2006: Building our organizing chops

By John Byrne Barry

Celebrating 55 years!
2018 is our 55th anniversary. Throughout the year, in the Sierran and on our website, we’ll be looking back at some of the events, issues, victories and struggles that shaped New Mexico and El Paso.

As we celebrate a series of people-powered victories in late 2017, effective organizing is key. The Rio Grande Chapter has grown from 8,000 members before the 2016 election to more than 10,000. Let’s keep moving. Flashback from 2006:

At a recent Leadership Development Project workshop, facilitator Marshall Ganz recalled Cesar Chávez’s oft-cited “secret” to effective organizing: “First I talk to one person, and then another and then another.” One participant offered how we do it today: “First I send one e-mail, then another and then another.” Everyone laughed.

Does that laughter tell us anything about our organizing strategies today? That’s one of the topics covered in recent workshops in California, New Mexico and Washington. About 120 Sierra Club leaders from the Cascade, Florida, Loma Prieta, and Rio Grande chapters are taking part in the project, which focuses on developing relationships, using storytelling to engage new members, and motivating people to take action.

“We put relationship-building to use right away,” says Ilse Bleck, group chair of the Rio Grande Chapter’s Pajarito Group. “I’ve had three one-on-one meetings so far, two with new members, and I already recruited one new excom member.”

Lisa Barbosa from the Loma Prieta Peak Climbing Section says, “I’ve learned more in a day and a half than I have in the past year.”

“We can learn from failures as well as successes,” says Ganz, an organizer in the United Farm Workers union under Chávez,. “It’s like learning to ride a bike—falling off is how you learn to keep your balance.”

He suggests looking at successes and failures side by side. Why did one project succeed, another fail? “Oh, this success had a written plan and committed volunteers. The failure had neither. Oh, that tells us something.”

“We put relationship-building to use right away,” says Ilse Bleck, group chair of the Rio Grande Chapter’s Pajarito Group. “I’ve had three one-on-one meetings so far, two with new members, and I already recruited one new excom member.” Lisa Barbosa from the Loma Prieta Peak said, “I’ve learned more in a day and a half than I have in the past year.”

Ganz was a leading organizer in the United Farm Workers union under Chávez and the lead researcher of the Club’s National Purpose/Local Action study.

Featured photo: Acclaimed organizer Marshal Ganz held trainings for the Rio Grande Chapter and four other chapters in 2006. Ganz said the Sierra Club project turned into the framework for organizing the Obama campaign. 

 

2006: Building our organizing chops
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