Community Organizing

Last week I spent three days at a Cantera workshop learning about community development and organizing. We reflected on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to community organizing in a Nicaraguan context, and we shared a lot about our personal organizing experiences. Cantera workshops are always excellently facilitated, and I particularly enjoyed this one because it gave me so many good, concrete tools that I can use in my work at the CCBN. One of the greatest strengths of Cantera workshops is the diversity present in the room. People from all over the country, from NGO’s, from political organizations, and both paid workers and volunteers with a variety of educational backgrounds and economic circumstances, come together to share their experiences and learn from one another.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the workshop for me was seeing so many of the same theoretical concepts that I had learned at Industrial Areas Foundation’s national training in 2008, but with different methodological tools. For example, IAF’s basic organizing tool is the relational meeting, sitting down with someone one-on-one and probing them about their hopes, fears, and dreams, in order to identify their self-interest. At Cantera’s workshop, we learned about the importance of self-interest and of tapping into people’s dreams, but instead of starting with a relational meeting, Cantera gave us la muñeca, or the doll, as our initial organizing tool. You being by drawing the figure of a doll on butcher paper. Placing the community’s dream at the head of the doll, the committee writes down their resources and places those at the right arm of the doll. Next they place challenges at the left arm of the doll, and their personal commitments at the heart of the doll. Finally, the group makes a list of the initial steps that need to be taken to make the dream come true and places those at the doll’s feet. This tool is very effective in terms of visually laying out where the community stands in relation to their dream. Seeing these methodological differences caused me to reflect on how context determines effective organizing strategies. In the U.S. organizing context, we are looking for a way to take a much more individualistic culture and make it about community, whereas here, the assumption is that there is already an organized structure in place in the community, and that an outsider (such as an NGO) must learn to work within that structure.

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