Let me give you a word on the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
~ FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Letter to an abolitionist associate, 1849
Some Green locals struggle to maintain momentum and a sense of purpose outside of election time. The activities listed below can work both during and outside of election seasons. It is important to engage in some activities OUTSIDE a political or issue campaign. It will not only serve as a recruitment tool – and we must always be recruiting - but also it can attract and hold members who want to build the Green Party itself, as an institution.
Educational work is important, and many Greens have been focusing on it for the past few years. However, you’ll find that if your local focuses too much on education for its own sake, you will start to lose your more action-oriented members. Try to organize your educational programs within the larger context of your local’s actions.
Study groups are a good way of looking at questions in depth, and can easily be tailored to what you are doing. They are especially good for studying other times and places where people tried to make social change. Try reading some organizing history and then asking yourselves, “How does this apply to our local situation?” These events can lay groundwork for strategic planning sessions.
Lectures / Forums
Lectures are good publicity tools, especially if you can get a well-known person to speak. Overall presentations on the Green movement by well-known authors can help educate new members, and provide a good forum for recruiting. Other times you may wish to focus your lectures on your campaigns. Panels and forums are far more labor intensive, but can bring in new people, help galvanize a community around an issue and forge connections among diverse groups.
Holding a clothing swap or day when you gather recyclable items is easy to do, is a positive activity, and brings you into contact with new and different people.
Parties and Other Social Events
Don’t underestimate the benefits of having fun together and building relationships to your group. There are also some potential members who are more reachable through a social event than a lecture or meeting. These events don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming to organize. A simple pot luck dinner or picnic, bar crawl, Karaoke night, or attending a concert, movie or lecture together is easy to do and builds team spirit. A visit from a Green from out of town (or from another country) is a good occasion for building a social event. More labor intensive, but potentially worthwhile, is organizing a tour of local businesses or local historical/political sites. This can be especially good for towns with a lot of transient residents, such as college towns.
Speaking at schools, from high school to college level, is a good recruitment tool and good experience for honing your message. You probably have some teachers in your ranks you could start with. Develop a list of speakers with their biographies, and some exciting-sounding topics each can address, and get it out to potentially interested faculty in political science, sociology, and environmental science, and student political/ environmental/social justice clubs, for starters. Faculty information is readily available online for most colleges. Some schools host school-wide civic engagement events before elections where one can table or offer speakers. You can also offer speakers to local meetups or other community groups.
The Green movement is a truly grassroots movement. Our local groups are growing from coast to coast, and reaching into every corner of this country. We’re always glad to see new interest in working for a Green future. That’s a big part of why the GPUS National Office is here: to help new groups and new individuals find each other and organize effectively for a new tomorrow.
Starting a new group is a serious commitment, one that you should think carefully about undertaking. If you’ve been an activist before, you know what it can mean: endless meetings, a perpetual drain on time and money, debates that turn into quarrels, and so forth. But it also means a sense of belonging, doing the right thing, participating in something greater than yourself, and helping to shape the tides of history. It means defeats and delays, and successes and victories. It means meeting people from all over the country, and being part of a worldwide network. Most of all, it means what you believe it can mean, and that’s the most powerful feeling of all.
So how does one start a new Green group? Start with some basic goals for your group. You should organize in a way that will:
- get things done
- be rewarding and joyful to participate in
- welcome involvement from new members
- welcome involvement from people with different levels of commitment and varying points of view
- make all people feel comfortable to speak, share ideas,
and make proposals
- respond creatively and effectively to new situations
- empower and teach people to become powerful, confident activists.
IN SHORT, a good group will be effective, fun, and participatory. It’s important at the start to acknowledge the debt this guide owes to organizers from the Midwest Academy, one of the great practical organizing institutions in this country. While drafting this guide, it was hard to overcome the temptation to simply include large chunks of Midwest’s magnum opus, Organizing for Social Change: A Manual for Activists in the 1990's. You should have this book, if you are at all serious about organizing.
To briefly outline the Midwest Academy basics: any organizing strategy must:
- Win concrete improvements in people’s lives
- Give people a sense of their own power
- Begin to alter the relations of power
Towards this end, Midwest teaches a very effective process. In this model, you
- list the purpose and long range goals of the organization
- state the goals for a particular issue
- and define a series of shorter-range steps to achieve that goal.
The problem we face as Greens with this process is the general nature of our long-term goals. We’re trying to fundamentally reconstruct society, not simply stop toxic dumping. In order to make some sense of a Green strategy, we need to think about two basic points:
- First, big social change movements are composed of many smaller groups and movements.
- At the grassroots level, the key building block (or cell, if you prefer a more organic metaphor) for movement-building is the local organizer.
Here’s one description from the University of Minnesota Campus Greens:
- has a commitment to a vision of how things might be different, and is always trying to figure out the best way to make his or her vision come about.
- is a person who organizes: campaigns, rallies, lectures, protests, study groups, ballot drives, and so on.
- is reliable and dependable; shows up on time; and follows through
- does all different kinds of work cheerfully, and is committed to learning organizing skills.
- doesn’t speak out of turn, and listens carefully to others.
- is accountable; gives reports on work done and asks for criticism on how it could be better.
- keeps in contact with other members of his or her group by phone and mail.
- studies other times and places where other organizers tried to make social change.
- Remains grounded in the community he or she is trying to organize; is constantly watching, hearing, and taking part in community life.
- is patient and persistent; doesn’t let his or her commitment turn into self-righteousness.
- speaks in a language that the people he or she is trying to reach
- realizes that social change is not made by loners or superstars, but by people working together.
- realizes that knowing all about an issue and knowing how to organize are two very different things.
- takes care of him or herself; doesn’t take on too much and get burned out. is always educating him or herself about sexism, racism,
- is always teaching other people how to become organizers.
In the final analysis, that’s what it’s all about: creating new organizers, people who have participated in the practice of changing society and have gained a new sense of their power by doing so. Repeat this process five hundred thousand times and we will have the beginning of a strong Green movement.
Some of you may have organizing experience, and know exactly why you are in the Greens. And for others, this may be your first try at political organizing, or it may have been years since you were last active.
Have you heard enough? Are you ready to start a Green local in your community?