Hundreds of people gathered yesterday, Monday 8th of Jan, at the Landmark Hotel to attend a talk titled “People Power in Struggling Democracies: Leadership, Organizing, and Action” in which Ahel Association for Community Organizing hosted Professor Marshall Ganz of Harvard University. The event was attended by organizers from different campaigns for social change in Jordan, in addition to representatives of civil society organizations as well as representatives from the health, education and tourism sectors.
In his talk, Professor Ganz focused on the successes achieved, and challenges faced, by grassroots campaigns that are working towards social changes especially in the light of a growing attack on democracy across the globe.
(Nisreen Haj Ahmed, Director of Ahel, Monday, 8th of Jan, Landmark Hotel)
Nisreen Haj Ahmed, Director of Ahel, started the session by shedding light on the practical application of the community organizing methodology in the region. The methodology was documented and developed by Professor Ganz whilst studying at Harvard. Ahel’s main area of focus is coaching, training and mentoring campaigns and initiatives that seek to create social change. Over the past five years, the association has supported 16 campaigns and have adjusted the methodology to better suit the context of the Arab region. Ahel Association is a non-profit organization with a purpose to build people power and organize their resources towards achieving justice, freedom and dignity.
Following this introduction, the lecture delivered by Professor Ganz addressed the core practices of leadership, where collective action, team work, and belief in one’s power to make an impact lie at its essence. In defining leadership, Professor Ganz said that “the ongoing cycle of learning and praxis is one of the manifestations of leadership. Leadership, at its core, is a practice, not a theory”. Additionally, Ganz delved into the importance of public narrative in creating strategic change noting that “storytelling is the language of the heart. It safeguards leaders in moments of hesitation and fuels their energy in the face of uncertainty”.
Najah Al Natour, core team member in “Stand with the Teachers” campaign, said: “The most important takeaway from this lecture is while the road towards change is full of challenges, what we face as activists working on labour rights for teachers working in the private sector, akin to other struggles, requires patience, courage, and modesty to become better fighters as well as uncompromising hope that victory is our only destination”.
( Professor Marshall, Harvard University, Monday 8th of Jan, Landmark Hotel)
Professor Ganz shared his own experience in organizing with the Civil Rights Movement in the US that was led by Martin Luther King in the 1960s, adding further insight from his involvement in the Mexican Farmers Movement in resisting the stark violations against their labour rights in the 1980s.
An open mic discussion and Q&A session followed the talk. In answering a question raised regarding the difficult nature of creating tangible change, Professor Ganz said that “every target resists change until it materializes” and further added that “organizers need to cultivate not only a safe space but also a courageous environment for dialogue and expression in order to grow as organizers and to learn, and to achieve this we need relationships to be built on the basis of responsibility and accountability”.
It was noted by Fatima Al Zabin, a participant from Jerusalem Cultural Forum, that “our staff found the lecture very inspiring, and particularly informative in relation to the importance of measuring impact and keeping track of one’s achievements as a means to continuity and longevity”.
Another question raised by one of the leaders in the “Stand with the Teachers” campaign concerned possible tactics that can be utilised, in the presence of a real threat to face dismissal, to expand the number of teachers involved in the leadership teams of the campaign rather than who are mobilised or called on to participation in a specific action. In response, Ganz emphasized that change is indeed a challenging endeavour and not everyone is capable of investing and dedicating their time and energy to resolve their problems and that is why we need to invest in finding leaders whose response is always “absolutely” rather than “maybe”, adding further in his answer that “each and every organizer should be certain that their contribution in organizing their constituency is critical in creating the change they seek even that was through a tactic or an event that may appear trivial for others “.
In listening to testimonies from organizers who utilised the community organizing methodology in their campaigns, Sahar Al Aloul, a founding member of Sadaqa campaign, affirmed that “the community organizing framework that we studied with Professor Marshall Ganz and applied with the support of Ahel Association, helped us popularize the demand for institutional kindergartens and mainstream the implementation of the relevant article in the Labour law. Organizationally, the framework enabled us to build and expand our leadership teams and mobilize our support base more effectively”.