Community organising provides the means for people to come together and for their voices to be heard; to identify the changes that mean the most to them; and take action to tackle vested interests, on their own terms.
For some people from church backgrounds, this might sound strangely familiar. It’s the ‘WIN, BUILD, SEND’ model of organisational growth.
The idea is to WIN people to the organisation through outreach, campaigning and member recruitment, BUILD those people up through mentoring and discipleship, and then SEND them out to WIN more people to the organisation. The theory is to build a movement through multiplication. It is often contrasted with the ‘crusade’ or ‘rallies’ approach. A thousand people might turn up to a rally. But if 12 people mentor 12 people per year, and so on, they could have mentored more than 20,000 people in four years.
The Fabian Women’s Network (FWN) fits squarely within this WIN, BUILD, SEND model: they bring women in, build them up to be powerful advocates capable of inspiring others and send these women out to change the world.
In my CLP, real growth happens when individuals have been invested in. For instance, when new members are trained to canvass, they soon become experts that go on to train others. Real investment is giving people the confidence to take on new roles and allowing them the space to find their feet. People must also feel they are in a safe, supportive environment and able to express their political opinions. And when their existing talents are recognised, valued and put to use, the results speak for themselves.
I personally believe my local Labour branch has the world’s greatest member mobiliser – Stanley. In his eighties, Stanley spends a considerable amount of time phoning members. He started by inviting members to the Christmas party. In his first year, he increased attendance from 15 to 46. The following year, 76 people attended our Christmas party. He is diligent in phoning members who are in arrears and reminding them to renew. As a consequence, our branch was the only one in the CLP to enjoy an increase in membership over the last year. His contribution to the local election campaign was priceless. He mobilised 19 people to leaflet and door-knock two wards in a ‘safe Tory seat’ on a freezing Sunday in February. His mobilisation efforts helped get leaflets delivered across all our key wards in less than a fortnight.
Activism in the Labour party has failed when there have been roadblocks in the WIN, BUILD, SEND process. We fail to WIN when we don’t have an effective member mobilisation strategy, or when we fail to proactively communicate with members about our activities.
We fail to BUILD when we tear people down. But when we are mentored, encouraged, cheered on, we feel like we can conquer kingdoms. When people see our potential and help us realise it, there is no limit to where our aspirations can take us. That’s certainly how I felt after the first session of the FWN mentoring programme.
Imagine if our local parties were filled with this positive energy. We’d see more people coming to meetings, more people campaigning and more voters being spoken to, because we’d all be spurring each other on. So we had 20 people out door-knocking on Saturday? Let’s make it 40 next time. And 80 the time after that. Why can’t we have hundreds of Labour campaigners here in the Tory shires?
Why have many of our experiences of the Labour party so often seemed so far from this? Why are we so quick to criticise and demoralise, but slow to praise and encourage? Would some people prefer a smaller, more mediocre CLP, so long as they are the ones running it? Or do the people putting others down simply see no problem with their behaviour?
We fail to SEND when we fail to recognise and utilise our members’ talents. When I was a parliamentary candidate, I was incredibly grateful for all the help I received from local members. But my heart sank when I learnt that one of the country’s leading transport lawyers had been delivering rounds of leaflets for years, but had never been invited to speak on transport policy by their local Labour party. At every level, our organisation will grow when our members are reaching their maximum potential. But we can only do this if we are also effective at ‘winning’ and ‘building’ our members.
If we could remove these barriers, there is no limit to what we could achieve as a party. We will truly build an unstoppable movement capable of delivering real and lasting, radical socialism to this country.