This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the Economic Emergency Kit, titled Getting Started: Building relationships through conversation. If you like this, you can download a PDF of the entire kit here.
Having organizing conversations isn’t about convincing people to agree with you, it is about talking with them, intentionally. Many new organizers get very excited about an issue and then make the mistake of spending entire conversations telling other people why they should care about the issue. You have probably been on the receiving end of a conversation like this at some point. Even if you care about the issue to some degree, you aren’t likely to re-prioritize your life, or schedule, to take action based on this type of conversation. A more effective approach is to listen to other people talk about what they care about, and then relate that to your shared concerns.
Even if you make all your best arguments, even if you give people all the facts and information you can pull together, most people will not be moved to take on a fight. It isn’t the facts that most people are missing. People know there is a problem, and they know how it affects them, but they may define it and explain it differently based on their own experience. It is important that they connect to the problem based on their own experience. We connect with other people best when we understand their experiences.
People most often make decisions based on self-interest and emotion. To move people into action you must first understand what they care about, and then you can link them up with others who share that interest to take action as a group. You learn about what people care about and build relationships through conversations in which they talk about their concerns.
Organizing is about having conversations, listening to other people, and understanding where they are coming from, what concerns they have, and what motivates them. The most important building block of all organizing is conversations with other people. This may sound obvious, but building relationships through intentional conversations is the step that many people miss. These organizing conversations will help you identify the problem (or problems) you want to solve. They are also a part of ongoing organizing work. Conversations help deepen relationships, clarify what other people think, and connect people with shared concerns. If you don’t have organizing conversations, relationships start to fall apart and organizing stops.
[Link to EEK here]