More picture thinking. Draft thing. — squiggles and dots I used to help me think.

I set out to address issues of political organization but ended up talking more about organizing in general and toward the end I get into some difficulties that I think tend to come up around leadership transition and relationships between different ‘generations’ or
cohorts of organizers. As a result it’s jumbled. There’s a bit in the middle that was the opening. It doesn’t really speak very much to the rest of it and needs to be cut mostly. I did the first bit last, also needs revision and now needs an opening. I plan to revise this stuff eventually.

I think some of this does apply to issues of doing political work. I think the basic two things that I call ‘building the network and working the network’ are what we end up doing anyway. I’m not sure that this clarifies anything though, because the main difficulties and disagreements have been about how to build and with who and why. One thing that I think is really clear, and probly obvious, is that active relationship building allows people to move agendas that come up after the earlier context
in which the relationship was built. There’s more to say here but I’ve tried several times and it’s all looked (even more) like gibberish to me so I’ll leave off for now and just copy the draft.


From Central to Decentered
1. The red dot is an organizer and the lines are relationships. The other dots are other people. Organizer initially at the center of a group of people without much connection and begins building more relationships. Over time organizer builds many more relationships to others. Organizer stays at center. If things stop here, it’s questionable if this should be called organizing at all.

2. Organizer initially at the center and begins building more relationships. Over time, the organizer facilitates people building new connections with each other, through direct assistance (“hey, you should meet this person”) and, better still, through teaching people how to better build relationships in/for organizing. This is a necessary start to any good organizing.

3. Organizer facilitates more relationship building between people and builds more relationships. Organizer is still fairly central. Over time the organizing needs to begin to develop more relationships between participants and others that do not pass through the organizer. This can happen in a few ways. In general, the organizing can operate in ways that tries to emphasize contact and cooperation with other participants and not passing everything through the organizer. The organizer can also pick one or two people to initially center the organizer’s attention on, in terms of mentorship and training, to get them to have more relationships as well as greater skill and awareness of the various elements of organizing.

Building the Network, Working the Network
We all know there are problems with lack of structure and organization. Good things happen most and best and last the longest when they’re structured and organized. At the same time, formal structures are as good as – and projects only work as well as – the informal tissues of relationships and competency that underlie and compose them. Formality can sometimes insure continuity across the end of one project and into another, but it doesn’t always. It is most likely to do so when what continues are good solid relationships between people involved.

Where things are at right now, there are multiple needs and problems and multiple advances taking place – which in turn pose new needs and problems. There is no single solution to all these needs and problems and no single manner or form which can consolidate all these advances. In my view there are two basic approaches right now in relation to the current situation – raise or shore up the ceiling, and raise or shore up the floor. That is: work with current organizers/the most advanced, and work with people to help them advance/become organizers.

This work involves a variety of goals; I’ve previously talked about this as divided up in terms of people’s grasp of logistics, tactics, strategy, goals, and vision. All of that is important but it seems to me that core component is the underlying tissue of relationships. The point ought to be to create situations in which people advance and sustain together. This involves, I think, a two part operation somewhat akin to knitting. There’s a need to develop an initial relationship.

In the diagrams below the individual organizer is the red dot. Others are the other dots. They maroon lines represent relationship that are there when the organizer begins. The first thing that has to happen is relationship building. In the second diagram the organizer builds a relationship. Then the organizer builds a second relationship, and uses those relationships to connect these two people, folding the relationships or knitting them together into something closer to a single network or common relationship or set of relationships.

There are two basic approaches here. One is to build the network, the other is to work the network. That is, people exist in networks of connection with other people, or we might say they live in webs of relationships. These webs are not evenly distributed or neat. They’re tangled and messy and have various kinds of knots and gaps in them. Building the network involves getting people to expand their web of relationships. One way to do this, especially early on, is for the organizer to build multiple relationships with people then to get those people in contact with each other. Eventually we want to push people to actively build the network and build new relationships themselves (and eventually to get them to work the network as well, more on that in a moment).That’s the start of building the network or weaving the web.

