Organising for Social Change

A brief organising handbook (in Spanish)

This book is based on my experience of more than 30 years of activism and organising in social movements, mainly in countries such as Germany (where I was born), Britain (where I lived for twelve years) and the state of Spain (where I live now). But it would be pretentious to say that everything you can find in this book was developed or"discovered" by me. Far from it. This book is an intent to use my experience to order and systematise those theories and models about organising and social movement that appear useful to me.

In June 2014 at an event in Boston I met and had a brief discussion with Rev. James Lawson, the great strategist of the US civil rights movement of the 1960s. We discussed about the peace movement in the Western world, which he considers a major failure. We talked about the nonviolent direct actions we are organising in Europe, and he asked me: "And so, you are doing witness actions, but you don't have any real impact?" His comment touched me, and I think that often we limit ourselves to these "witness actions", demonstrating our opinion, without a vision and a strategy how we could really develop our power to achieve real social change. And I am interested in this: How can we organise ourselves to achieve real and fundamental social change?

As writes Timur Kuran in his article on the "revolutionary threshold": "Where a small pressure group fails to push a bandwagon into motion a slightly better organized or slightly larger one might." And that's what I am interested in: this slighly better organised, so that we achieve distinct results, which is to say: fundamental social change.

But Organising? What is it and what for? In fact, all of us are doing much more organizing than we think. Organizing – the process of organising this, or in our case, of organising people so that they take action – this is something very basic in any social movement, and it doesn't really matter whether we are talking about some neighbourhood group, the antimilitarist movement of the movement of the indignadxs (15M) in the state of Spain.

But in fact any association - formal or informal - includes aspect of organising, and because of this almost all of us have some experience of organising.

As political concept "organizing" – or community organizing – refers to the creation of groups and organisations that fight for social change, a collective struggle against the powers that are: governments on the national, regional or local (or international) level, powerful companies from multinationals to the powerful local business.

Almost all progressive social changes in our world are the result of organizing processes, of a collective struggle through campaigns and social movements. Some examples:

  • Even though the Stonewall riots in New York - trans* people, queers, gay and trans sex workers, lesbians resisting a routine raid by the police on the gay bar "The Stonewall Inn" for three consecutive days - was spontaneous, the subsequent successes of the lgbtq movement from decriminalisation of homosexuality to same sex marriage were all the result of organizing, combining the empowerment of lgbtiq people with strategies for a collective struggle.
  • The revolutions of the Arab spring - from Tunisia to Egypt - appeared to be spontaneous. But in reality a lot of people did work for years to create a social environment that made the Arab spring possible, with quite different outcomes in the different countries of the Arab world. An important factor was as so often to overcome fear through processes of social empowerment.
  • In the state of Spain the movement of insumisión, of total objection against obligatory military service which was an important factor for the abolition of conscription, is a very valuable example of a combination of strategy and processes of social empowerment.

This shows that organizing is nothing new in the state of Spain, but nevertheless there are very few handbooks in Spanish that could serve to support new organizing processes. The interesting part of the concept of organzing is its perspective: the combination of strategies to confront the powers that are with an understanding of empowerment processes and the creation of grassroots organisations. Si Khan, an organizer from the United States (where the concept originates) writes:

“In organizing we begin to rediscover our own needs and demand that they be filled. In doing so we rediscover out strengths, our roots, our heritage. We relearn the skills of cooperation, of collective action, of working together, of supporting each other. In this knowledge and experience is the beginning of real power for people.”
“Organizing is for people with problems. It is good as a tool, a weapon, a means. But it is also an end in itself. As we organize, we reclarify ourselves as individuals because we learn to speak for ourselves in ways that make us heard.”

Organizing does not mean the organisation of the masses under the leadership of a political party and/or a charismatic leader (in their majority men), but is rather about the capacity of grassroots organisations and social movements to confront the power of the authorities or of powerful companies. Important is that the power we want to create using organizing processes is not again a power-over - a power of domination - but is a different form of power which we can conceptualise as power-within each person, everyone of us, power-with others in our groups and collective actions, and power-in-relation-to the ability to shape our own lives and the society we live in.

This brief handbook of organizing is for any person who gets involved in groups, campaigns, and social movements. Organizing is not for experts, but we all are organizers. So that we all can be more efficient organizers this small handbook provides some useful concepts and tools.

Support the development of the brief handbook of 'organizing'"

So that I can focus my energies on the work on the handbook, I need some economic support. Any amount helps, and if you want I can publish the names of those who have supported my work in the final version of the handbook.

At the moment, the handbook is work in progress, and I envision the following steps (see the content further below):
- version 0.4 (Spanish): rough draft of the concept of the organizing spiral finalised
- version 0.5 (Spanish): rough draft of the Movement Action Plan finalised
- version 0.6 (Spanish): rough draft of empowered organisations finalised
- version 0.7 (Spanish): rough draft of empowering organisations finalised
- version 0.8: rough draft of examples of successful social movements finalised
- version 0.9: rough draft of tools finalised
- version 0.10: draft of complete text
- version 1.0-beta: text revised

The plan is to get to version 1.0-beta by the end of 2015. I envision to publish the handbook as a book, as PDF, and to create a website related to it.

Thank you for your support!


1. Introduction
2. Social Movements

  • Examples of successful social movements
  • The Movement Action Plan (MAP)
  • Five causal mechanisms of social change
  • Conclusions: consequences for our activism

3. “Organizing”

  • The principles of organizing
  • Power (based on my piece in the second edition of the WRI Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns)
  • Social Empowerment
  • Conclusions: the overall strategy of organizing is social empowerment, the development of grassroots power for a fundamental social change

4. Empowering organisations: How do we organising ourselves for our activism?

5. Empowered organisations: How do we plan to make use of our power?
5.1 The seven aspects of the organising spiral

  • The participants
  • The identity of the group
  • Structure and Process
  • Problem and Solution
  • The social environment
  • Communication
  • Resources

5.2 The seven steps of organising

  • The Beginning
  • Analysis
  • Objectives
  • Strategies
  • The Planning of Actions
  • Action!
  • Evaluation

6. Tools

7. Let's get organised! (Conclusions)
8. Resources and materials

  • Resources and materials on the internet
  • Bibliography