BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…
MARSHALL GANZ: An organizer starts by asking not, "What's my issue?" but "Who are my people?" 'Cause organizing's about people. And then what's the challenge they face? And then how can they use their resources to address that challenge?
BILL MOYERS: And…
RACHEL LAFOREST: Small victories aggregate to this larger sort of beating heart and people feeling deeply inspired by each other. But it takes work.
MADELINE JANIS: Everybody deserves a good job and a decent life. And that our government, our democracy has the tools to ensure that.
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome once again. How do you handle the grim news of inequality, corruption, poverty, dysfunction and buffoonery that washes over us every day? Well, you can tune out and ignore it; pretend it will go away until it’s too late or you can look around, find kindred spirits and throw your energies into the fight for justice. That’s exactly the summons we have heard from people at this table who have refused to give in to the litany of woe. Listen again to some of their voices.
GEORGE GOEHL: We need a movement of truth tellers.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: …the kind of progressive grassroots movement…
ROSEANN DEMORO: …a social movement that they can engage in, that's not the politics of hatred, that's not the politics of fear, but the politics of hope.
TOM MORELLO: There's two ways to approach history. You, you sit in your armchair and you watch it on the news and you return to your PlayStation. Or you get out in the streets and you make it.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: They can push the rest of us to wake up and do something about this.
SHEILA BAIR: People need to rise up and say, "I'm sick of this…
ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: Seeing themselves as a huge movement to transform the nation.
MARTÍN ESPADA: …the change that we want comes from below. It comes from a movement.
RICHARD WOLFF: …the American people can and will find ways to push for the kinds of changes that can get us out of this dilemma.
VINCE WARREN: I want to see that change. And it's going to take people here in this country to be able to make that happen.
BILL MOYERS: To that chorus let us now add now the witness of Marshall Ganz. He’s an American maestro of organizing who himself, has never given in to despair or given over to fear:
MARSHALL GANZ in class: How can change ever happen if the powerful always win? There are conditions under which it turns out David can sometimes win.
BILL MOYERS: At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Marshall Ganz teaches the next generation of organizers, students from all over the world. He tells them: when in doubt, just remember the story in the Bible of little David and his slingshot…
MARSHALL GANZ in class: … what did you take from… the classic story of David and Goliath? How does it begin? How does the whole, when does the action begin?
MALE STUDENT in class: Goliath is marching out and repeatedly challenging the Israelites. And no one comes out to challenge him.
MARSHALL GANZ in class: Right. And so that's just going on day after day. So then what, when does the action shift?
MALE STUDENT in class: When David shows up to bring the food to his brothers and hears this and says, "Why is no one doing anything to respond to this?"
MARSHALL GANZ in class: In other words, the first thing that happens here is injustice, need to act, commit, and then the action begins. Until that point, nothing is really happening. ... When the king says, "Here, take my, take my helmet, take my shield. Take my armor." What, what's David do?
FEMALE STUDENT in class: He puts it on..
MARSHALL GANZ in class: Puts them on. See David doesn't have it all figured out. That's the point. He's in action here. He doesn't have it all figured out. The king says, "Well, you going to fight power? Here, you need weaponry to fight power." David actually takes them, he puts them on, and then what happens?
He can't move. They're too heavy, literally. He can't move. That's when he has his moment of insight and he looks down at his feet and he sees these five stones there. And says wait a second. I'm not a soldier. I'm a shepherd. And that's, Tim, when he says, "As a shepherd, I knew how to protect my flock from wolf and the bear. And it wasn't with a sword, and it wasn't with a shield. It was with a stone and a sling." Maybe Goliath's just another wolf. Just another bear. What's Goliath's reaction? Ho. Ho. Ho. Am I a dog? You send a boy with a stick. And in the middle of the third "ho" a stone in the forehead and into Goliath. And not a story about non-violence…
BILL MOYERS: Smiting Goliath might as well be Marshall Ganz’s job description. It began in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer of 1964 when his fury against injustice pulled him out of Harvard and into the struggle for civil rights. From there, he signed on with the legendary Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and for 16 years, struggled to unionize the men and women in the fields of California who toiled endless hours and mounting days, picking crops for next to nothing.
