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US Social Forum panel - Transformative Organizing, June 24, 2010

Transformative Organizing Theory Workshop (US Social Forum, Detroit)

  • 5 conscious organizers speaking to a packed room of 300+
  • launching a movement-building conversation
  • discussing The 7 Components of Transformative Organizing Theory by Eric Mann
  • building anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics in working-class communities of color


Workshop Panelists

Eric Mann (Labor/Community Strategy Center) Ng’ethe Maina (Social Justice Leadership),
Steve Williams (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) Ai-jen Poo (National Domestic Workers Alliance),
Cindy Weisner (Grassroots Global Justice Patrisse Cullors (Labor/Community Strategy Center)

Voices from the Workshop

Steve Williams (POWER) on "Component #2 The transformative organizer is a conscious agent of change"

All too often, I have conversations with organizers who have these very progressive left politics independently. But then when they go in and do their organizing, they all of a sudden have this justification as to why they can't talk about socialism or ending the war or environmental justice. It's as if we begin to distrust the people that we're organizing with. To me, one of the most important points that comes out of this pamphlet is that we have a high-level of trust in the people that we're organizing, that our people actually see the possibility of a better world, and they want to make those connections.

Cindy Weisner (Grassroots Global Justice) on "Component #7 Transformative organizing requires a transformative political program"

How do you actually put out demands that don't sell out another community or basically compromise you for the long term? It's not to say that we are utopian; it's about counterhegemonic demands. Because if we win something but in the process lose a lot of our allies, then that's not a win. And how we define wins is very important to think through.

N'gethe Maina (Social Justice Leadership) on "Component #6 Transformative Organizing transforms the organizers"

As we try and transform the structures and systems around people--through all the very good fights that we're doing--the assumption is that if you change the conditions around people, then that's going to allow people to change and to begin to lead good lives. But we're not immune from the toxicity of capitalism. It is a gamble to believe that simply changing the conditions around any of us is going to remove the toxicity of oppression from inside us.

Ai-jen Poo (National Domestic Workers Alliance) on "Component #5 Transformative Organizing becomes truly transformative in the heat of battle"

When I think about transformative organizing I think about change on multiple levels. There's the change that you're trying to make in the system, the way that it works. And you're also trying to transform the movement to be more dynamic. And you're trying to transform your own organization to be stronger. And then to transform yourself, to learn, grow, be better in the world, be better at what you do. And to me the best container and vehicle for these types of transformation to happen all at once in different ways is through campaigns, through fights.

Patrisse Cullors (Labor/Community Strategy Center) on "Component #3 Transformative Organizing requires the leadership of society's most exploited, oppressed, and strategically placed classes"

I grew up as a working class, queer, Black woman, in a single-parent household. My father was in and out of prison. There was addiction, him and my brother--basically my family's life is typical of Black working class people. And that positionality in this country is supposed to devastate us. It's supposed to make us feel like we cannot do anything, debilitate us, and unfortunately, it's done that successfully to some of us. But what it means to be a transformative organizer is to bring this politic into our communities and explain to them that actually your experience is exactly what we need to fight this thing.

Watch the workshop video.

Order the 7 Components

The workshop was focused on Eric Mann's new pamphlet, "The 7 Components of Transformative Organizing Theory," which identifies seven core principles of social movement building (60 pages). 

7 Components of Transformative Organizing pamphlet

Over 900 copies sold during the week of the Social Forum. Order yours here online!

What is Transformative Organizing?

Transformative organizing is a powerful framework to ground and guide our work. Read more, in these excerpts from the booklet.

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