When injustice happens it’s important to act. To speak up. To resist. To be visible and bold in demanding basic dignity and respect for all people. To counter dominant narratives and to show that an alternative vision exists.
Yet equally important for building the kind of enduring, broad-based movement needed for systemic social change is taking time to learn and reflect. Study and analysis – of our movement and communities’ histories, the politics of the present moment, the root causes of the problems we are trying to address, and the impact of our work – can help make our action more strategic, our organizing more effective, and our movement better equipped for the long-haul. Alongside all of ROP’s organizing and actions on hot-button social issues is the ongoing analysis and reflection that grounds the work while also keeping it nimble and responsive to the changing times.
Questions for reflection
The Political Analysis & Education Collection (related interview excerpts, documents, tools and essays).
Education for what?
Movement-building requires political education that does more than equip people with information and facts about single issues. ROP serves up a political education plate that underscores the interconnections between issues and supports a systemic analysis of injustice. Our intent is to develop members’ critical consciousness and the critical thinking skills that will allow them to analyze any issue from a values-based framework, and through a race, class and gender lens. Ultimately, we hope our efforts catalyze action.
ROP’s approach to political education and analysis is largely organic, responsive, and often informal in nature. While ROP employs and has experimented with many formats for doing political education and building shared analysis, two strategies, in particular, have endured over our history: the “Living Room Conversation” and “Informally Formal Discussions.”
Living Room Conversations
The Living Room Conversation is a highly adaptable format for doing political education. Often hosted in a local leader’s actual living room with a group of between 10-20 people, it consists of 3 basic parts:
- A 15-minute overview to establish a shared context for the focus issue or crisis;
- An hour of facilitated conversation that allows participants to reflect on how they see the issue playing out in their own community and lives; and
- A closing period to discuss next steps and move towards action.
A cornerstone of the Living Room Conversation (as with all of ROP’s education work) is that it seeks to “meet people where they are at.” Many ROP members have never had the chance to attend a training on dismantling racism or be immersed in the “politically correct” spaces occupied by many paid organizers. We work hard to create a space that allows for asking questions, making mistakes and working through prejudice and bias. We encourage meaningful and genuine dialogue, without predetermined conclusions.
Meeting people where they are at also means recognizing that local leaders already bring a lot of expertise and knowledge into the room, especially about the reality of their own rural and small towns. The Living Room Conversation aims to draw out that knowledge and help contextualize it in a broader political, social and historical context.
“Informally Formal” Discussions
ROP has observed that some of the greatest transformations and significant learning happen during conversations with local leaders after a meeting is over, in a car on the way to an action, or over a shared meal. These “informally formal discussions” are an important complement to more formal methods of political education. As organizers, we can be strategic about how we engage and use these moments as opportunities for political education. When we visit a community, we make sure to schedule down time with local leaders. Conversations with a local host over a cup of tea following a group meeting or with carpool buddies on the way to an event a few counties over become prime time for digesting complicated issues. Such discussions, often interweaving the personal and the political, also help build trust. An approach to political education rooted in long-term relationships and a culture of trust can facilitate the honesty and candor necessary for deeper, transformational learning, especially around tough wedge issues.
A few more takeaways:
- Keep it intimate and conversational. Whether it’s in a one-on-one with a local leader, a Living Room Conversation, an email exchange, or a one-pager, we try to avoid political jargon and draw on real-life examples from rural Oregon that speak directly to our base
- Make every encounter and exchange an opportunity for political education. Like our “informally formal discussions,” ROP views action alerts, legislative platforms and even fundraising asks as opportunities to share frameworks for analysis of new information and issues from a progressive, values-based stance with a small-town angle.
- Connect education to action. At ROP we don’t do political education for education’s sake. We do it because we think it will lead to the kinds of behaviors and collective action that will transform society. We try to make sure that all of our political education efforts include some discussion of next steps, of concrete actions people and groups can take to have a political impact. ROP campaigns often emerge out of community discussions on front-page issues. We also realize that some of the best learning happens through action. So we try to blend together campaign actions with space for reflection and political analysis.
Questions for Reflection:
- What is your story of becoming politically active? How did you develop critical consciousness around race, class and gender? What experiences facilitated your own political development
- Who is the target audience for your political education program? How do your members relate to the issues being discussed? How does your educational process take this into account?
- What are the political education goals of your group or organization? What do you want participants to know, understand or be able and motivated to do through your political education program or initiative?
- How does your political education work help people connect their values to political issues?
- How do you engage participants’ own expertise and knowledge in the process of political education and analysis?
- How might you strategically use “informal” interactions with members as opportunities for political education and analysis?
- These kinds of conversations require skilled facilitators with keen interpersonal instincts. What support is available for organizers to practice and improve the facilitation or other skills they need to support your members’ political education and analysis?
- What fears might your members bring into a space for political education and analysis? What can you do to help create an environment that supports participants in overcoming those fears to allow real learning to take place?