Three decades after Marshall Ganz had dropped out of Harvard, he went back to finish his degree and earn a doctorate. A few years later, he was asked to become the architect behind the Obama campaign’s skillful organizing of students and volunteers.
Today, Marshall Ganz is a founder of the Leading Change Network, a global community of organizers, educators and researchers mobilizing for democracy. You’ll find more of his experience and philosophy in this book: Why David Sometimes Wins.
BILL MOYERS: Marshall Ganz. It’s good to meet you.
MARSHALL GANZ: It's good to meet you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: Stories have been a powerful part of your life. Where did that come from? Why stories?
MARSHALL GANZ: First of all, I grew up in stories. My fathers a rabbi. And I grew up with the Exodus story as a child. And I was always puzzled by the fact that, you know, they said that at a certain point you were slaves in Egypt. I'd never been a slave or been to Egypt, they’d say to the children. And, but then I came to realize that what it meant was the story really wasn't the property of one people, time, or place.
And then out to the farm workers. And we're in the religious narrative. I mean, one of my first assignments in the farmworkers was to organize a march from Delano to Sacramento. But it wasn't a march. It was a peregrinación. It was a pilgrimage. It was at Lent. It reached Sacramento on Easter Sunday.
It was like an enactment of the redemptive narrative of Easter. But it was built into the movement that we were building. So in my experience in organizing, it was also all within narrative. And so we kind of knew that narrative stories mattered. And they mattered to the heart. And they weren’t the whole story. The whole story, so to speak. The strategy mattered, structure mattered, but narrative mattered, the motivation, the courage.
BILL MOYERS: Until I read your book about Chavez and the strikers, I didn't know how much of their own efforts revolved around stories. But then when I read your book, I realized how the stories that they told, the stories that they inherited, added up to a story that they wanted to leave for their children.
MARSHALL GANZ: Sure. But I mean, that's one of the things that distinguishes movements from, like, interest groups. Movements have narratives. They tell stories, because they are, they are not just about rearranging economics and politics. They also rearrange meaning. And they're not just about redistributing the goods. They're about figuring out what is good.
So they have this cultural piece of work that movements are doing, along with the economic and the political. Not in lieu of it. And I think it's particularly important, because doing that kind of work that movements do requires risk-taking, uncertainty, going up against the odds. And that takes a lot of hope. And so where do you go for hopefulness? Where do you go for courage? Where do you go? You go to those moral resources that are found within narratives and within identity work and within all faith traditions, cultural traditions.
BILL MOYERS: You know, Campbell told me that that was the great appeal to him of Carl Jung. That Jung wrapped his psychology into the stories of what had actually happened in his life and, and in the lives of the people sitting in front of him. And if he could get somebody into a story, he knew that person would discover who he was more likely than if he dealt with just abstract ideas.
MARSHALL GANZ: Boy, it is so true. It's the particular. See, we often think, we associate understanding with abstraction. It's just the opposite.
BILL MOYERS: That's right.
MARSHALL GANZ: The particular then becomes the portal on the transcendent, because it's through the particular experience that I'm able then to communicate the emotional content of the value that is moving me.
You know, my father was a chaplain in the American Army. And we lived in Germany after the war for three years. You know, my fifth birthday party was what, he worked a lot with what were called DPs.
BILL MOYERS: Displaced Persons.
MARSHALL GANZ: Well, my fifth birthday party was in a camp of, a DP camp of all children. And my mother thought that I should give presents rather than get them. Well, I didn't quite get that. And I actually thought it was kind of cool that there were no parents, until later I realized why there were no parents. And so it was, it was sort of a moment and then a deeper understanding of that moment later that sort of was a kind of sobering experience and helped me understand the emotional work that's there that stories do.
BILL MOYERS: How so?
MARSHALL GANZ: It helped me understand that dealing with, dealing with fear is probably the central moral question we have to deal with. By moral, I mean, if you think, if you think of moral questions as not being about principles, but more what Jung called "moral sentiment."
