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Going Public: An Organizer's Guide to…
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Going Public: An Organizer's Guide to Citizen Action

by Michael Gecan

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Gecan has a lot of good advice for people who want to affect their communities: make your meetings well organized, start on time, end on time. Publicly recognize people who do good work, but don't let them rest--remind them that you'll be checking up on their next project. Have face-to-face, intimate meetings; really get to know the people you're working with. Don't be afraid to de-construct organizations/committees once they've served their purpose. Before meeting politicians or the media, rehearse what you'll say and how you'll act.
Gecan shares some incredible anecdotes about his work as a professional organizer. For them, I would give this book 5 stars. But when he's not recounting old tales, he writes in a slick, unlikable marketing-ese. Also, I couldn't get too emotional about some of his victories, because they were all based on religious organizations. All the rallies, the political meetings, the post-demonstration celebrations involved prayer. Gecan has written a highly readable book about creating political change, but on a purely personal note, I'm a bit skeeved by some of it. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Michael Gecan, a longtime community organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation, shares in this book a practical philosophy of organizing through a series of concrete stories. On an initial reading, the book seemed painfully disjointed; once I started summarizing the point of each chapter in a phrase, the structure made a lot more sense (part of the problem is that several of the chapter titles are significantly misleading). At any rate, in case it's helpful, here's my synopsis:
Why organize? = Gecan's background; intro = advocacy is about power; (relating:) 1. the heart of organizing is relationships; 2. be realistic but not a pushover; (action:) 3. don't be put off by the 'activist' stereotype; 4. build recognition (respect, credibility, not image) first; 5. things get done because of power, not merit; 6. the jury is out on whether these techniques can work at the national level; 7. once you have a relationship, you have to maintain it, but also use it, which can involve taking risks; (organization:) 8. don't institutionalize action, that kills it; 9. good organizations take a lot of work to build, and a lot of ongoing work to keep fresh and effective; (reflection:) 10. organizing = cultural work, or civil society; 11. thoughts on different challenges our society faces; 12. now go organize. Much of this is right, and the stories are helpful and illuminating - though they don't always offer the message Gecan says they do, and it's important for a reader to constantly ask both, 'how would another observer who was there have explained that story?' and 'in retrospect, did Gecan's approach work?'

One of the best pieces of advice, it seemed to me, was largely implicit, although made explicit very briefly in the middle of the book: in dealing with majority decisionmakers, powers, or the media, "leave race, class, and faith out of it" [69], and make concrete rather than abstract demands of the target decisionmaker. He's not saying race, class, or faith are irrelevant - he clearly sees that they lie at the heart of many social injustices - but he's focused on how to actually win change. Some passages in the book kick liberals while they're down, disparaging social welfare programs; in the context of the book as a whole, this feels more like rhetoric intended to free Gecan from the prison of perceived partisanship. Finally, Gecan is an adopted New Yorker, and the book was originally published in 2002 - written at least in part just weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks - and the intense grief and commitment stirred by that event shows up throughout the book in references that now feel forced or out of place. That quibble aside, the book is a fast, interesting read that is likely to stimulate advocates while perhaps falling flat with readers who haven't previously encountered strategic advocacy or community organizing. ( )
  bezoar44 | Dec 1, 2013 |
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