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FAQs on Community Organizing

3) What are some of the common weaknesses of an organizer


Not to be afraid of digging up mistakes and criticising them. Mistakes are the foundations of real learning from experience., In on-the-job, action-reflection training, mistakes are unavoidable. But, mistakes become failures only if we do not learn from the.

Another organizer recalls:

I used to get rattled by the questions and criticisms of the training director and others. The pressure seemed so much I started hating them. Later I realized that I learned to think clearly under pressure and wasn’t easily rattled. Then, I began to have a new respect for the training director and my fellow organizers.

In the process of learning to organize, many organizers fall into the trap of organizing strictly “by the book”. They become uneasy and apprehensive that they have not done the right thing just because the rules or principles say otherwise. There is a tendency to apply these rules and principles rigidly to all situations even though no two situations are exactly the same.

General principles always have to be modified to suit particular cases. For example, it is a maxim to “never set a meeting unless it is thoroughly prepared beforehand. But sometimes a meeting has to be called to get feedback or to get information on a particular activity. Such meetings do not need much preparation.

Again, we say, “Work out a tactic within the experience of the people”. However, it may be necessary to introduce a tactic that is not yet within the people’s experience when the situation calls for it. For example, barricades may not previously be within the people’s experience. But, it many cases such as forcible demolitions, people formed barricades for the first time, and this tactic thus, became part of their experience.

Similarly, the trainee-organizer who has had previous political education tends to stick to his previously learned theoretical principles. He refuses to modify his language or behavior to fit the situation for fear of being untrue to his principles or to himself. Such an organizer usually experiences the greatest difficulties in communicating with the people and is frequently unproductive. In one instance, an organizer with the activist background absolutely refused to go to the organizing area during the day because “the enemy might spot me”. He stayed in the office all day playing checkers. On the occasions he did go to the area by day, he wore a big slouchy hat to cover his features. Needless to say, he was not effective.

Dogmatism has no place in organizing work. Principles serve as guides for action, but it is really people and their real life situations that determine and shape the course of organizing work.


Many organizers with an academic background possess the ability to analyze situations, power structures and ultimate causes and effects in theory. But they are unable to think up concrete tactics appropriate to the situation or to disorganize existing power structures. They have the strategy but not the tactics.

Why is this so? Simply because they do not have enough raw, grassroots contact. They let their minds work without using their legs. They develop a distant general view of people but little person-to-person insight. It is true their talents for analysis and assessment are necessary to relate the people’s particular problems and progress to bigger national perspectives, but as organizers they practically impotent without grassroots contact.

Consequently, they do not have an instinctive feel of the area nor a psychological feel of the people. They have not talked or listened enough to the ordinary people. “What does the ordinary person know, feel and think? How would be react to this problem, to this situation? How far would he dare to act in this particular conflict? “They cannot tell.

An organizer comments:

The person with an intellectual background but no grassroots experience is used to discussing only the gist, the kernel, of an experience. But these abstractions existing in the mind. He cannot communicate in the rich, colorful language of the people. His words sound like empty bones with no flesh on them. Therefore, he can’t get his message across.

Experienced organizers know that in order to have good grassroots contact, the organizers must spend twelve hours a day in his area. In fact, it helps, if the organizer lives with the people he works with. Spending time in the area does not mean just hanging around in one place, maintaining contract with leaders. It means actively going around, making new contacts, developing old contacts, agitating, preparing for meetings and generally getting into the community.

In the process, the organizers becomes well acquainted with the situation. He learns to pay attention to specific details and realized that good tactics depend on the details. An organizer puts in this way.

To organize effectively, one must master details. To create successful tactics, to plan every step to choose proper timing, the organizer must know the people. How far are they ready to go? How do they reach to conflict? What psychological and logistical obstacles are there? He must know the physical environment and available resources. He must have a sure knowledge of the enemy. No small detail can be taken for granted.

One incident illustrates this:

The invasion of the NAWASA (now the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System) compound by Anak Pawis (Children of Sweat) was foiled because it started late. The people failed to arrive at the gate before the mass media did. The newsmen arrive and alerted the guards by their questions. Now, why were the people late? Because the leader was late. Why was the leader late? Because the organizer failed to perceived that the leader was reluctant to go through with the action and never really intended to lead the invitation. To make matters worse, no alternative planning was prepared. Weeks of agitation, planning, discussion, role playing went to waste


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