In other words, how do I live with empathy as opposed to alienation? How do I live with a sense of my own value as opposed to a feeling of deficiency? How do I live in a spirit of hope instead of fear?
BILL MOYERS: How to be in the world, right?
MARSHALL GANZ: How to be in the world and capable of moral engagement with other human beings is sort of how I think of it.
Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher defined hope as, said, "Belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable." Now let me say that again. That to be a realist is to recognize that the world is not a domain in which the probable always happens. I mean, Goliath is more likely to win. But, you know what, sometimes David does, you know?
BILL MOYERS: Was there a time you had to do that, when you had to suspend disbelief and see that the inevitable was not a necessity, that it was a probability?
MARSHALL GANZ: Boy, I you know, well, first of all thinking I can get into Harvard in the first place from Bakersfield, leaving Harvard to go work in Mississippi is…
BILL MOYERS: You left before you finished your studies?
MARSHALL GANZ: Yeah, I had a year to go. But see, when I left, it was to just go for the summer project. But I found a calling there.
INTERVIEWER: Marshall, what are your motives for going down to Mississippi this summer?
MARSHALL GANZ, 1964: Reading the papers last year, talking with people, and hearing about what was happening in Mississippi and the South, shooting of Medgar Evans and other events like that generates such a feeling of outrage and injustice that you feel you must act.
MARSHALL GANZ: I found this thing called organizing, which I had never really understood or heard of. And it wasn't about charity. It wasn't about, you know, helping. It was about it was about justice. It was about working with other people in a way that respected and enhanced their agency and my own at the same time.
BILL MOYERS: How did you learn that?
MARSHALL GANZ: Through being part of it.
MARSHALL GANZ: Our initial project, so we were trying to claim voting rights because African Americans of course, didn't have the right to vote in, any practical right to vote in Mississippi, Alabama, much of Georgia, and so forth, in those states, at that time.
The work was to build a parallel organization called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that was because the regular Democratic Party excluded Blacks.
So our idea was we were going to build a parallel one, choose a delegation, go to the Atlantic City Democratic Convention, 1964, challenge the racist Democrats, and replace them with our Democrats. And that was going to be a blow for the civil rights movement.
So the work was going to people's houses, Black people, talking with them, registering the Freedom Democratic Party, have a house meeting, come to a caucus, get elected.
Working with people to find courage, to find solidarity, to find a sense of hopefulness, to stand up to pretty scary stuff. I mean, you know, three of our group were killed before we even left Oxford, Ohio. That was Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. And so it was, I've often thought about that book by Paul Tillich, “Love, Power, and Justice”.
BILL MOYERS: “Love, Power, and Justice”.
MARSHALL GANZ: And where he argues that power without love can never be just, but similarly love that doesn't take power seriously can never achieve justice. And that was, I think, what I learned.
BILL MOYERS: You've said that when you tell a story, the story becomes three stories.
MARSHALL GANZ: Yes. Well, when we do public, so public narrative, is like a leadership skill of moving people to public action. So there's a story of self, which is using narrative to communicate why I've been called. So I tell stories that can communicate the values that move me. A story of us is using narrative to create a sense of the values we share as a community. And then the story of now is do they experience the challenge to those values that requires action now? So sort of three pieces.
BILL MOYERS: So that's what Martin Luther King meant when he talked about the urgency of now at Riverside Church?
MARSHALL GANZ: That's exactly right. And you'll see in that talk his calling and then he reminds us of what we're called to as African Americans, as White Americans, and as Americans.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, that is such a thing as being too late… And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when "justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
MARSHALL GANZ: It's so amazing the way he's able to speak the, the Christian language, but in a way that's inclusive and not exclusive. It's really extraordinary. It's extraordinary. And then and then because we share those values, guess what, folks, we face the fierce urgency of a now that requires action. That's what public narrative is.
BILL MOYERS: Is it true that the slogan for Cesar Chavez and his farm workers was “si se puede”?
MARSHALL GANZ: Si se puede, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Which translated literally into Obama's…
MARSHALL GANZ: "Yes, we can." Oh, you betcha.
