Can Cross-Movement Organizing Create Transformative Change?

Sessions explore strengths and challenges to large-scale collaboration

Two sessions at this year’s Web of Change (WoC) explored the potential of cross-movement organizing in order to build transformative change. In photo, Aisha Satterwhite, Jessy Tolkan (centre), presented Cross-Movement Organizing at Web of Change.

Former executive director for the Energy Action Coalition Jessy Tolkan and Straight Line Consultants founder Aisha Satterwhite hosted a session entitled Cross-Movement Organizing, sharing where they’ve seen cross-collaboration done well.

According to Jessy, the lead up to the 2008 United States presidential election was an unprecedented example of cross-movement organizing, where activists and organizations rallied around Barack Obama’s vision helping him become president.

Yet, directly after Obama was elected, organizers quickly went back to their issues, aiming to build super movements to pass their “historic” piece of legislation. While Jessy hopes organizations have learned from this experience, she’s not sure if organizations are ready to engage in the real work of developing a super movement.

According to Aisha, if organizations have a desire, and spend time to open a space for building relationships and collaboration, the successes of 2008 can be recreated.

Session attendees were split on the potential of cross-movement organizing, noting it’s difficult to build relationships and alliances when campaign work is often short term.

One WoC participant noted that focusing on short-term goals is the problem. Progressives are chasing issues, when they should be chasing a paradigm shift.

“The other side is constantly reinventing the paradigm. I feel that’s something we’re missing,” said the participant.

Meanwhile, in a parallel session, Lead Now executive director Jamie Biggar presented on Organizing for a New Consensus.

Jamie says he isn’t interested in more campaign wins, but rather how organizers can change the rules of the game completely.

Calling this approach organizing for a new consensus, Jamie says the model was employed successfully after the Second World War, where governments, corporations and unions collaborated to build a middle class and the suburbs.

All three groups agreed on the vision, although not everyone agreed on the tactics, and the group was able to mostly achieve its goal.

In today’s world, when thinking about what it will take to  respond to climate change and meaningfully reverse the growing trend of inequality, there is a need to create a new agreement among civil society, business and government, says Jamie.

“That can’t be accomplished with a 50-per-cent-plus-one coalition,” he says. “In order to do that in a sustainable way, we need to build a new majority consensus.”

Jamie adds this is new territory for many organizers.

“What were good at is growing opposition. We’re actually not good a building consensus. So what does it look like to re-organize ourselves to both grow opposition and build communities, but then develop the ability to have our communities build consensus?”

Web of Change took place Sept. 5-9.

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