Organizing 101 Glossary

Organizing and Faith-based organizing

Building relationships in the public arena that are rooted in shared self-interest is the process by which Gamaliel builds power. Shared self-interest is uncovered through one-on-one conversations. We believe that powerful movements are created when everyone involved not only has a clear understanding of why they are participating, but also has genuine empathy and concern for the self-interest and needs of others in their community. 

Traditionally, faith-based community organizing relies on organizing congregations and other faith institutions, in a particular geography, who are acting together out of their moral convictions. As a result, most of our affiliates are made up of congregations and faith institutions. Because, however, our work is rooted in a shared set of values, our affiliates also welcome people with no faith. Our organizing is founded in our shared values of justice, equity, and shared abundance. 


World as it is vs. How it could be

As Gamaliel community organizers, we do our work because we recognize the injustice in our world —  simply, we strive to see the world as it really is. While our work is also a radical act of hope and we go to this effort because we believe that we can transform our world, we also recognize that clinging to a utopian fantasy keeps us from engaging with real injustice and dispossession. 

Gamaliel’s organizing is based on a set of shared values–many rooted in our diverse faith traditions. We are called to work toward “a new world” marked by justice, compassion, hope, shared abundance, and radical inclusiveness.  We build power to transform the world as it is into the new world envisioned by people of faith and good will, and we are committed to training ordinary people to participate in that transformation. That means being realistic about the world we live in and unabashedly hopeful that the world we want is attainable.


Dominant Narrative vs. Transformational Narrative

A public narrative is a story that, when told in many different ways, can shift public consciousness and change what is possible.  At any given time there are multiple narratives in the public arena, but the dominant public narrative is a narrative that trumps all other narratives and has the most power to shape what is possible.  For example, the current dominant narrative includes elements like the following:  government is bad; individuals are responsible for their own destinies and must “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps;” corporations are the job creators; and we live in a post-racial society.  For those of us who seek to build the beloved community, those dominant narrative elements are limiting, oppressive, and false.

A transformational narrative makes it possible for people to imagine new possibilities.  A transformational narrative dares to ask “what if?”. What if you are just as powerful as those at the top of the social and political ladder? What if you claim that power alongside others in your community? What if the unjust systems that operate in our society were changed? 

A transformational narrative calls upon individuals to change the world as it is into the world as it should be.  We build power when we shift the current dominant narrative to a narrative of transformation.



When you think of power, you probably think of political power, or power over other people — or even the villains from movies and TV who just want power for power’s sake. 

So what does it mean when we say we “build power”?  When we talk about power, we are not talking about the ability to control other people.  In community organizing, power is the ability to act in order to achieve purpose.  Power allows us to impact the political, environmental, social and economic decisions that affect our lives. Power is the ability to claim what is rightfully ours — our ability to speak and act publicly in our own communities.


Organized People, Organized Money

We believe power comes from two sources: organized people and organized money. Organized people work together toward a common goal because they have a shared self-interest in the success of that goal. 

But let’s be clear — we live in a capitalist society. Nothing gets done without money. Having and raising money is not enough. That money has to be used strategically, or organized, to bolster and sustain the work organized people are doing. 



Leaders are people who work to organize people and money in their communities. They are key to getting other members of their communities involved, finding mutual self-interest with key figures, and leading meetings and carrying out public actions.



Self-interest is what compels individuals to engage in the work of organizing. What is it about a cause that speaks to you? What is at stake for you personally if nothing changes? That is your self-interest. 

Our culture conflates self-interest, selfishness, and selfishness, but do not be fooled. If you believe that you should live only to serve others, that it is wrong to have a self-interest in your work and organizing, you are participating in your own oppression. You are denying yourself an active role in creating the world you want, and you are not being fully honest with yourself and your colleagues about your reasons for participating in an organizing movement.  If you believe that you should live only for yourself, you are participating in the oppression of others.  Self-interest is understanding who you are in the midst of others . . . how you relate to others and how you engage with others in a way that is life-giving and transformational.


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