BILL MOYERS: Is that right?
MARSHALL GANZ: Well, "si se puede" came in Arizona, 1972 Arizona had a governor Jack Williams that passed a law that denied farm workers the right to organize, boycott. I mean, it was a terrible law. And so we had to figure out were we going to challenge it or not?
So we all went to Arizona to challenge it. We got there. And went out talking to people. And Dolores Huerta actually came back. We were meeting in a hotel/motel room. She said, "I've been talking to all these everywhere. And everywhere I go, people say, 'no se puede,' 'no se puede.'" She goes, "Ah, you can't do it. You can't do it, you know? It's just too, you know? And we got to, we got to answer that. We got to say, 'si se puede.'" And so that became the slogan in that campaign was "si se puede." Yes, it can be done. And that then became a farm worker movement slogan. "Si se puede." So in New Hampshire, when Obama lost that night, and there was a lot of that talk going on around.
BARACK OBAMA: Generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums of the spirit of a people.
MARSHALL GANZ: Then comes out, "Yes, we can." Well, that's "si se puede."
BARACK OBAMA: Yes we can. Yes we can.
MARSHALL GANZ: That was a great moment. That was what sort of raised such hopes about his presidency.
BILL MOYERS: Did people count too much on his charisma and didn't assess his inexperience sufficiently.
MARSHALL GANZ: Oh, in retrospect, you know, probably so, you know? But I don’t know, I think there's plenty of responsibility to go around. I mean, I think there was too much readiness to just leave it up to Obama. And I think that those of us who wanted to do more about economic justice and immigration and climate change needed to do more.
We had to be contentious. That's how it works. It's like this idea that contentiousness is somehow alien to democracy and that consensus is somehow what democracy is about and that polarization is bad, paralysis is bad. But, you know, it's like Saul Alinsky says... Organizers have to be well-integrated schizoids, because you have to polarize to mobilize and depolarize to settle. But without polarizing you're never going to mobilize anything. And yeah, then there's a time to negotiate. And I think we're really screwed up on that right now…
BILL MOYERS: It's always been struggle and conflict and winners and losers that move us forward or backwards.
MARSHALL GANZ: That’s the heart of democracy, democracy is a system of contention. I mean, of constructive contention when it works.
MARSHALL GANZ in class: What did the farmworkers want? You remember in the farmworker story? Those that read that one? You remember in this context, in this moment what they wanted?
MALE STUDENT in class: Is it recognition for UFW?
MARSHALL GANZ in class: Yeah, it was recognition and it wound up being recognition from a particular employer, Schenley Industries, a big liquor company in Vallejo. And union recognition means a contract signed between the workers and the unions specifying wages, hours, working conditions and all the rest. Very, very concrete objective. Right? But that was, like, the focus of their efforts so that they could then move toward the bigger goals of broader justice and all the rest of it.
And so the whole point about outcomes is specifying them clearly enough that you can actually focus in and commit to making it happen or not. And, and I think a lot of project are struggling with that right now. It's how to specify the place between, you know, justice out there, goodness in the world and, like, my next meeting.
BILL MOYERS: Suppose one of those students said to you, "Professor Ganz, I know that the farm workers were out-financed and outmanned. And I know they were opposed by business owners and other labor leaders spurned them. Yet, you say that they worked out a successful, grassroots strategy to organize illiterate grape pickers. Is there any lesson in that?
MARSHALL GANZ: The lesson would be to look at how it was they figured out how to do it. See, it's sort of like you don't copy that. But you sort of look at the depth of motivation they brought to it, the creativity. How did they figure out their strategy? How did they understand power? What did they understand about it? How did they continue to renew their spirit that they were able to keep moving forward.
BILL MOYERS: How did they?
MARSHALL GANZ: Well, there was a lot of this heart work, a lot of the narrative, the storytelling, a lot of the celebratory, a lot of the nurturing of the heart. I mean, you know, it took us five years to run a grape boycott. And we had to reinvent that thing every year. And every year, you're going back in and saying, "Okay, we got to start again." But you find in each other, in the solidarity, in the myths if you wish that-- that feed you the capacity to keep going.
