Mobilizing as a mindset
Growing up, I remember all the old people (i.e. the adults) worked hard. My mom taught fourth grade at my elementary school, where she often served as the on-site teacher union rep. My dad, a social worker and a leader with his trade union AFSCME, deployed many of his free hours late into the evening and on weekends supporting colleagues trying to build their case in disputes with their employer. I learned early on that putting up a respectful fight for what you believe is noble.
I also learned early on that more can be done when working in concert with others than when striking out alone – the proverbial “it takes a village.” For my parents, this meant relying on Uncle Sydney, Granny, our neighbor Rita, and many others to take care of my siblings and me when they were at work, either at their primary careers or secondary jobs; my mom had a paper route for some time, in addition to working at our school. And, because there wasn’t much extra household income for exotic trips abroad or travel far from home, Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jud, and Aunt Nancy and Uncle Rich, gave me and my siblings a window into respite and a chance to vacation away at their acreage in rural Washington State.
Our neighbor Rita often took care of my younger brother, Winston, and me. October 1990.
This was the mindset that raised me – a powerful combination of believing hard work is necessary to achieve results, and that collaboration with others, based on a common set of values and often driven out of necessity, enables success. This also happens to be the mobilizing mindset of many professional organizers. And, I quickly learned working my first job out of college as a campaign organizer for then Senator Barack Obama’s first presidential bid, that mobilizing goes beyond simply being a mindset to being a real-world toolset.
Some of our organizing team in Pennsylvania for the 2008 Obama Campaign. April 2008.
Mobilizing as a method to GSD (Get Sh*t Done)
Mobilizing others to achieve greatness has a rich history in the United States and many parts of the entire world. Whether it be miners demanding better working conditions, women demanding the right to vote, migrant laborers demanding fair pay, or African-Americans demanding equal treatment under the law, all of these movements involved coordinated groups of individuals who took it upon themselves to articulate a better tomorrow and move others to action with that shared vision in mind, despite the uncertainty that their hopes and dreams may not ever materialize.
Marshall Ganz of Harvard University is one of the preeminent scholars and community organizers of our time, and his framework for what effective mobilizing entails is central to how we’re building Landed. I got the chance to work with Marshall, and his apprentices Joy Cushman and Jeremy Bird, in the early days of the Obama Campaign for President. His theoretical frameworks helped us design a people-first, national effort to elect the first African-American president.
My team and I deployed many mobilization tactics to build support for the former President, one of which was one-to-one conversations at barber shops and beauty salons. April 2008.
What I took away from my work with Marshall and other incredible campaign organizers during the Obama years was that to effectively get a bunch of different people, with various lived experiences and perspectives, to achieve something great together, you must:
Have a story to share. To get people to want to work with you, and with one another, you’ve got to first open up. Sharing your honest views of the world, and the experiences that helped shaped those views, more often than not unveils common values from which true collaboration is possible.
Find others who will commit to a shared outcome. Going at it alone doesn’t get you nearly as far as working with an army of people who want to achieve the same thing you do. But getting this commitment takes intentional effort and time. One-to-one conversations, group meetings, and working-parties in comfortable settings are a few tactics to help build this shared commitment.
Build a structure so people know their role. Being clear about how each person contributes to what needs to be done and relates to one another is the foundation for any great team. A great team will achieve it’s objective effectively and efficiently.
Act on a strategy and contribute to making it better. Previous to working on the Obama campaign with Marshall, I had thought strategy was something you write down on a piece of paper and lay to rest. Instead, I learned to think of strategy as a verb. It’s something you do. If what you’re doing isn’t working to get the results you want, then engage the team (or structure) you’re a part of to change up what actions are being taken to get you closer to your goals. A great vision with a bad strategy isn’t worth much.
Be sure what you do results in real-world, measurable outcomes – and celebrate wins! There is no point to building relational trust with others around a common vision, forming a team, and taking action without achieving the results you want. And you won’t know if you’re getting closer to your goal without being able to measure your progress. Plus, tracing progress gives you the chance to celebrate little wins along the way, a good way to stay motivated to keep acting.
How have these lessons translated to our work at Landed?
In order to help educators access homeownership and build wealth in expensive places, we’re finding success bringing very different people together (community investors and homebuying educators), with different interests, around a shared goal. In consultation with homebuyers, investors, bankers, real estate agents and policy experts, we’ve devised a structure for all these actors to work together efficiently and effectively, all the while collecting feedback to improve the best way to scale our impact. With every win – another educator in a home – we pause for a proverbial high-five...and then get right back to work.
For those who want to bring something like Landed to their own community, think about how this mindset and these methods of mobilizing could help. Of course, we’re always down to help think it through, so just reach out!