When I started grad school in the fall of 2003, I was already a veteran civic activist. I had joined the Sierra Club leadership at age 16, and the organization had become my second family. The Sierra Club taught me how to lead, how to set goals, how to communicate, and how to strategize. My years as a graduate student were also spent as a Sierran – first as the organization’s Vice President for Training, and later as a member of its Board of Directors.
Being a young scholar and an old activist created some jarring moments. My activist community asked different questions, resting on different assumptions, than the academic community I was working to join. I found myself searching for bridging texts – research that applied the empirical rigor of academia to questions that fit the lived experiences of organizers. Continue reading
Hahrie Han’s book “How Organizations Develop Activists” couldn’t have come soon enough for people who identify as organizers. As she says, “organizing is hard” and it’s easily misunderstood. This book provides vocabulary and distinctions that haven’t been articulated with as much clarity or empirical support as they are here. It is certain to impact the world of practitioners in at least three important ways. First, training curricula for organizers should start incorporating Han’s distinction between mobilizing and organizing, leading to better trainings for activists. Second, many organizations should increase their budget allocation for the organizing department and supporting tools. Finally, more attention should be paid to developing (and better formalizing) the “conscious reflection” practices that Han shows are central to organizing. Continue reading
Among organizations interested in building power and influence, there tend to be two models of activism: a model which sees relationships with individuals as a means to a final end of success, and a true leadership model, which builds power by engaging and empowering supporters as ends within themselves. In her book, “How Organizations Develop Activists,” Professor Hahrie Han explains exactly how the latter model yields success by engaging and empowering individuals. By comparing successful, high-engagement chapters and unsuccessful, low-engagement chapters at two anonymous organizations, she explains that successful, people-oriented organizations opt for their model and become successful because it has become rooted in the culture and narrative of their institutions. Continue reading
Hahrie Han’s How Organizations Develop Activists opens with a straightforward question: “Why are some civic associations better than others at ‘getting’ – and keeping – people involved in activism?” Through a brilliantly conceived research design incorporating both observational and experimental data, Han methodically dismantles a series of false distinctions surrounding the choices contemporary activists organizations must make in their efforts to get people involved.
According to Han’s work, highly active civic associations do not choose between transactional mobilizing or transformational organizing strategies. Rather, the associations most successful at getting – and keeping – an active volunteer base blend the two models. Continue reading
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