training sessions and workshops to build leadership and organizing capabilities.
  3. Utilize diverse tactics to reach audiences differently and maximize your impact. This includes social media campaigns, door-to-door and other canvassing methods, public demonstrations, and local media engagement.
  4. Form coalitions and alliances with other community groups, organizations, and stakeholders with similar goals. Forming coalitions can amplify your collective voices and resources.
  5. Advocate and influence policymakers and decision-makers. Attend town hall meetings, write letters, and meet with elected officials to advocate for your cause.
  6. Celebrate and acknowledge progress along the way. Acknowledge the efforts of community members and organizers, and show appreciation for their contributions.
  7. Evaluate and adjust the effectiveness of your organizing efforts. Assess what is working well and what needs improvement. Be open to adjusting your strategies based on feedback and new information.
  8. Sustain and grow community organizing efforts by nurturing relationships, building capacity, and encouraging new leaders to emerge.
  9. Reflect and learn after the campaign. Identify key learnings and insights that can inform future organizing efforts.

Follow these steps and adapt them to the unique context of your community to increase the chances of successful community organizing.

What are common community organizing strategies?

While there are many strategies community organizers can use, here are the most common ones:

  • Grassroots mobilization: Engaging community members at the grassroots level to create a groundswell of support and involvement. The strategies involve door-to-door outreach, community meetings, and one-on-one conversations.
  • Coalition building: Forming alliances and partnerships with other community groups, organizations, and stakeholders who share common goals. Coalitions amplify collective voices and resources.
  • Advocacy and grassroots lobbying: Engaging in advocacy efforts to influence policymakers and decision-makers at the local, regional, or national level. This may include writing letters, attending town hall meetings, meeting with elected officials and grassroots lobbying tactics.
  • Campaigns and public awareness: Organizing campaigns to raise awareness about specific issues and mobilize support from the broader public. The campaigns can involve media outreach, social media campaigns, and public events.
  • Community meetings and forums: Organizing town hall meetings, forums, and public hearings to gather input from community members, discuss concerns, and develop action plans.
  • Training and skill building: Offering training sessions and workshops to community members to build their leadership and organizing skills, empowering them to take action.
  • Direct action: Employing nonviolent immediate action tactics such as protests, sit-ins, and marches to draw attention to an issue and apply social pressure for change.
  • Community-based research: Conduct research within the community to understand its needs, challenges, and resources. This data can inform organizing strategies and advocate for evidence-based solutions.
  • Online organizing: Leveraging the power of social media and digital platforms to engage and mobilize a wider audience, spread information, and coordinate actions.
  • Fundraising and resource mobilization: Organizing fundraising campaigns and events or campaigns to secure resources for community projects, campaigns, or initiatives.
  • Storytelling and media engagement: Sharing personal stories and narratives to humanize issues, connect with a broader audience, and engage with traditional media and alternative outlets to amplify messages.
  • Cultural and artistic expression: Utilizing art, music, and cultural events to convey messages, build community solidarity, and engage diverse audiences.
  • Policy advocacy: Engaging in research, analysis, and advocacy to influence policy decisions that impact the community’s well-being and rights.
  • Capacity building: Strengthening the capacity of community organizations by providing resources, training, and support to enhance their effectiveness.
  • Door-knocking and canvassing: Going door-to-door to engage with community members, gather support, and share information about specific campaigns or issues.
  • Community mapping: Identifying and mapping community assets, strengths, and resources to leverage them effectively in organizing efforts.
  • Youth engagement: Involving young people in organizing activities, creating opportunities for youth leadership, and addressing issues that affect them.
  • Crisis response and mutual aid: Mobilizing community members to support each other during crises or emergencies, providing mutual aid and relief.

These strategies can be adapted and combined to suit the specific needs, goals, and dynamics of different communities and organizing campaigns. Successful community organizing often involves a thoughtful and flexible approach that takes into account the unique context of each community.

Examples of notable community organizing in the US

Community organizing and organizations often focus on working with marginalized communities, amplifying their voices, and advocating for their rights. 

Grassroots campaigns, coalition-building, and advocacy efforts are some of the many forms community organizing can take. Organizations utilize various organizing strategies, such as door-to-door outreach and social media engagement, to engage and mobilize a wide range of decision-makers and community members.

