Tips and Tools #14: Building an Organization: Where Does the Organizing Committee Meet?

From Columbus Free Press

The devil is in the details. This is especially true in organizing!

One question that I’m asked over and over when discussing how to construct an organizing drive and building the organizing committee is surprising, but important. Where should the committee meet?  The answer is always: at one of the committee member’s house.

Certainly, when planning for the first big meeting or launch meeting for the organization, the local community center, if there is one, or a local religious institution, if it is not divisive, or union hall, if you are lucky enough to still have unions where you are organizing, or some public facility, are all in your sight line and on your list, but none of these work for the initial organizing committee meetings. Part of the process of embedding the organization in the members’ hands as well as embedding the members into the organization is creating the reality of our claim of local ownership and control. None of that is possible in any institutional setting, no matter how friendly or centrally located. The committee members are neighbors or co-workers, side by side, and nothing says, “community,” like meeting in another member’s home.

Is this an easy ask? No, it isn’t.

Everyone will demure when asked. They have children. The house isn’t big enough. The house isn’t clean enough. There are dogs or cats. There aren’t enough chairs. The organizer must press through these objections, either arguing that they don’t matter, because they really don’t, or solving the issue directly, like bringing in more chairs if necessary. The value in creating trust, understanding, and comradery between committee members, trumps all reservations. None of this is possible in a more public space that is outside of the control or comfort zone of committee members.

At the end of the discussion, the host is going to be proud that the organization began in their home. Other members of the committee are going to be asked and will agree to hold the meeting in their homes as well, but it has to start in someone’s home to establish that pattern.

Besides taking another step towards full ownership and control of the fledgling organization, being in someone’s home has other advantages in organization building as well. Everyone will be on their best behavior in a home setting. The potential for conflict will be measurably reduced on any topic that might rise from taking assignments in the organizing drive or arguing about the issues for the first campaign.

This is also true for workplace organizing. No matter how many times the local McDonalds or the backroom of a bar is suggested, having the meeting in one of the worker’s homes gives you much better prospects of success. Paranoia that is part and parcel of public spaces in worker organizing is reduced when the meeting is privately organized in one of the organizing committee member’s homes as well.

Certainly, it is not easy to make this happen, but it is worth it, if your objective is building a strong local organization. Try it. You’ll like the results!