Tag Archives: grassroots organizing

It’s just an invitation

My colleague, Jake Lowen, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, said something the other day, when we were talking with a group of nonprofit advocates, that has stuck with me since.

The conversation was about what trips people up, when it comes to including grassroots strategies in their organizations’ advocacy. What barriers do organizations, particularly those that provide direct services (and, so, have built-in constituencies), face in building and activating their grassroots power?

There was a sort of shuffling around, really, as people identified some of the likely suspects: difficulty figuring out exactly how to ‘slice’ their issues so that people are motivated to get involved, figuring out the appropriate asks and how to move folks along a continuum of participation, constructing campaigns with authentic opportunities for leadership…

Then someone asked about the first step, how you get started, to “do grassroots”.

And that’s when Jake sort of turned this on its head.

He said that maybe that’s part of our problem, that we build this up in our heads like it’s some sort of totally separate ‘program’ that we do, that requires a whole new way of thinking, and working, and relating…

When, really, it’s just inviting others into your work.

It’s never doing alone what someone could do with you, and never doing yourself what someone else could do instead.

It’s remembering that how we pull things off matters, and that, when in doubt, we should always choose the path that engages people the most and draws in the most new allies.

It’s not rocket science.

It’s not even necessarily a campaign.

It’s asking people to join you, to be part of something with you, because you believe that they bring value and that there is beauty in walking together.

It’s just an invitation.

But it can make all the difference.

Action triggers: how to set them, and how to use them

I’m not, in general, a big fan of “triggers”. As in, no “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” automatic tax reductions when revenues go up. No automatic cuts if the supercommittee can’t reach an agreement.

I don’t even let my online exams grade themselves.

I think that there are activities–including most of self-governance–that still require human consideration.

But we know that automatic works, right? People save more if their savings are deducted automatically. We pay bills on time if a computer does it for us. I use alarms to remind me when my kids need to be where, and what to get at the grocery store, and even when it’s my mom’s birthday.

The less of a ‘lift’ some activity is, the more likely we’ll do it. You know, the whole ‘set your exercise clothes out the night before’?

Except, seriously? Doesn’t everyone just stumble over them in desperate search for their kids’ waffles and, please, a little caffeine?

There’s a part in Switch about how setting action triggers makes change more likely, though, that really appeals to me as an advocate. This is the idea that getting people to imagine how they’ll take action increases the likelihood that they will, and it makes a lot of sense. Now that I’m familiar with the concept, I see it all over; just the other day, the home visitor who comes to visit with the baby and me had me write out how and when and where I could put these ‘new skills’ (maintaining your baby’s interest in a toy) to use, in very specific detail.

So, what about it, advocates and organizers? What if we helped people not just to practice how they, hypothetically, would call an elected official, for example, but also when they’d do it, and from which phone? What if we got people to think of 5 specific people that they are going to see within the next week, and to plan out exactly when and how they could approach those people to recruit them for a campaign? What if, instead of spending most of our energy convincing people that they should take action (and then begging them to please do it) (and then following up to remind them to do it), we instead invested considerable attention in helping them lay the mental groundwork to do it, in the belief that that’s a big part of the journey?

That way, when we’re, for example, sitting down to our computer right after putting the kids to bed, something reminds us that that is, indeed, when we said that we’d call 5 of our kids’ classmates’ parents to talk about the new proposed school finance formula, so it’s more likely to happen then if we only vaguely said that, yeah, we’ll try to get to that when we can.

Hypothetically, of course.

When and how do you use action triggers? How does going through the motions mentally help you to actualize in reality? How can you weave this concept into your organizing, and into your own personal advocacy?

And, then, when and how and where, specifically, are you going to try this out?