As part of NUS' Officer Development Programme, we're launching a series of masterclasses.
On 30 May, NUS will be training 30 community organisers from across the student movement.
When he launched his first presidential campaign in 2008, Barack 'equal marriage' Obama used the language of community organising in calling for an awakened electorate. Only one civil society organisation (besides NUS of course) managed to get all three main party leaders to address them before the 2010 general election, and that was Citizens UK.
Student officers from Hackney Community College to City and Islington College to Queen Mary University, have been strong champions of the work of London Citizens. Now Citizens is spreading to places like Nottingham, Glasgow and Cardiff, and I believe the partnership NUS has with Citizens (the first national alliance of its kind) will play a key role in the growth of community organising across the UK. They're also having an influence on political parties, including through Labour and the Movement for Change.
Broad based organising through institutions such as students' unions, trade unions, faith groups, women's groups, schools, colleges, youth and elderly associations can wield power.
Students' unions prove this day in, day out. When civil society works together for the common good we can achieve big things. The Living Wage has lifted 10,000 people out of poverty, East London Citizens have campaigned to create community land trusts in the Olympic Park for the benefit of communities around them, and this week at a roundtable for Nottingham Citizens, the SU President at Nottingham Uni talked of how their organisers are already helping to build the broadest alliance of students, departments and staff that they've ever had.
Organising isn't about charity, it's about empowerment which in turn brings justice.
Community organising is a deeply rooted political tradition that has already produced the first African-American occupant of the White House. Ed Marsh, VP UD was in Boston last year where he came across the Wellstone Foundation, which says its mission is to 'Educate, Advocate, Organise'. Ed has talked at various events about the way they do training; how they ask groups to organise to get a minimum number of people in a room to deliver free training, and yet once they're in the room they discover that the training is in fact simply an evaluation of what they've already done to organise people to get in the room. And it's only delivered free of charge if they reach the minimum quota for participants! The in-house activism training is transforming the way we organise, but we need to do more to get unions locally investing in it and organising for it.
Through organising we can build collective power. Whether that's to lobby the government or your head of your school, collective power gives us an ability to act.
We organise around problems we see in society, but we also organise for the sake of being an empowered group of individuals and institutions. Power in the hands of the many and not the few is undeniably where we all should want to be.
For more on the masterclass, click here.