We believe that effective social change work relies more on organising and mobilising communities now than it has for decades.
Community organising for social and political change presents challenges that some established advocacy groups are ill-equipped to tackle. Many of the Australian social change organisations that were established during the 1960s and 70s successfully lobbied for new laws, services and programs through ‘insider’ tactics built on close relations with powerholders. This approach is unlikely to maintain the level of impact that was achieved in previous decades through professionalised lobbying. A lot of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ has been picked. Solid research, strategic relationships and a sharp suit provide little sway with politicians beholden to multinational corporations and whose party policies are based on economic and political expediency. The social and environmental justice agenda is not being as actively taken up now as in the ’60s and ’70s. Social movements need to adapt and to build power by returning to the communities from which they were born, and to invigorate direct and participatory forms of democracy.
Social movements are sites of learning and change. Community action reflects rapid change and innovation, such as the incredible uptake of information technologies including the Internet as a mechanism for participatory democracy, dissent and protest. To adopt new tactics and tools, though, requires support and resources, including training, research and facilitation.
Since 2000, tCA’s team have provided training and facilitation programs and resources to hundreds of community groups working for social and environmental justice and thousands of individuals. Through this work, we have observed that training can contribute to the capacity and effectiveness of social movements, especially when it is based on an intimate knowledge of contemporary social activism. With this project, we aim to research successful mobilisation strategies and develop practical resources and training curriculum that can build, mobilise, sustain and strengthen movements. We will draw on action research projects such as Sam La Rocca’s honours thesis ‘Making a Difference: factors that influence participation in grassroots environmental activism in Australia’. Sam’s study articulates the need for sustained and increased active participation in community action and highlights the challenge faced by many activists and organisations of attracting and sustaining committed and effective people. The study drew on the experiences and insights of hundreds of experienced Australian community organisers to detail a range of factors that foster and impede grassroots action, and present strategies for groups seeking to mobilise and sustain activism.
In addition to attracting and sustaining activists, we believe that social movements need support to develop more effective networks and alliances inside and across movements. Some of the most important work on coalition building taps into principles of community organising.