I’ll be reviewing the Midwest Academy Training Manual, section by section, over the next few weeks. You know it’s going to be fun.
Notes on Defining Direct Action Organizing
We must understand people’s self interest, or I would say, more accurately, their motivations. We should never assume why people care about something, which is a critical error we make (“Well, they obviously care about this, because they’re X”). People’s motivations can come from anywhere, and it’s not always what we would assume. That’s why we have to ask, point blank, “What motivates you to do this?”
There’s only a few wrong answers to that question. The wrong reasons are easy to spot, and it’s usually when they involve taking other peoples’ power and agency.
Now, a graphic:
This is a worth revisiting.
There’s a difference between running a lawnmower over a weed and actually digging at the roots to remove it. If we’re providing a direct service, that’s helpful at a person to person, individual level, but it doesn’t change the dynamic of power. So are you just cutting the weed, or going for the root of the problem?
A lot of organizations fall somewhere between education and advocacy. They do studies, reports, research, and hire people to convey all of that good material to those in power, trying to simultaneously educate and advocate.
Direct action is defined by three elements: 1) concrete improvements in people’s lives 2) giving people a sense of their power 3) altering the relations of power.
The way I see it, items 2) and 3) that set direct action apart in the field of community organizing. Direct service, education, and advocacy can all usually deliver concrete improvements, but the latter don’t necessarily build power.
Direct action avoids shortcuts. To give people a sense of their own power, we try not to bring in lawyers, professional advocates, and government agencies to handle whatever problem it is they’re tackling. We try to ensure that it is the affected people themselves who are handling the problem. They can testify before committees. They can meet with politicians. They can speak at press conferences. This is the distinguishing element of the immigrant youth movement.