building participatory organizations
THE THREE-LEGGED STOOL MODEL
OF REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZING
- the basics -
This model is adapted from decades of work in community, labor, and faith based organizing. It is revolutionary, when it is open ended and dedicated to making change from the position of radical love. But it can be used for any more limited thing from knitting circles to book groups to a soccer league to whatever. . .
A two legged stool is useless. Three legs, are the basic requirement and they must be in balance, working together as a kind of DNA deep in the ‘body public’ of the group as a whole.
Communal Relationships are critical. They can feed patience, humility, and sustain a group and its leaders over time and trial. These relationships must be consciously built because the world we emerge is hyper-individualized, commercialized, egotistic, and saturated with racism and prejudices. Time must be taken to build and restore deeper human relationships in meetings through facilitating small group conversations that create the space for sharing reflections, experiences, and desires for a different world. In these we learn to tell our stories, and experience the deepening of cross cultural insights, and histories. These conversations do not waste time on trivia, but push and deepen experience. They find and build common ground. In them we deepen commitment and experience joy. In them, our foundation hopes surface and our vision and purpose together deepens.
Collective Actions are essential to the work. In them the group selects and learns to frame an issue, risk, and act together. The group steps up and out and a living thing acting in its own behalf. It does things right and it also makes mistakes. It learns. Action takes people into action and weeds out those who only want to talk. In action we learn to brake big problems down in to bit-size issue pieces, analyze power, how to struggle together from our own experience, develop strategy and tactics, and to win. We build our power and strength as we go along.
Constant Learning as a thing in itself is often overlooked. But, since we are out to change things, it too is a primary component. Action and the Reflection on Action brings us to a bigger world. Our hyper-individualized, commercialized worlds begin to crack open on a global scale. We learn things together. We learn to reflect on the growing relationships and the direct actions we take, by other forms of learning that may include a movie or a lecture or a book group or even a road trip. We discover a wider world and pull those constant learnings back into our group process. and the essential experience in America of cultural diversity that stretch the horizon and push and pull. The person or group that experiences the constant thrill of learning something new, in diversity of cultures, across time and space, expands their world, and experiences something worth having that expands their personal insights and their collective power.
In good organizing, these three for a unity of one emerging group culture and practice, that unites around a vision and a common purpose. In the revolutionary form that purpose opens up to struggle against oppression in all its forms and for an environment in balance. The three connected legs, create the solid for the achievement of the greater good in the vision and purpose of the group.
- going deeper -
In our society we are rarely trained to work like this as a group. At most we may experience the thrill of a temporary crowd at a sporting event. In our day to day life we experience hierarchal, authoritarian workplaces and/or the deadening, oppressive bureaucracies agencies, courts, and often (sadly) schools, churches, and more. Even our so-called democratic political process are laced with pettiness, egoism, and greed that often obstructs the search for the common good.
We have to unlearn to learn. At first using the three-legged stool model for a group may seem a bit clumsy, or slow, perhaps like a toddler learning to walk. But soon enough it becomes the way we grow, because it works much better for a living, breathing community than those authoritarian, bureaucratic, systems used by those whose goals are individualized wealth and power.
It is a “revolutionary model” if it is open-ended. If it is only about say, “elections,” or “charity,” or only about a limited community, say a soccer league, this model will still work. It is a human model. But our human societies are in crisis and under a growing heel of oppression, and organizations are also needed to achieve the revolutionary things we need that are open-ended. If the group limits itself to one constituency, or one tactic, it may result in good and be good. But it will not then be able to journey on in action, or learning and its relationship-building will necessarily narrow.
In my experience, and in its most revolutionary aspect the three legged stool model has the greatest power when it rests on the solid, level ground of what is often called the “spiritual.” This foundation is a place and experience of radical Love that goes to the roots of creation and beyond. It is open and inclusive. Its conscious practice and experience strengthens.