How Organizations Develop Activists: The Challenges and Potential of Combining Organizing and Mobilizing

Series Introduction by Lina Stepick (guest editor)

For Mobilizing Ideas’ February essay dialogue, members of the Scholars Strategy Network Civic Engagement Working Group join leaders of prominent movement organizations to comment on the contributions of Hahrie Han’s book How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations & Leadership in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2014) and to discuss contemporary challenges and opportunities for combining mobilizing and organizing.

The contributors address the book’s central question of how organizations can successfully blend transactional mobilizing with transformational organizing to build civic participation in the face of resource constraints and environmental challenges.

The contributors who work as organizing leaders note how directly applicable Han’s analysis and accessible writing is to their work, providing an explicit framework for the implicit theory that often drives movement strategy. They discuss how Han’s analysis should drive funding for organizing training, leadership development, and conscious reflection. Several contributors point out that her work is particularly timely given contemporary tensions inherent in incorporating online organizing and mobilizing tools into field and community organizing strategies.

The essays grapple with the big questions for movement organizations and social movement scholarship including: What are the implications for American democracy and civil society of lower-cost member engagement through solely mobilizing those already most likely to engage? What encourages organizations to engage in transformational organizing? If strategy is path dependent under what circumstances can organizations change their practices, cultures, and structures? How can these strategies transform campaigns into broader, deeper, and longer-lasting movements?

Many thanks to our distinguished contributors for their insightful essays, which reflect a wide range of scholarly and practical expertise:

Vanessa Rule, Mothers Out Front (essay)
Joy Cushman, PICO National Network (essay)
Noah Glusenkamp, Empower Engine (essay)
David Karpf, George Washington University (essay)
Will Conway, NationBuilder (essay)
Laura Meadows, Indiana University Bloomington (essay)
Sarah Hodgdon, Sierra Club (essay)
Tom Baker, Bond (essay)
Jenny Oser, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel (essay)
Melissa Michelson, Menlo College (essay)
Edward Walker, University of California, Los Angeles (essay)
A response to this series of reviews from the author, Hahrie Han, Wellesley College (essay)

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, How Organizations Develop Activists

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