Organizing and Education

The differences between organizing and mobilizing are important to analyze through the education they bring to people in the fight for civil rights. While reaching a common end, these strategies employ different techniques and bring varying types of power to the people. Mobilizing is the act of spearheading large demonstrations, while organizing, as described by author Charles Payne, is the personal and unseen act of educating people on the reasons for their movement (Payne, 1989, pp. 897-899). Organizers Ella Baker, Myles Horton, and Paulo Freire, stress that these differences must be recognized in order to better understand the concept of leadership. By comparing Baker and Horton and Freire with organizer and mobilizer Saul Alinsky, one will see subtle and stark power differences in the path to democracy as there is much more clarity in leadership when it is described through methodology rather than visibility.

As an organizer, Ella Baker is an often unrecognized voice of the civil rights movement because her work brought power to the individual on an intimate scale. Baker believed that “strong people don’t need strong leaders,” thus she cultivated organizing through “group-centered leadership” in which the citizens who made up the group were each self-sufficient leaders (Mueller, 2004, p. 79) (Payne, 1989, pp. 894-896). 

Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, similar to Baker, valued and created this educational time and space. Their work consistently started with the student. At Highlander School, an education center started by Horton, students learned about their rights and how to protect them through conversations of shared experiences (Horton & Freire, 1990, p. 153). These reflections of one’s place within societal systems encouraged self-respect and power. The individual conceptualized the meaning of organizing before noteworthy action could transpire, and this resulting action was often what the public was able to see: the mobilization of citizens.

Saul Alinsky’s emphasis on mass power identifies him as a mobilizer. Alinsky did not empower the individual as much as he empowered the group, and he discussed how to organize people rather than how to create organizers who held leadership within themselves. Though his method contrasts Baker, Horton, and Freire’s, his results still mattered. As a labor organizer he sought to agitate neighborhoods into taking action and protecting their rights.

There is advancement through numbers which is demonstrated through mobilization, and there is strength within the individual, visible when analysing organizing methods. The difference is one between leading oneself and following authority, the latter of which can lead to a movement easily being lost in public opinion or unchecked charismatic leadership. Though, while organizing and mobilizing may seem to consistently contradict each other, they also work to build off of one another.

It is necessary to understand how each organizing and mobilizing work, as well as their benefits and drawbacks when engaging with civil democracy. There is a time and a place for both, and through learning their components one is able to work much more strategically. Building a strong base through organizing is important and lasting, but so are the quick impacts of public demonstrations. Organizing and mobilizing are both important for shaping the culture of the country, for these methods both bring voices to the voiceless. Being knowledgeable about their different components, their contrasts, and their similarities allow more opportunity to use these methods as a tool for continued work in change.