Marshall Ganz On Social Change Movements
--Preeta Bansal
4 minute read
May 23, 2015


Beautiful Bill Moyers interview of Marshall Ganz, who worked closely with Cesar Chavez and deeply studied movement building:

Few tidbits that stood out ...
"Anatomy of a movement: story, strategy, structure."

Movements are distinguished from interest groups – movements have narratives (tell stories because they are not just about rearranging economics and politics; they also rearrange meaning). They are not just about redistributing the goods – they are about figuring out what is good. They have this cultural piece of work, along with the economic and political. Requires risk-taking, uncertainty, and going against odds. Requires hope. Where do you go for hopefulness, courage? Go to moral resources found within narratives, identity work, all faith/cultural traditions.

"Narrative stories matter -- to the heart; so also does strategy and structure. But narrative provides the motivation."  "Understanding is not associated with abstraction; it’s the particular that’s the portal onto the transcendent. Through the particular, I’m able to communicate emotional content of the value that is moving me."

"12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides said that hope is belief in plausibility of the possible, as opposed to the necessity of the probable. To be a realist is to recognize that the world is not a domain in which the probable always happens. Goliath is more likely to win; but sometimes David does. Inevitable is not a necessity; it is a probability."

"Organizing is not about charity, but justice is working with other people in a way that respected and enhanced their agency and my own at the same time. Paul Tillich in Love, Power and Justice said that 'Power without love can never be just; but similarly love that doesn’t take power seriously can never achieve justice.'"

"When you tell a public story, it becomes three stories -- story of self, story of us, and story of now. Story of self is using narrative to communicate why I've been called (the story of me).  Then there's a story of us that uses narrative to create a sense of the values we share as a community. And the story of now challenges opposing values that require prompt action."

"You have to polarize to mobilize and depolarize to settle. But without polarizing you're never going to mobilize anything. And then there's a time to negotiate."

"Occupy movement had to deal with Tyranny of Structurelessness."

"The story of the free market has been the triumphant story in American culture. Has moral as well as political and economic dimension."

"Polyani argued that if you have a good where price captures values, you can marketize it. Otherwise, not. Open market system after WWI wiped out all sorts of social structures that cleared the way for rise of fascism – open market system was allowed to be a solvent that ground everything down, because it doesn’t respect values beyond price values – it doesn’t value anything that can’t be priced (education, health, art – pricing them undermines their value). That’s why we need churches, schools – value based not on pricing, but on a different set of understanding. Resources they generate not depend on pricing. When we price them we undermine their value."

"Confusion between marketing and movement building is big issue. Environmental groups really, really missed the boat on this. They thought that they could market their way to legislation."

"Three questions proposed by 1st century Jerusalem scholar, Rabbi Hillel – when asked “how do we understand what we are to do in the world,” he responded with 3 questions – ask yourself: (1) If I am not for myself, who will be for me (not a selfish question, but a self-regarding question – what are you about, what you value, what you have to contribute); (2) if I am for myself alone, what am I? To even be a who and not a what, is to recognize that we are in the world in relationship with others, and that our capacity to realize our own objectives is inextricably connected with the capacity of others to realize theirs; (3) if not now, when? The time for action is always now, because it’s often only through action that we can learn what we need to learn in order to be able to act effectively in ways that we intend.

"The fact that they [Hillel's answers] are questions is also important, because it suggests that this work of organizing/leadership is not about knowing; it’s about learning. It’s about asking, and it’s about understanding that it’s about dealing with the uncertain, about probing the unknown. It’s not about control. It’s about learning through purposeful experience. How to be that kind of a learner, and teacher."



Posted by Preeta Bansal on May 23, 2015

2 Past Reflections