Building [student] movements – the onion model

Getting to the heart of movement building, by Rushdia M

I am posting the presentation I gave at the North Carolina State-wide student convergence. The recording of the keynote address is available here but friends told me it’s not the best of recording (nor my performance.. lol) so you might be better off looking at the presentation, posted here:

Presentation (powerpoint): (it’s 22MB) Getting to the heart of movement building, by Rushdia M.

An abridged version of the ppt (with less pictures, thus proportionally more substance, ha!) (9MB): Getting to the heart of movement building, by Rushdia M – Abridged.

(I’ll try to post only the notes in a word document shortly; apologies if you have difficulty downloading the above ppt).


My thesis here is that we can have all the nuts and bolts in the world — the coalitions, structures and processes — but without the human touch and passion we can’t mobilize a department, let alone building a whole movement. While I consider relationship building – putting together an inclusive and caring group of people in the form of mobilization committees - the heart of the movement building, the General Assembly as a mechanism for living out the direct democracy can be viewed as the brain of the movement.

Here’s my conclusion, quoting from one of the slides:

If Building Relationships is [at] the heart of the movement, then general assembly/participative democracy is its brain. I don’t believe there’s a substitute for collective participation (debate, discussion and decision making) – many brains are better than a few (execs and/or the clics…)! With some structure and process I believe it is really true and possible that collective participation, via open and well organized/mobilized General Assemblies, can master a movement.

Thought this way, Coalitions such as CLASSE (bringing together decisions from many general assemblies) could and would be the super brain (or the so called super-computer).

Thus, Building Relationships, according to me, is the basis of it all and the basic building block of a movement. This is applicable at student organizing level as well as any affinity group organizing whether it be a Palestinian solidarity group or a mobilization against Austerity measures of the federal government.

In other words, it all about building ground up.

Note that the presentation file is heavy ’cause it has lots of images, in fact, it almost has only images! My text can be found in about a tenth of the slides.  Please do leave me a note if you have any comments, suggestions, feedback or any corrections.

If you were to read one slide/get one piece of info from it (I’m battling over two of my favorites, but I think this is more accessible), it’s about the ABCs of outreach, according to me, of course. Here’s the extract from that slide:

(note that my presentation, thus this slide doesn’t give you to-dos for building a campaign…. there’s a lot missing in it, such as how you build a campaign – I’ll try and post something/links on that. Here it’s really point information (plotting the dots), not the threads (not necessarily linking them together)…..

(the rest of this page is my notes from one of the slides)

6.     Mobilization / outreach / getting the word out

Research work / build your argument (argumentaire) / perhaps this can be done by a student-friendly think-tank or by a cross-campus group – as this work can be shared by all the universities and colleges

This goes hand in hand with  preparing the material in a presentable format. See, for example: (See Materials link on top) (See Materiel d’Information link on top)  (a bunch of research material)


Educational campaign – Share the research (talking about the issues) — ways to get your message across; show empathy – very important). Examples include:

  • Speaker events – by thought leaders
  • Workshops
  • Teach-ins
  • Training Camps
  • Debates
  • Open-mikes/free exchange of ideas

Note: the above attracts the “choir” – those who already are somewhat a “believer” or sympathetic to the idea. They’re probably “ripe” to join the mob-squad (next level)! Make sure you have discussion about going forward (getting new people to organize with you.. A lot more on this coming up).

Reaching out one-on-one and cross communication:

Your challenge here is to “convert” the non-believer (lol). Here are some ideas:

  • Petitions (use the opportunity to talk about the issue one on one!) or to launch the campaign
    • The objective of the petition is to find an “excuse” to talk to people and discuss about the issue, understand other points of view and discuss them within organizing teams/mob squads.
    • Since petition is an opportunity for one-on-ones, don’t put petitions online (thus missing the one-on-one op!), unless (a very last resort, I would say!) your objective is to gather signatures FAST and build moral around seeing how many people are interested — this “should” be done only in early stages of a campaign when you don’t have enough people to do the leg work.
    • Give example of Concordia – when Matt Brett (he was The thought leader on this one!) and I initiated the petition / fought a battle as there was LOTS of opposition to this initiative…. and got signatures online…. – November 2010. It was then followed with a Concordia-wide  General Assemblies – one for Undergrads and another for Grads – a game changing moment in the history of Concordia. It was baptised WHALE (Wintry Hot Accessible Love-in for Education; an acronym that didn’t have everyone happy.. But nonetheless was a great success) on February 14th, 2011. Check out a video here:
      • For WHALE and later on, we used many of the mobilization tips described on this page.
  • Tabling (One-on-one op!)
  • Flyering (One-on-one op!)
  • Flash mobs
  • Etc etc

Oh, don’t forget Systematic (make sure someone goes to each class over a certain period of time, say a week, during your campaigns) Class Announcements/discussions | CLASS VISITS ARE VITAL!!!

  • Sign-up sheets — at the table, while you’re flyering if possible, at the class visit!!! That’s how you grow your organizing team!!

ONE ON ONE communication is so, but so, IMPORTANT (I can’t emphasize it enough). Meet less people, if you can’t talk to everyone, but if you were speaking to only one person about your cause and why you’re concerned, and trying to understand the other person’s point of view, it’s way better than trying to get mass attention….  if that’s only momentary….

In this context, think of law of average – for me it’s 10 to 1: for every 10 people I tried to speak with/try to give a flyer for instance, if I can have meaningful discussion with one of them, then what I’m doing is worth it. Your law of average might be different – what’s important is we’re in good spirits and keep hope that other folks out there are also interested in the cause you’re fighting for and (to feel good, let’s say) maybe need more info… so on and so forth…



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