Note: For more information on the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)
An article about the IAF's organizer Ernesto Cortes Jr.
"We organize people not just around issues, but around their values."
When one woman asks him to explain how he "motivates" people to support a cause with actions as well as words, the storm rolls in. Cortés can scarcely conceal his impatience. "Perhaps I prejudge you unfairly," he begins, "but when I hear your question, what I think you're really saying is, 'How can I convince people to do what's good? How do I get them to do what's right? How do I get them to follow my agenda?' " He pauses, frowning. "That's not organizing. What I mean by organizing is getting you to recognize what's in your best interest. Getting you to recognize that you have a child, that you have a career and a life to lead, and that there are some things that are obstacles to the quality of your life. I need to get you to see how you can affect those things through relationships with other people. And it's only going to happen if you engage in some kind of struggle."
He pauses to let it all sink in. "We organize people not just around issues, but around their values," he says. "The issues fade, and people lose interest in them. But what they really care about remains: family, dignity, justice, and hope. We need power to protect what we value."
The confrontational style and almost accusatory tone of his remarks shock a few students. But Cortés did not become the most effective grassroots organizer in the nation by being predictable or polite. ...
But Cortés's goal is not specific reform; it is to teach the powerless to participate in public life. "We used to ask whether people were fit for democracy," he explains. "Now we realize that people become fit through democracy. There is an aspect of our humanity that only emerges when we engage those around us in a debate about our own interests. Our organizations have become mini universities for participating in public life." ...
He moved to Chicago, where he studied with Ed Chambers at the Alinsky Institute, which was founded by Saul Alinsky, the legendary radical community organizer who also founded the IAF. For years, Alinsky had agitated for better living conditions for poor people in Chicago, and he had chronicled that work in his best-selling book "Reveille for Radicals" (1946). From people like Alinsky and Chambers (who is now executive director of the IAF), Cortés learned that there are two kinds of power: organized money and organized people. ...
Community organizer Ernesto Cortés views democracy as the single most effective way to develop people -- and to get things done -- both in society and inside companies. He offers this advice on creating coalitions and on becoming a truly democratic leader.
There are no permanent enemies or permanent allies -- only permanent interests.
In politics and in business, there are situations in which the people you care about are going to be your adversaries. I am capable of working with business leaders on issues like education and long-term training, even if those leaders completely disagree with my strategies pertaining to living wages or union organizing. In order to succeed, you have to be able to have those kinds of complex relationships. You have to realize that this is not a war. It's not about destroying people. It's about negotiating settlements.
Never do for people what they can do for themselves.
Smart leaders know that what they're trying to do is develop people's capacity to act. Mentoring has got to be about getting them to understand their own interests and to develop a habit of inquiry so that they can move from being your protégés to being people who can be your mentors.
Don't lead -- develop other leaders.
What I'm trying to do is build something that is beyond anything that I can do as one person or as one leader. So the moment that I start leading an organization myself, that's my cue to walk away -- or else I'd become just another executive director. My job is to get out of the center of things. Because if I'm the one with all of the relationships, then once I go away, the organization collapses. I'm not here to serve as a charismatic leader. I'm an organizer.
The best managers understand that if everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.
from article on internet by Cheryl Dahle.