No 157 Posted by fw, April 20, 2011
In the preceding post, Marshall Ganz: On where and how the powerless can get power, Ganz related how the blacks of Montgomery, Alabama transformed their bus fares into a source of power. Ganz was addressing an audience of budding young activists attending the New Organizing Institute’s Boot Camp 2009: He left them with five teachings to ponder:
- Most inequality is a function of power inequality;
- In situations of power inequality, a community organizer must help the powerless to figure out who the winners are, who the losers are, and what it would take to change things;
- People who have power won’t willingly give it up;
- Power can only be earned, it can’t be given; and
- To get power, the powerless must identify the resources they have that can be transformed into power.
In this post, Ganz talks about the crucial importance of personal storytelling in building effective, cohesive activist teams. A transcript follows the 4:07-minute video.
TRANSCRIPT: Marshall Ganz: Values vs. Strategy
People are rooted in their values and interests, not their issues
People allowing themselves to be defined by issues is completely, as they say at Harvard, “ass backwards”. I mean it is the tail wagging the dog. See, because human beings are more complex than an issue. Human beings are grounded in their values, they’re grounded in their interests. And issues are strategic choices. Issues are something you choose to focus on because it’s useful given the foundation of values and interests that you’re operating within.
Issues can be divisive, values unifying
What I experienced in the Obama campaign was people liberated from their issue silos. Where, like, bird people could actually work with fish people. You know what I’m talking about. People discovering across these differences — Well wait a second. You know, ecology really matters.Hope matters. Democracy matters. And so the foundation was a broad foundation rooted in values from which it could be focused more specifically. And that the way of doing that is through narrative.
Deep-seated personal values emotionally move us to act
Just a couple of points. Because values – and that word is thrown around so much (inaudible) all the time – I’m not talking about abstract concepts. I’m talking about the emotional commitments that actually move us. Okay. The things that we really care about. The things that really move us to – it’s like St Augustine once said: “It’s one thing to know the good, another to love it.” I’m talking about the sources of loving the good, the things that make us the people that we are. That’s what I mean. And see, the energy, the moral energy to try new things, to risk, to venture into uncertainty is rooted there. It’s rooted in our core values, in our sense of hopefulness, in our sense of belovedness, or whatever it is that moves us.
The way to a person’s values is through her narratives
And so, if you’re going to move people to act and try something new, it’s got to be values-rooted. And the way in there is through narrative because narrative is about how people make choices when they’re confronted with not knowing what to do. That’s what all stories are about. They’re all about the same thing. They’re all about a protagonist confronted with a challenge – What do I do? There’s an outcome. We all pay attention because uncertainty is a part of our lives all the time. And we’re trying to learn how to deal with making choices under conditions of uncertainty. How do we access hope over fear? How do we access solidarity over alienation? How do we access a sense of self-worth over self-doubt? We’ve got the stories for that.
Storytelling gets you to “real”, to the place where you care enough to show up, speak up, act up
So the power of narrative is the power of becoming an agent and actor, whether an individual or a community. And so that – this whole domain of values is about storytelling. It’s not telling stories as a little example. It’s bringing people into the reality of telling a new story. And everyone part of that campaign was part of a new story. And when people came to Camp Obama we trained them in how not to tell Barack’s story, but their own story. Because all of us in our lives have faced obstacles, overcome them, found — experienced pain in the world or else we wouldn’t be here trying to change it — or else experienced the hopefulness, or else we also wouldn’t be here trying to change it.
And so we can all teach from our experience. And shifting the conversation to that place, that gets you “real”, and that gets you where people want to volunteer.
- Why Stories Matter: The Art and Craft of Social Change by Marshall Ganz, Sojourners Magazine, (March 2009).
- Marshall Ganz speaks at Sojourners Pentecost (video, 2008)
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