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June 12, 2016

Building a grassroots organization? Me neither…

...but you should still read this book.

3 minute read, in Code / Marketing / Social Issues

Several weeks ago Barry and Pat came back to the office with a book. Tools for Grassroots Activists. It’s a collection of keynotes, case studies and tips edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers, with a foreword by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard.

The book was written as a counterpart to Patagonia’s Tools Conference – an event where activists learn how to apply advocacy techniques with the same success for-profit organizations, like Patagonia, have when marketing clothes to consumers. Environment-focused non-government organizations (NGOs) may not be selling clothing to folks around the world, but what they are ‘selling’ is a more positive version of the future. Doing both these things requires tools such as strategic planning, organization, communicating, and lobbying.

There are a couple reasons why I was a tad hesitant to pick the book off the office’s kitchen table…

  • At first skim-through, you can tell it’s super text-heavy. Now, I love a long read, but when I saw all the text with headings that progressed very much like an instruction manual (Step One, Step Two, Step Three…) – I was immediately brought back to thoughts of my school textbooks.
  • This book is directed toward people who are involved with environmental non-profits. I’m a developer. On a normal day, I’m not trying to lobby folks together to stop coal plant construction. When I was reading the book on the subway, you could tell from the looks on people’s faces that they were thinking something similar. They saw the word ‘activist’ and immediately thought the book wasn’t relevant to their lives.

Well, my fellow commuters, you and I are misinformed.

When they tell you to not judge a book by its cover (or super-quick-skim-through) – you might want to listen.

Re: Instruction manual
Tools is a joy to read and not at all close to the bland copy in most textbooks. The writing is both inspiring and instructive. There’s a reason why parts of the book are written like a set of instructions. These people have gone through the hard work of getting things done, and know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. It’s the difference between confidently riding off on a well-built-training-wheel-tightened bike, and careening off the sidewalk because someone thought masking tape could take the place of a bolt.

Re: I’m a developer
I’m also not only a developer. We’re all multi-faceted people. Even if I’m not stopping that coal plant from being built, it doesn’t mean that I’ll never use the concepts behind getting something like that done. Building sites also requires organization, and effective communication. It’s helpful to come to the realization that strategy and tactics are different (“A list of tactics [actions that your campaign plan to undertake] does not amount to strategy.” – Brian O’Donnell – Chapter 2).   

All this said, I’ve just made a dent in Tools. My thoughts about the book as a whole can’t be fleshed out yet (I’ll happily write another blog post). But what I can say is to pick it up with an open mind. If you’re more of an audio person, they also have some of the Tools talks on Soundcloud. You’ll be pleasantly surprised and amazed at what can be done when people get together with a solid strategy and tactics.

I’ve ended my other blog posts with a GIF, so why stop now?


When your training wheels aren’t attached by masking tape.
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