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Perspectives on Successful Organizing - 350 Bay Area

by Sadie Poulsen, middle-schooler and member of 350 Bay Area’s Mobilizing Team

Successful organizing is at the heart of what every organization, non-profit, and company wants to achieve. But what does it mean to be successful at organizing? Jack Fleck, board member of both 350 Bay Area and 350 Bay Area Action Area and treasurer, explains that successful organizing comes from knowing what actions to take, finding creative solutions, and working with others to attain them.

Collaboration and teamwork are essential to successful organizing.

According to Jack, a key part to any organization, not just a climate nonprofit, is teamwork. “We work with a large coalition on all of these things. I can’t think of anything we’ve done just by ourselves.”

It is also important to have many different types of partners. “We like to work with as many different people and alliances as possible.” Coalitions help build momentum to make sure that more people are paying attention. How does he work with these groups? Jack explains, “we have organized lots of actions like demonstrations, rallies, conferences, meetings… I think they are important because they build momentum and educate people.” These actions are what organizations use to overcome obstacles, and as Jack says, “It’s about mobilizing all the forces you can to overcome all the obstacles that need to be overcome,” such as other groups that don’t want the same goal, for example the NRA or climate denial groups.

From Jack we learn that successful organizing comes from collaboration, within teams and between organizations. To reach a higher goal, a successful leader knows to work with and build upon others with a similar goal. To attain that goal, you collaborate on lots of different types of actions together. 

A necessary component of successful organizing is enough support.

What results do these coalitions have? Jack provides an example of a successful  collaboration he worked on in Berkeley, California. The Berkeley Climate Emergency Resolution was where the city declared a climate emergency. While this was initially encouraging, it was unclear what  Berkeley was actually going to do about it. Translating the “climate emergency” into meaningful action took some thinking: “It started with a lot of brainstorming,” Jack says. The result of that brainstorming was a resolution to propose to the city council that was later passed stating that new buildings would rely on electric power. “I was pretty involved in the Climate Emergency Resolution, I worked with a couple of people drafting the wording, there is a certain form that you use when you propose a resolution to the city council,” Jack says. One factor that made it easier to get this resolution passed was that making new buildings electric was also cost-effective. Jack says that “certain things are easier to accomplish” because they are cost-effective. What is the job of a leader and organizer to get the resolution passed?  “There’s hearings, you mobilize people, you send out emails, you urge people to come and write letters, learning how to do action network which is a valuable tool…” Jack says that in a successful organization, it is all about working with like-minded Bay Area residents to gain support for the cause. You gain enough support, the more successful your resolution and organizing are likely to be.

The key to successful organizing is outside of the box ideas.

Another part of successful organizing is being innovative and thinking outside the box. Not just innovative with your strategies, but also brainstorming innovative ideas that work around the issue you are facing, to come up with new solutions and different approaches. Jack thinks about this in terms of how the racial issues in our society can relate to climate issues. He says, “One phrase that sticks in my mind is ‘what’s good for black people is good for the climate.’” For example, “All the money that goes into the police… take half of Oakland’s budget, is that really a good way to be spending all of our money?”. Another example he states on a broader U.S scale, “All the money that goes to the U.S military is another thing we want to get rid of and use for climate and social services, all the economic inequalities and racial justice, everything that needs to be addressed.” His final thoughts on this topic were, “there is so much money [to do good] in this society if we were just committed to it.” Successful organizing includes finding innovative solutions and approaches to problems that are not easily solved or visible, and is an invaluable tool in addressing looming climate change.

Jack’s work shows that successful organizing comes from several key elements. One is teamwork and the importance of creating a big audience. Another is your plan for action – how will the actions and goals get accomplished? Lastly, there are innovative ideas, which hold up and inform the others. These three simple strategies are key to successful organizing and an effective organization. These strategies are also a key to 350 Bay Area’s success.