Here are some of the most famous examples of community organizing in the US:

  1. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s was a prominent example of community organizing. It united individuals and organizations to advocate for racial equality, desegregation, and civil rights through peaceful protests, boycotts, and marches.
  2. The Women’s Suffrage Movement fought for women’s right to vote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Activists organized rallies, demonstrations, and campaigns to secure voting rights for women in 1920.
  3. Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a contemporary example of community organizing that addresses racial inequality and police violence against Black communities. It mobilizes activists through protests, online campaigns, and grassroots organizing.
  4. The Farm Workers’ Movement in the United States advocated for agricultural workers’ rights and better working conditions. They used strikes, boycotts, and community outreach to achieve their goals.
  5. Marriage Equality Campaigns and community organizing played a crucial role in the fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples. LGBTQ+ activists and allies organized rallies, fundraisers, and public awareness campaigns to promote equal rights.
  6. Many environmental campaigns, such as the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline or efforts to promote renewable energy, involve community organizing. Activists work together to raise awareness, lobby policymakers, and mobilize public support.
  7. Community organizing is often used to address health disparities and access to healthcare. Local groups may come together to improve healthcare facilities, promote public health initiatives, and advocate for better health policies.
  8. Tenant organizing addresses issues like affordable housing and fair treatment from landlords. Tenants may organize rent strikes, advocate for tenant protections, and create tenant unions.
  9. Education advocacy for parents, teachers, and community members often organize to advocate for quality education. They may work to improve school facilities, increase funding, or influence educational policies.
  10. Community organizing can play a crucial role in providing relief and recovery efforts after natural disasters or emergencies. Residents come together to support each other, distribute aid, and rebuild their communities.

These examples showcase the diverse range of issues and causes that community organizing can address, demonstrating its effectiveness in creating positive change at the grassroots level.

How do you become a community organizer?

Becoming a community organizer involves a combination of passion, dedication, and skill-building. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how someone can become a community organizer:

  • Identify your passion and cause by starting with the social, economic, or political issues you are passionate about and want to address within your community. Understanding your interests will help you find a cause that aligns with your values.
  • Educate yourself by learning more about the issue you want to work on. Conduct research, read articles, and seek out reputable sources to better understand the root causes and potential solutions.
  • Get involved by engaging with existing community organizations or grassroots initiatives related to your cause. Attend local meetings, workshops, and events to learn from experienced organizers and community leaders.
  • Volunteer and intern with organizations focusing on community organizing to offer your time and skills. This hands-on experience will teach you practical strategies and build valuable connections.
  • Build relationships by connecting with community members, leaders, and stakeholders. Building relationships is a crucial aspect of community organizing, as trust and rapport are essential for practical organizing efforts.
  • Attend training and workshops focusing on community organizing, leadership development, advocacy, and communication skills. These opportunities will enhance your effectiveness as an organizer.
  • Develop organizing skills by cultivating communication, active listening, conflict resolution, and public speaking skills. These are vital for engaging with community members and mobilizing support.
  • Participate in local initiatives and events that address community issues actively. Participation will help you gain firsthand experience and connect with like-minded individuals.
  • Start small by beginning organizing efforts on a small scale within your immediate community. You can host a neighborhood meeting or start a local project to address a specific concern.
  • Seek mentorship by looking for experienced mentors in community organizing. They can provide guidance, support, and valuable insights based on their experiences.
  • Build a support network by surrounding yourself with a supportive group of individuals who share your vision and goals. This network can provide encouragement and collaboration opportunities.
  • Take the initiative and don’t be afraid to lead and initiate organizing efforts. Community organizers are often self-starters who take the initiative to address issues and rally support.
  • Learn from failures and successes as community organizing can be challenging. Embrace failures as opportunities to learn and grow and celebrate successes.
  • Stay committed as sustained community organizing requires dedication and perseverance. Continue building relationships and support for your efforts.
  • Reflect and adapt regularly on your organizing approach and assess what works and needs improvement. Be open to adapting your strategies based on feedback and changing community dynamics.

Remember, community organizing is an ongoing process of learning, engaging, and collaborating with others. It requires a genuine passion for social change and a commitment to empowering communities to create a positive impact.

Can anyone start a community organizing campaign?

Yes, absolutely! Anyone can initiate a community organizing campaign. It doesn’t require any specific qualifications or background. The key is having passion, dedication, and a clear goal. Building relationships within the community and strategizing your approach are vital for success.

How can you get your campaigns involved in community organizing?

To get your campaigns involved in community organizing, start by identifying the issues your team is passionate about. Research existing organizations aligned with your interests and attend local meetings and events. Consider volunteering and how to manage it for campaigns or interning to gain experience and learn effective organizing strategies.

What is the role of a community organizer in a campaign?

The role of a community organizer in a campaign is crucial as they mobilize and engage the community. They build relationships, identify issues, set goals, and develop strategies for change. They also facilitate meetings, coordinate events, and empower community members to take action.

Closing thoughts

Community organizing is a powerful tool for creating positive change and empowering communities. It can address social issues, advocate for justice, and amplify the voices of marginalized groups.

The practice of community organizing is dynamic and evolving with a rich history and various models and approaches. If you are passionate about creating change in your community, you should get  involved. You can make a real difference with dedication, good planning, and a commitment to create a better environment. 

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