Back when George W Bush Jr. was ‘elected’ in the United States, I was cutting my teeth in one of my first jobs as labour while volunteering in movements to fight the ‘Patriot Act’ and fight against the Iraq War.   I had been an activist for a while but it was during this time that I met some amazing mentors whose wisdom guides me to this day.  Here is some of what they taught me, as a toolkit for volunteer organizers followed by tools for ‘professional organizers’–people who are trying to create coalitions and often paid to organize.

  1. Focus your energy.   The changes made by Conservative administrations come fast and furious.  Some days feels like an outrage a minute. It is so easy to just keep posting and sharing the outrage we catch on social media and thinking we have taken action.  However, it is more effective to focus in on something that really matters to you and buld on the ground around that.  For me, in the early years of the the Bush Adminstration, the issues that mattered were civil liberties (fighting the Patriot Act) and stopping the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Decide what matters to you under provincial jurisdiction?  Is it healthcare, education, working conditions? Pick a focus.
  2. Bring together a diverse group of people.  As activists we preach to the converted and bring out the same old people.  We may care about an issue, but we do not have lived experience of the issue and we do not have specifics.  To convince others we need stories about people, about particular schools, hospitals, nursing homes, people so focus on bringing out people who are working or impacted by the field you care about and new people.  Learn and get stories of people because this will help you with media outreach and with other outreach tools.  You will get more interest with a few stories than with all the overwhelming statistics in the world. No matter who they voted for, people often do not want to see cuts to their local services, so bring activists together with people who are working in the field.
  3. Listen instead of ‘educating’:  Avoid starting your organizing with a panel, because it is passive and often disempowering. Start with listening, and prioritizing what people want to learn about and build.  Then organize a panel about issues that people want to learn about.  Help people build their own solutions, instead of giving them solutions. If you want to help people who are juggling more and one job and multiple responsibilities, respect their time. 
  4. Map local politicians and MPPs: Politicians respond to pressure.  If there is a strong blowback about local cuts from enough people in the community, local municipal councilors and others may push back against the Conservative politicians on local issues. 
  5. Develop a plan with a diversity of tactics to reach your goal:  What are the different things you can do beyond protests to demand action.  You may know that certain politicians will not listen, but people need to realize that themselves.  Talk to allies who have been working on these issues and see if there are ways you can work together.  Talk to political staff who often know about technicalities, local and provincial intricacies and other tools which can be leveraged to build actions.  

Three things moderators organizers can bring to the meeting:

  1. Technical knowledge: Build knowledge of what policies are under provincial purview and process by which the laws can be changed.  Alternatively bring in others who can inform the discussion.
  2. Invite new participants and experts: Map who is active on your issue and who is influential and invite them to bring their expertise on issues identified by the group.
  3. Manage accountability:  Assign tasks to people who are willing to take them on, and work with them to make sure their tasks are done before the next meeting.  Do not take everything on yourself—ensure that others feel ownership and are working too.   One great way to bring people together is to organize around food–like asking people to bring potluck dishes.

Maya Bhullar

Maya Bhullar has over 15 years of professional experience in such diverse areas as migration, labour, urban planning and community mobilization. She has a particular interest in grassroots engagement,...