Stewart Acuff

Jan 14

Organizing to Create Social Change

We’ve talked a lot in this space about the abomination of income and wealth inequality, the shrinking of the middle class, and the loss of opportunity for the poor.

There are two recent, even immediate, examples of very successful progressive social movements – the great turnout for Barack Obama and the backlash against voter suppression; the remarkable success of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered community in winning rights, especially recently the right to marry.

Today, I’d like to talk about the elements of movement and the organizing efforts that have and can create the environment for the growing of a social movement. Later I’d like for us to discuss the policies that if enacted could really reduce inequality.

Nobody really totally understands the moment when determined organizing grows into a social movement. But we can identify some of the prerequisites and elements of movement. I will identify some I know and ask you to respond with some you know. It would be great to have a give-and-take or interactive cyber conversation. I often look to the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s when I think of movement.

Some elements of movement and organizing that can help create social movements:
– A broad and deep constituency for change. This is the primary reason for the necessity of determined and skilled organizing. We have to build a large constituency of people who are deeply committed to a more fair and just America.

– Passion. We must have an emotional, visceral commitment to reducing inequality. It has to hit us in our hearts and guts, not just our intellect.

– Creativity. We must allow room for people and organizations to be creative in their demand for change. Organizers must be allowed to challenge their local constituents to press for change that fits that constituency.

– Putting faces on the issue. We have to put forward real life examples of the victims of inequality. We also must put forward examples of those who’ve grown rich because they were willing to impoverish others, for instance, AIG who is suing the federal government at the same time they are running ads thanking America for their bailout or Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate whose income has risen dramatically since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

– Spontaneity. People must have the freedom to move on their own, picking local targets and actions, such as the LGBT community acting against Cracker Barrel after they fired a woman because she was an out lesbian, or unions and civil rights groups doing mass education and action on voter suppression.

– Civil Disobedience. People must feel comfortable practicing Ghandian and Kingian nonviolent nonviolence such as sit-ins, pickets,etc.

Please respond or reply with your ideas for the elements of movement via the contact page on this website by CLICKING HERE.

Dr. King Day is the perfect time to raise loudly the issue of inequality. Dr. King was directly involved throughout his life in fighting against poverty. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while he was in Memphis helping to lead a sanitation workers strike. Please let me know if I can help with a Dr. King event in your community.


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Stewart Acuff is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work.

Playing Bigger Than You Are - A Life in OrganizingGet the e-book edition of Playing Bigger Than You Are by clicking here!

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