The Language Of Community Organizing

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It's easy to get overwhelmed with the new vocabulary that comes with being a change maker in your community. Glossaries and FAQs are important tools to bridge your community's understanding of organizing around your local issues because they help to develop a shared vocabulary.
Here's a short glossary of frequently used terms in organizing spaces that you can use to jump-start your journey into community activism. Whether you're a seasoned organizer or just dipping your toes into the waters of issues on your school campus, familiarizing yourself with these terms will empower you to communicate more effectively, foster deeper connections, and navigate the intricacies of community organizing. So, let's demystify the jargon and dive right in!

Action Plan/Strategy: The "game plan" that outlines the steps (tactics) your chapter will take to accomplish your local issue.

Activism: taking action to effect social change.

Advocacy: to speak on behalf of others who are unable to represent their own interest due to disability, inherent complexity of the venue such as courts and hospitals, or other factors.

Allies: The people who support your issue but may not necessarily join your group. Allies may be policy makers, individuals or community organizations.

Base: the people from the constituency that an organization can readily mobilize for events, actions and meetings although they may not be formal members.

Campaign: Your overall effort to make change on an issue. A series of connected activities, each of which builds the strength of the organization and brings it closer to "winning" what you are fighting for.

Constituency: a group or class served by an organization or institution, specifically the people impacted by the issues that the organization works. This can also be thought of as an organizations' potential base or as the "community" to be organized.

Decision maker: the person or body within an organization with the power to make the decision to change a policy or practice; sometimes also referred to as the target.

Direct service: Supply basic services to people who need them specific to their social, economic and cultural background often to meet basic needs such as food, health care, etc.

Durable power: ability to influence key decision-makers on a range of issues over time.

Faith-based: affiliated with or based on religion or a religious group. In community organizing refers to developing power and relationships mostly through congregations that can promote an "issue".

Fundraising: activity done to collect money or other resources.

Goal: What you decide you want to achieve.

Grassroots: people at a local or low level rather than at the center or upper levels of an organization or movement; associated with bottom-up, rather than top-down decision making, and is sometimes considered more natural or spontaneous than more traditional power structures. In community organizing refers to using the people as the basis for a political or economic movement.

Institution: A deeply rooted and significant practice or organization in a community. A system or practice that seems permanent and like it has always existed.

Leader: a member of an organization who takes initiative in analyzing problems and thinking through solutions, gains the loyalty and trust of other members of the organization and shows commitment by being actively involved in the planning and execution of campaigns.

Legal action: the process of using a lawyer or the court system to effect social change, examples include arbitration, mediation and lawsuits among others.

Member: a person who is part of the organization' constituency who meets the organizations' criteria for membership (e.g. pays dues, completes organizational orientation, participates in actions or activities).

Mobilizing: to prepare and organize for action; get together to effect a specific social change.

Opponents: The people who stand in the way of the goal you want to achieve. They may or may not be people who have the authority to make the change, but they are people who like things the way they are, are scared of change, or who will be upset or lose something if you achieve your goal.

Organizer: a person who is responsible for ensuring the growth of the organization by developing members to lead the process of building the base, developing campaigns and build the organization.

Policy Recommendation: Outlines how you want your target to address the issue your organization has identified as a problem, and clearly identifies a solution to the problem.

Political: exercising or seeking power in the governmental or public affairs of a state, taking a position or having influence on specific bills and policy.

Power: the ability to act; actions that engage with and influence groups; sources of power in a democracy include position, organized money and organized people.

Protest: actions usually (but not always) undertaken by those who lack access to resources or whose values conflict with the dominant elite to force powerful groups to respond to demands.

Self interest: a concern for one's own advantage and well-being.

Social Movement Building: encompasses diverse collections of individual activists, local and national organizations, advocacy groups, multiple spokespersons, and more, held together by relatively common aims but not a common organizational structure.

Stakeholder: The people who will be affected by your issue and have an interest in the outcome. This could include youth, policy makers, service providers, caregivers, etc. and your constituents. Stakeholders can be allies, opponents or targets.

Tactics: The steps you will take to complete your action plan and accomplish your goal.