In her introduction to “How Organizations Develop Activists,” Hahrie Han argues that “what really differentiates the highly active associations is the way they transform their members’ motivations and capacities for involvement.” Her book articulates the fundamental responsibility of organizers to provide experiences that transform activists’ perspective and ultimately gives them a sense that they have the power to create change in the world.
As a college student at Indiana University, this moment occurred for me when I was working to convince the university’s foundation not to sell land it owned to a company that sought to burn toxic waste near an elementary school. I realized that by working with like-minded people on a well-orchestrated effort that I could influence decision-makers. Over time, this feeling inspired me to choose a career in environmental organizing that led to my current role as the National Program Director of Sierra Club. Continue reading
The first campaign I was involved in was Jubilee 2000.
I remember the record breaking petition, the sense of excitement as the latest newsletter would come through my parents letterbox with an update on our progress, and the delight when we heard we had succeeded in getting the G8 (the meeting of the worlds most powerful governments) to cancel the unpayable debt of developing countries.
It took the Jubilee 2000 campaign over 2 years to collect the 22 million signatures that formed the record-breaking petition we handed in.
Anyone who collected those signatures will talk of the hours spent collecting petitions at the back of churches, at street stalls and in student union bars across the UK, winning the signatures one conversation at a time. Continue reading
When I met this week with Sarah*, my first potential graduate student advisee as a new faculty member at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, I was thrilled for this particular student that she would be able to learn from Professor Hahrie Han’s recently published book How Organizations Develop Activists. As I began to describe the book to this student – a master’s student who is interested in communication and political advocacy – it became clear to me that Han’s book makes valuable contributions for at least five distinct groups of people that I’ll simplistically describe as students, activists, scholars, policy experts and decision-makers. In this post I first summarize key aspects of the book that allow it to speak meaningfully to such diverse audiences, and then I consider some of the book’s concrete contributions to these different groups of readers. Continue reading
Extensive research supports the proposition that community service is important and should be encouraged among our nation’s young people. It teaches compassion and understanding, building stronger communities. It gives young people a sense of purpose and cultivates adult citizens who are more engaged in their communities and in politics, strengthening our democracy. In his speech earlier this month promoting the idea of two years of free community college, President Barack Obama called attention to existing programs in Tennessee and Chicago that require their students to do community service, and throughout his presidency has expanded programs to encourage service by all young people. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this quotation from Dr. King makes its annual appearance: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” Continue reading
Hahrie Han’s How Organizations Develop Activists represents an important contribution to scholarship on social movements and advocacy organizations. All too often, in my view, studies elide the distinction between thicker forms of engagement that build and enhance relations among participants (“organizing”) and forms that mainly involve getting people to take action regardless of whether those relations have been cultivated in a meaningful way (“mobilizing”). Yet, understanding this distinction has serious consequences for a variety of features of advocacy campaigns. It impacts the extent to which interests are established through participation rather than necessarily prior to action, whether activists feel that their personal efforts are being recognized and acknowledged by others active in the cause, as well as more pragmatic issues about maximizing the potential that activists can most effectively marshal their collective energy and effort into the larger enterprise. Continue reading
It is both humbling and exciting to read so many responses to How Organizations Develop Activists, and to develop perspective on the ways it is being understood, interpreted, and put to use in the world. When I was finishing graduate school and deciding whether to stay in academia, one of my mentors encouraged me by describing academia as a good “perch” from which to do work that dialogues with both scholarly thinking and practical politics. Although I have strived throughout my career to stay on this perch, it is rare (and gratifying) to have the opportunity to gain such insight into the ways my work fulfills that promise, and the places where questions remain. Continue reading