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Organizing practice: building powerful relationships.

Editor's note: The following are excerpts from training material developed in the early 1980s by community organizer Steve Schneider. He told me that he used this process with great effectiveness within a parish that had been bitterly divided between its older "Anglo" retirees and its newer, and younger, Latino families. While they shared a common faith, there were many issues between them: competition for scarce space, with different uses, kid's noise, introduction of a Spanish language mass and others. By the end of a workshop that made use of this exercise, the walls of division were broken. In particular their stories of struggle, leaving a homeland and coming to a new place, discrimination and determination to overcome barriers against them made "The Other" a person of great dignity Organize Training Center effectively used these materials in workshops to introduce participants to one another, and let them see they could find within their own family histories people--including themselves--who acted with the kind of courage needed to participate in community and labor organizing.


The workshop leader develops a presentation based on these ideas.

1. First and foremost, organizing is about people.

The key to effective organizing lies in the ability to develop relationships and organizing skills ... that are rooted in a vision which guides you where you want to go. This exercise enables us to introduce ourselves to one another and to provide an experiential process for purposefully developing relationships in one-to-one, small group and larger group settings.

2. Meaning of roots.

As a tree needs roots to sustain itself and draw nourishment, so people need to understand and connect with the meaning within their own roots to deepen their understanding of the present.

Shared, roots enable us to see each other's depths--not just our facial features or the topic of the moment. Shared, roots enable us to deepen communication with one another, to deepen community.

Anyone whose family roots are those of the suffering and pain of leaving a homeland (or place) to survive in a new, strange land (or place) has within his/her family history a way to embark on an unfamiliar journey in order to create a better life.

Organizing and learning to organize more effectively than one is doing at present mean changing oneself--embarking on an important journey, often traveling blind, through new patterns, modes of behavior--so that something different can be created by you. It requires an openness to your own growth--to developing a new strategy.


(The workshop leader instructs people to go to a pre-assigned group of six people; one of the six will be a facilitator. The facilitators can be identified just before the workshop breaks into the pre-assigned small groups.)

Your job is to assist your small group in completing the introductions process. The following is meant to help you accomplish this assignment.

* Read the "PARTICIPANTS' INSTRUCTION SHEET" and "PARTICIPANTS' INDIVIDUAL MEETING GUIDELINE." Make sure you understand them. If you don't, ask the workshop leader to clarify whatever is not clear.

* You will be facilitating a small group of either four or six people. The group will be even numbered because it will break down into pairs; you will be a participant yourself.

* At the completion of each pair's individual meeting process, you should reconvene your group of four or six people. You will lead the last two steps on the general "INSTRUCTION SHEET." (See "Return to your small group" below.) You should do the first introduction so that people see someone doing it. Be sure to keep your introduction of your partner to three minutes. It will also be your job to keep each of the introductions to no more than three minutes.

* You may have to be the first one to applaud after an introduction is made until others in your group join in.

* At the end of all the introductions, you will ask your small group how they felt about going through such a process. You might begin by simply asking, "How did each of you feel about meeting someone you didn't know in this way?" You could probe and get deeper by asking, "Did it make you a little uneasy to ask some of these questions?" Or, "how did it feel to answer some of these questions?"

* At the end of the allotted time, return to the workshop as a whole.


This introductory small group exercise is intended to be useful. You are not required to participate. Please read this sheet and then begin.

For the first thirty minutes please do the following:

* Choose someone within your small group of six (or four) who you don't know very well (this can happen randomly or by pre-assignment to small groups).

* Sit together and spend the next 30 minutes getting to know each other; each conversation should be 15 minutes. (The amount of time could be longer; if shorter, you will lose some of the power of the exercise.)

* The conversation should include present interests, hobbies and special awards or honors, as well as birth place, family background and vocation. The "Individual Meeting Guideline" may be used to help you structure your meeting.

* Take very, very brief notes and remember you have only 15 minutes each.

Return to your small group.

* Briefly review your notes and then each person in turn should introduce, taking no more than three minutes, the person s/he interviewed as a very important person in the group. After each introduction, the other small group members should welcome the person introduced with applause. The small group facilitator begins the process.

* After everyone has been introduced, the facilitator will ask everyone to share feelings about having gone through this process.

* Then return to the workshop as a whole to evaluate the process and the questions asked, and continue with the final part of the exercise.


As you visit with your partner for 15 minutes, encourage him/her to share his/her own life story as well as those of his/her family roots. The following questions are meant to act as a guide.

* Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What is your present work, title, vocation? What special hobbies or interests do you enjoy?

* Where is your family from? Why did they immigrate to the US? If some/all of them are Native American or African-American whose forbears were slaves, where in the US did they first live? When did your family move? Where did they end up? What kind of work did they do/do they do?

* What values or beliefs do you hold as very important for yourself? (By this we mean ideals that are very important to you in living your life, raising children, dealing with neighbors and friends, dealing with co-workers--ideals that guide how you treat others and would like them to treat you.)

* When you try to live by these values and beliefs, what obstacles or difficulties do you encounter? When your children (if you have any) try to live by their ideals, what obstacles do they find?

* For those of you with immigrant backgrounds, what happened when your family arrived? Do you recall any stories of their struggles for survival? What did it mean for them to leave a homeland and embark on a difficult journey to a strange land? What meaning does that have for you today?

* For those of you with Native American or African American backgrounds, do you recall any stories of your family's struggles for survival? If your family moved, what did it mean to move from one place in the U.S. to another (examples: forced relocation for Native Americans or moving from South to North for African Americans).

* What influence did any of the following have on your family: feudalism, religious oppression, slavery, the women suffragettes, the abolition of slavery movement, the American Revolution, settling the West, World War I, the Non-Partisan League, the Populists, the labor movement, the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war and peace movement, organizing family farmers, the women's movement, the farmworkers' union movement or any other historic movement or period?
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Title Annotation:Special feature: the push-pull of immigration
Author:Schneider, Steve
Publication:Social Policy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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