2006 JAN | A Brief History of Navigation and of Sustainable Organizing

November 26, 2014 Ed Democracy BLOGCHARTING DEMOCRACY


A Brief History of Navigation and of Sustainable Organizing

Obviously, there is not space in this column for a history of even one subject no matter how brief. So how am I going to do not one but two brief histories in one column? Of course, I am not going to attempt the impossible any more than I would attempt the unsustainable. However, I will reference elements of the history of navigation as I apply them to the concept of sustainable organizing. While the history of community organizing is long, sustainable organizing is so new it can hardly be said to have a history at all. So, as this column is launched, I invite you to join in discussion about sustainable organizing on a theoretical level and on a practical level as we apply these concepts and tools to grassroots neighborhood organizing, here, on Munjoy Hill.
Oak and triple bronze
must have girded the breast
of him who first committed
his frail bark to the angry sea
-Horace, Odes
Grassroots community organizing may not be as perilous and daunting as committing, “frail bark to the angry sea”, but it may sometimes feel not too far off. It is usually not for the feint of heart. All too often too much organizing is too difficult because it is done with too few people and takes too much time and energy that we increasingly have too little to spare.
It does not have to be this way. This is the idea behind sustainable organizing. Organizations of the people, by the people, and for the people should fit the lifestyles, skills, and interests of the people who are in them. These days most people are very busy. The more jobs, the more kids, the more people have in their lives, the less time they have to give to community organizations. So we have a few people with a few hours a week who want to make a difference.
So to get 1 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE), we need 4 people with 10 hours each or 10 people with 4 hours each. More likely, people only have a couple of hours per week to give so we’re headed toward 20 people at 2 hours each per week for 1 FTE. So, unless Superman, Superwoman, Superboy, and Supergirl happen to live in our neighborhood, we need more and more people. When we find them, we want to keep them. If we waste their time and/or they have a less than positive experience, they are less likely to keep showing up.
The 2 most basic navigational aids that I advocate are:
1) Good organizational dynamics are vital for sustainable organizing.
2) Cities, neighborhoods, and organizations should be of the people, by the people, and for the people – neighborhood improvement is NOT just for the experts!
Navigation is about:
A) “Where are we?” and “Where are we going”?
B) getting where we are going safely and efficiently
Navigation began as a very general intuitive art with tools provided by nature – sun, stars, landmasses, ocean currents, etc. – and has develop into a very specific technical science with tools of increasing technological sophistication.
Navigation was once an arcane art bordering on the occult. So jealously guarded and carefully kept secret were the tools and knowledge of navigation that sailors commonly believed that compasses worked by black magic. In fact, binnacles were developed to shroud the compass so as not to frighten the seamen.  Today, we live in a new age and yet many of our institutions and cultural practices and attitudes are still very primitive and far behind the people they purport to “lead”.
This column will be about practical nuts & bolts which make the work of sustainable organizing safer and more efficient in the work people are doing right now. It will also be about theoretical systems design and engineering. It will attempt to gain and share many perspectives on sustainable organizing. It will always be written from the grassroots, street-level, next-door, around the corner or maybe even a few blocks away, but, still in the same neighborhood and never ever from atop the ivory tower.
Please share your thoughts on sustainable organizing, links, or column ideas by calling Ed Democracy at 207-210-7253 or on our archive-blog at:
CHARTING DEMOCRACY: Navigational Aids for Sustainable Organizing
LINKS to Navigational Aids to Sustainable Organizing
ABCD – Asset-Based Community Development
Neighborhood-Based Planning
ARNSTEIN LADDER – A Gauge of Citizen Participation
A Ladder of Citizen Participation – Sherry R Arnstein
The History of Navigation – BOATSAFE – KIDS
The History of Navigation – PBS

CHARTING DEMOCRACY: Navigational Aids for Sustainable Organizing was a monthly column in the Munjoy Hill Observer, a local neighborhood newspaper, from 2006-2008 – http://www.munjoyhill.org/observer.php . The original website is archived at: http://www.democracy207.com/chartingdemocracy and the columns are archived here on our archive-blog: http://chartingdemocracy.blogspot.com/. We remain ever hopeful of more discussion and action on sustainable organizing of, by, and for people at the grassroots.

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