Community organizing is a discipline that has always been rooted in the power of relationships. Now, thanks to the internet, that power of relationships and networks has the potential to go global and JOIN is finding a way to harness that potential. This winter, JOIN for Justice entered into a new partnership with Marshall Ganz and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to offer an on-line class to organizers in the Jewish community. This partnership represents an experiment with an innovative way of delivering training and support to Jewish organizers around the country. When asked about some of the challenges and opportunities that come with this format, Amanda Silver, who coordinates this new program for JOIN said, “It’s very exciting to wrestle with the question of how to build the core aspects of organizing into an on-line learning experience. How do you build in face to face interaction and do it well, despite the distances? That’s what we are learning.”
The class, which kicked off earlier this month and includes weekly web-based lectures and discussion sections, has over 100 students around the globe, fourteen of which are Jewish leaders who registered for the class through JOIN for Justice. While the class has just started, the possibilities that this pilot represents are already becoming apparent. In addition to taking Marshall Ganz’s class, JOIN’s fourteen students participate in extra sessions led by JOIN staff. Less experienced organizers learn diverse strategies for actions to affecting change. Organizers with multiple years of experience learn skills for coaching new organizers. Both groups hone skills for campaign planning, develop their personal organizing narrative, and root their work in real world on-going organizing projects. Both groups also do all of this while also thinking about what it means to be a Jewish organizer organizing Jewish communities, and to be part of a network of others doing the same.
To understand what the on-line class represents for the Jewish organizing community, we turn again to Amanda Silver.
“Being an organizer in the Jewish community can be very isolating. If you’re not living and working in a hub like Boston, it’s hard to get support and training, or even to find others who are doing work like yours. Thinking about taking this kind of training to scale allows us to experiment with new ways to support organizers working in diverse locations. Just the other day in fact I was talking to a class participant from Rochester, who said if it weren’t for this class she wouldn’t know where to go to develop her organizing skills. It’s also been an excellent opportunity for me and for JOIN to better understand the opportunities and challenges that are unique to organizing in Jewish communities, and to leverage that understanding to better support and equip Jewish organizers.”
This on-line class raises a number of good questions and may serve as a model for reaching new populations of organizers. It also encourages cooperation and the exchange of ideas across not only borders but whole continents. The content of the JOIN facilitated sessions is still emerging according to the needs of the participants and the capacity of its instructors, but by the end of this June it’s safe to say JOIN will have learned valuable lessons about what a truly national and even global network of Jewish organizers can look like and how capacity building in the Jewish Community can be taken to scale.