Building wide support

FOR GROUPS READY TO ENGAGE MORE OF YOUR COMMUNITY   – 

How to grow your support. Also known as organizing. 

How do you go from a few folks gathered in a living room to hundreds of people packing city hall chambers, staging creative actions, and moving elected leaders to pass SAFE laws?

There is a lot to be said--whole books, in-depth trainings, institutes, etc.--about good organizing, but there are a few fundamental things that will help make your SAFE group and your SAFE effort successful if you keep coming back to them. If you’ve led or been part of work in your community before, you may find yourself nodding your head as you read these. If you are working with Stand.earth on SAFE policies, we’re going to be checking in with you about these fundamentals. A lot. They are:

1. Relationships in the group are very important. People get involved in community groups like SAFE groups because they think the group is doing needed work AND because of the way working in the group makes them feel. Everyone should feel welcomed, that they have a seat at the table, that the skills and perspectives they offer are valued, and that they are appreciated as people beyond the work on SAFE. Even when things are busy and the group is under pressure.

Tips to build good relationships and help people feel welcomed at meetings:

  • Make sure everyone has a role so that they feel involved and know what they’re responsible for making happen.
  • At meetings, make sure everyone has a chance to speak.
  • Make meetings fun. Allow for humor and for people to be their whole selves.
  • At the same time, keep the meeting moving. Show that everyone’s time is valued.
  • Bring food.
  • Make your group welcoming to parents: make gatherings kid-friendly where possible, and make childcare available at meetings when focus is important.
  • Talk about recent accomplishments and take the time to give people credit and thank them.
  • Takes notes at meetings and share them around afterwards so that people who can’t come to every gathering are still in the loop.

2. Relationships between your group and other community groups and leaders are also very important, and require the same respect, valuing, and appreciation of people as relationships within your SAFE group. 

3. It’s critical that the group represents the diversity of your community and the people most affected by the issues. 

Tips for bringing people with diverse lived experiences into your work:

  • Identify the interests and people missing from your effort, think about who in your group should reach out to them, and make a plan to reach out to people and groups as true partners with their own perspectives and goals (see points 1 and 2!).
  • There are lots of ways to bring people into a group. The tools, resources, and trainings for SAFE groups that Stand.earth offers can help you reach, grow, and engage your supporters. More on those tools here. But especially when you are reaching out to people missing from your effort, the best first step is usually picking up the phone and requesting an in person meeting to talk about the possibility of working together.
  • Acknowledge and make space to discuss that not everyone faces the same daily impacts from oil, gas, and coal in your community. There are strong inequities in the amount of pollution and the risk of accidents that different neighborhoods and communities face.
  • Acknowledge and make space to discuss that not everyone in your community will feel the same effects of the move away from oil, gas, and coal.

4. Successful groups give new people the opportunity to grow into leadership roles.

Tips for making space for leadership:

  • Take turns planning meetings, actions, and other gatherings.
  • Find out what each person in the group is good at, and find ways for them to bring their skills and strengths to the role. For example, one person might be a policy expert and be great at speaking up at council meetings, while someone else might have art skills and create wonderful materials to share in your community.

5. Successful groups allow people to step back when they need to and step up when they can. 

A friend once shared what she called the Parable of the Choir: A choir can sing a beautiful note impossibly long because singers can individually drop out to breathe as necessary and the note goes on. Social justice activism should be like that, she said. That's stuck with me.

This analogy is attributed to firecat.