Michael Jacoby Brown— Building Powerful Community Organizations

The Mindful Bard: Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

Wanda Waterman
The Voice Magazine, Volume 15 Issue 30 2007-08-17

Michael Jacoby Brown – Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World

Publication date: 2006

Publisher: Long Haul Press, Arlington, MA

While watching a samurai movie one night, I noted the single-mindedness with which the samurai developed the knowledge and skills necessary to uphold the tenets of the warrior code. It occurred to me that societies might benefit significantly were social activists to take on a samuraiesque resolve in the pursuit of social justice.

What if every task to which social activists put their hands was tackled primarily with winning in mind? Not being seen as a hero, not getting laid, not awards, not power and control, but winning? What if Machiavellian means-justifying were replaced with steadfast moral integrity and self-sacrifice? What if activists stopped worrying about who got credit or how they would be judged if they wore fur? What if activists were to put aside all that angry, befuddling rhetoric about politicising the everyday and focus every atom of their beings on winning more and more territory for justice and peace?

A book has arrived that makes this goal wondrously accessible. Building Powerful Community Organizations is a thorough and detailed course in grassroots organising. If you’re serious about your cause, buy, don’t borrow, this book. The workbook pages are necessary for an effective absorption of the principles. Brown has drawn on thirty years of activism in just about every social arena and in defence of nearly every communal cause you can name. He has also done extensive research in grassroots activism and spent a great deal of time listening mindfully to the stories of other organisers. The author addresses, among other things, how to overcome the fear of asking for money or striving for more power, how and whom to recruit, record keeping, interviewing, and meeting structure. Particularly moving about Building Powerful Community Organizations are the case studies, stories drawn from the author’s own experiences as well as from the lives of a host of other grassroots activists including Martin Luther King Jr. These little anecdotes test and breathe life into the canons Brown so carefully formulates.

Brown places a needed emphasis on personal motives for social involvement. I was reminded of how the loss of a child spurred me into labour activism because suddenly everyone in the world had become my child and worthy of my support. Whether your activism is spurred by the experience of racism, your community’s looming demise, being beaten bloody by police during a peaceful demonstration, or by the horror you experienced when you finally realised that the powers that be were not only apathetic but incompetent to meet your community’s needs, your own story is the foundation of your activism and a perpetual source of strength and wisdom.

The Mindful Bard’s goal is to recommend inspiring and enlightening works to artists and activists and also to encourage artists to be activists and activists to be artists. As a poet I’ve met a few activists who’ve convinced me that come the revolution they’d be forcing me to eat my manuscripts, and this has been enough to spook me from a number of otherwise worthy causes. Brown does not fit this kind of square hole. His ideal is an active, compassionate, and above all effective response to real social problems. The vitality of such a life’s work depends on reflection, creativity, and sensitivity, incidentally the very qualities needed for the creation of good art.

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