At the Werkstatt, we do our best to blur the line between trainers and participants. That is, while we offer tools, a space, and a learning environment to help organizers rethink thorny questions and provide quality capacity building training, our trainers also want to learn from them.
This is why we aim to keep up relationships with the organizations and individuals we work with in order to find out which tools they took from the Werkstatt and applied in their terrain of struggle in order to see whether they worked or not. In this way, we develop a living curriculum that we continuously update according to the results of application and praxis.
In order to help organizers meet their goals to build transformative movements, we’ve constructed three modules around three essential themes.
Building Power from Below
This module outlines the theoretical approach of the Werkstatt. Our methods are based on a three-pronged approach towards building power from below.
That is, we consider that there’s more to social movements beyond protest and to understand this we have to think about how society systematically reproduces itself. People are strongest when they organize themselves to refuse the systemic functions they reproduce that keep the society in operation. Power from below stems from the ability to generate life-worlds that run on a logic of solidarity and common plenty rather than competition and scarcity. And to protect and expand these life-worlds, its essential to be able to wield systemic refusals against predatory, extractive, and oppressive logics.
Our methodology therefore promotes an approach to building power centered around structure-based organizing. The reproduction of our society, and our lives, depends on systems of structures – schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, workplaces, institutions – that are meant to meet our needs. In a times of austerity, these institutions increasingly fail to meet the needs of the very people they claim to serve. By organizing the people that work at and depend on these structures, we can re-wire structural functions and be able to refuse their systemic function, all while building the yet-to-be-created institutions of a radical democracy at the same time.
In this module, we cover the nitty-gritty of what it takes to build campaigns that build the power, capacity, and resources of everyday people.
Drawing on a number of methods from different contexts, this module walks participants through the process of building campaigns according to their base and the structures that effect them. We ask movement-builders to map their primary social base of concern, to locate the structures that define the everyday life and social position of this base, and consider an array of methods of engagement. From here, we walk organizers through ways to identify the key issues of their base through co-research and the development of mutual care, solidarity, and trust, and how to turn this into smart and transformative campaign demands.
Integral to our approach is a form of knowledge production based on co-research that centers the experiences of those directly affected by exploitative and/or oppressive structures. Drawing on the Italian worker movement, second-wave feminism, and the work of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton, participants learn what it means to create a popular knowledge from below that is able to expose oppressive mechanisms in a society and its structures and uncover desires of collective joy. In exposing these mechanisms, a new knowledge is developed through dialogical inquiry and forms the basis of issue identification and demand development.
Lastly, the module presents tactics and maneuvers necessary to create leverage and force. This includes courses on ways to best use the media to your movement’s advantage, as well as courses that provide a toolbox of possible actions that help build the pressure we need to pull the levers of change. Actions and situations will be presented in a way that promote an “ecological awareness” our movement environment. We promote a way of understanding movement building not as a zero-sum game, but as a matter of cooperation between actors that together build relative strength that expands the field of possibility.
Organization Building and Movement Ecologies
Building a healthy, functional, and clearly structured organization is no easy task. Organizers are always confronted by the task of creating out of thin air an organization capable of bringing in new members, building their capacities and resources, promoting a respectful and engaging communicative culture, and finding their place in the broader environment they operate in.
This module serves to help people rethink organizations and their construction from an alternative perspective: an ecological one. Rather than think of a movement as a collection of organizations and individuals, we consider the ways in which movements occur in ecologies of relations that bring together different forms of action, organizational forms, and individuals. We consider movements as open and evolving networks composed themselves of several networks. Thinking organizations and movements ecologically will help organizers consider what needs to be done according to existing local relations, rather than some idealized organizational form.
We emphasize the necessity to reconsider the question of leadership in movements and organizations. Rather than perceiving leadership as the occupation of a position in a hierarchy, we promote an understanding that considers leadership as an always occurring process that produces a push or a pull in a certain direction. Whether one’s organization has a formal hierarchy or not, leadership still happens.
This is why this module stresses the necessity of organizations to develop the leadership capacities of all its membership. Rather than ignoring the question of difference and assuming everyone has the same capacities and resources, organizers consider the different ways in which social reproduction provides some people some capacities and resources, and others not (almost always in racialized and gendered ways). By understanding this, organizers are then urged to consider the ways in which organizations can foster the skills and capacities of all its membership so more people can participate more fully and new points of leadership can develop.
Essential to this is an understanding of the ways oppressive structures contribute to making oppressive people. We live in societies built around racism and patriarchy and the existence of these oppressive patterns of social structuring are essential to the ways society reproduces itself. By thinking organization ecologically, we understand that this requires a plurality of organizational responses. Not only do we need to build organizations that foster safe places for targets of this social patterning, we also need bigger organizations and institutions to re-wire the way they function in order to build a culture of collectivity and solidarity across difference. Small collectives organized around particular social viewpoints and mass organizations require different practices and tempos, but both are essential to the development of the broader ecology. We provide organizers with productive ways not only to think about racism or patriarchy and how they structure society, but how these systems will in turn necessarily structure our organizations and how we can attempt to overcome these patterings.