Working the network is when the organizer gets people to use their relationships to accomplish the organizing goals, which often transforms the relationships. This is represented in the next four diagrams. The organizer builds a relationship with someone then gets them to use their relationships.

In ongoing organizing of course, both of these components tend to happen at the same time, in a related and, hopefully, mutually re-inforcing manner: we build and we get people to work the network.

As the organizing progresses, the initial organizer continues to organize as well, in combination with the other people involved, building an increasingly complicated web of relationships.

The web grows more complicated. In addition to continuing to organize and cooperating with the others involved, the initial organizer also works on the others involved. The initial organizer helps others in their efforts, and helps develop the others as organizers with increasing levels of competency, clarity, and strengthening relationships. This role of the initial organizer often creates a situation early on where the organizer is particularly central and important. This is difficult to avoid and makes mistakes easy, even likely.

There is no clear and easy fix – no recipe to follow that guarantees success. these relationships of relative centrality and importance happen for reasons and make sense, we can neither pretend they don’t really exist nor simply refuse to be in relationships like this. In general all the organizer must balance both working with people where they’re at and pushing and developing people. Eventually the organizer should aim to become less central and important by sharing the skills, abilities, and relationships that make the organizer initially so key. This should proceed as fast as is sustainable, and how fast that is can’t be declared from the outset.

When the organizer succeeds in creating peers who are truly co-organizers, those co-organizers continue what they were already doing as well as taking up the roles played by the initial organizer. The web begins to grow even more complex. As the network grows and more relationships are built, and above all as more organizers are developed, growth can take place more rapidly.

The process continues. As the organizing grows more complicated it quickly becomes apparent that no single center can be involved in all components. The organizing needs to build and maintain good relationships among all involved as well as regular channels and procedures for information flow and decision-making, which includes standards for delegating decision making ability to various levels depending on the issue – one person may handle a problem with another simply as individuals; a group workers on the shop floor will handle a problem with their immediate supervisor when it happens. Larger issues require greater degrees of agreement.

By this point the initial organizer’s importance and centrality is less and is probably continuing to lessen. Subsection of the network, however, can have the same difficulties arise. New organizers build the network and work the network; the new organizers become important and relatively central for their initial contacts. The organizer and seek to share these contacts with others and build more relationships but the basic problem is the same and only be solved the same way, by careful mentorship and development. It’s key in developing organizers that organizers be made aware of these dynamics. That is, awareness of and efforts to respond to these dynamics are part of organizing and have to be learned along with the other parts of organizing.

The goal for organizers is in part to create peers, to create equals, out of real unevenness and subjective inequality. The transition to equality is difficult in many ways. Relative success poses new problems and challenges. Ss the organizing progresses and previously central and important organizers become less central and take on a different importance – that is, as people become peers, such that the implicit authority of the organizer lessens (we might say, as there is a transition from vertical to horizontal) – there can be emotional difficulties that arise. Some of the time for some people it is gratifying to be particularly important and central. Loss of centrality due to others’ development can sometimes feel to people like loss of respect.

In addition, as newer organizers become peers to earlier organizers, they may be frustrated as they begin to perceive the limitations of the earlier organizers. Differences in competency can magnify perceptions of competency and make limits harder to notice. Sometimes the limits of the earlier organizers begin to be apparent intellectually but the newer organizers are still emotionally used to seeing the earlier organizers as more competent. This can lead limits to feel surprising or to appear as faults. Earlier organizers also often have difficulty learning to accept needed criticism from newer organizers and can be surprised when their limitations are pointed out. Earlier organizers are also more likely to have greater limits if they had fewer peers as organizers. The more and the higher quality of collaborators someone has to work with on organizing – as on most activities – the more likely one is to learn quickly. Sometimes, if organizing is successful, organizing creates situations where newer organizers are able to learn and advance more quickly – the learning curve gets shorter – and the organizing creates new challenges and opportunities to learn which everyone learns from. Sometimes newer organizers end up at the leading edge of organizing skills and abilities and surpass earlier organizers.