Everything I know about organizing came through reading the manuals and writings of history’s great organizers, being lucky enough to work with some of the greats of our time, and a lot of trial and error (with a heavy emphasis on error).

Whenever I start a new organizing campaign I always go back and reread these great texts to challenge/refresh my strategic and tactical thinking. A few examples:

  • Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky: “Always remember the first rule of power tactics; power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
  • The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene: “… Everyone around you is a strategist angling for power, all trying to promote their own interests, often at your expense. Your daily battles with them make you lose sight of the only thing that really matters: victory in the end, the achievement of greater goals, lasting power.”

image_miniBut the most dog-eared organizing manual in my collection is Politics the Wellstone Way by Wellstone Action!… which can be read in its entirety via PDF here.

For citizen-driven, volunteer-dependent, old-school grassroots organizing tactics and strategies, nothing is better. A simple mantra throughout drives the organizer – Educate, Advocate, Organize – and forces us to think strategically and tactically about what we are trying to achieve.


“In the process of developing tactics to use in your grassroots advocacy campaign, keep these tips in mind:

  • Dominate something. Concentrate an action in a small period of days, for example, to concentrate its potency.
  • Do a few things well rather than many things poorly.
  • Make the strategy personal.
  • Force-multiply. Find ways to leverage your existing volunteer advocates to get more volunteer advocates.
  • Keep recruiting. Keep a laser focus on building, sustaining, and expanding your base.
  • Follow up. Select strategies that are conducive to reporting back to volunteer advocates.”

And definitely walk your organization through “Appendix C – Action Planning Template” which asks hard questions to help drive/develop tactics and strategy. Here are just a few examples:

  • What is the issue or problem to be solved? Be concrete and specific in naming the problem in order to target the solution.
  • Goals: Identify one to four clear goals for your campaign that will be the yardstick for determining success. It is important to consider two kinds of goals: (1) external, or policy goals; and (2) internal, or grassroots organizing goals.
  • Targets. Primary targets are the individuals or groups that actually make a decision about your issue. Secondary targets are the individuals or groups that influence the primary targets.
  • Key Messages. Identify two to five key messages for your campaign. Articulate them clearly and in a language that is accessible to the public.
  • Tactics are the best approaches to make your power felt in order to influence decision makers, mobilize your base, or affect public opinion. What tactics will best accomplish your goals?

Educate. Advocate. Organize. And when all else fails, heed the words written on the back of Senator Paul Wellstone’s 2002 campaign shirts: Just get it done!