BILL MOYERS: I remember what you wrote once that you had learned in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. You said all the inequalities between Blacks and Whites were driven by a deeper inequality, the inequality of power. That seems to me, the fundamental reality of American life today.
MARSHALL GANZ: Yeah, I think the political inequality and the economic inequality and a kind of cultural inequality that sort of all reinforce one another is an enormous problem, obviously. I mean, that's sort of what we're trying to deal with. And so the question and in some ways, you could sort of think that liberal democracy is based on a deal that inequality and economic resources can be balanced by equality in political resources. In other words, that equal voice can somehow balance unequal wealth. Well we're sort of way beyond that. And…
BILL MOYERS: One man, one vote, one person, one vote has been, has been overwhelmed by $100,000 and a million dollars.
MARSHALL GANZ: And it's not even just the money. If you live in a swing state, your vote counts so much more than if you live in New York or Illinois or California, when it comes to electing a president. If you live in a swing district, when it comes to electing a member of Congress, your vote counts. If you live in a district that's been gerrymandered so it's all Democrats or all Republicans, your vote does not count. So when you really look at whose votes count, it's a very, very small proportion.
So we have some deep structural flaws that go all the way back to the beginning that aren't, they don't, it's not about us as a people or our culture, our beliefs. We're operating within in a set of political institutions that distort and actually warp our capacity to express our beliefs. Maybe what we really need is an equal voice amendment to guarantee that each vote actually had equal weight. That'd be pretty radical. And if we actually designed a system that did that, now, you know, would we get something like that tomorrow? No, probably not. But, but I guess my point is that, that there are a lot of sources of energy and change in a country, not to mention the world. A lot of it is generationally driven. It's in places that may be unexpected.
BILL MOYERS: Let me come closer to where you and I are today, Occupy Wall Street did pull economic inequality out of the closet and put it at the breakfast table, the lunch table, the dinner table, and the political roundtables on Sunday. But it didn't hang around to fight for it. What happened?
MARSHALL GANZ: Well, I think, I think Occupy made a great contribution in that it did what you just said. It, it took economic inequality, economic justice and made it legitimate. But they got stuck. I mean, they got stuck on a tactic, without a strategy that went beyond a tactic.
And, you know, one tactic doesn't build a movement. It takes, it takes venues in which people can strategize about how to move the ball forward. You know, I mentioned at the beginning sort of these three elements of story, strategy, and structure that you sort of need to build a movement, an organization.
You got to have your, the narrative is the “why” we're doing it. And then the strategy is how we're doing it, not just one tactic, but how, what's our theory of change. What's our theory of how we're going to use our resources to influence those sources of power. And then how are we, what's our structure through which we're figuring all this stuff out and working at it? And so they had problems there. You know, people confuse structure with oppression. And Jo Freeman wrote a great piece, this…
BILL MOYERS: The feminist?
MARSHALL GANZ: The feminist sociologist, called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” and I have all my students read it, where she argues, you think structurelessness, you're kidding yourself. Any time a group of people get together, they're going to create a structure. The difference is whether it's visible or invisible, whether it's accountable or not, and whether it's open and above board and, or whether it's all factionalized and personalistic. And so you choose what you want.And I think it's really honest. And so the rejection of structure is a sort of rejection of taking responsibility for self-governance.
BILL MOYERS: So you talk about the power of story and for the last 40 years, the story of the free market has been the triumphant story in American culture.
MARSHALL GANZ: It really is, you know? And it’s powerful, because it has a moral dimension and it has a political dimension and it has an economic dimension. It’s sort of like that the market means we're all free to make our own choices, so isn't that great, because we want to be free. And it's all about choices.
And politically, well it's all based on people making their choices. And so that's democratic. And economically, well, we all know it's efficient, right, because that's how markets work. It's, and the problem is every one of those claims is fundamentally flawed and fundamentally an act of faith. I mean, Harvey Cox wrote this thing about the market is God. And…but the big question is where's the missing alternative counter to that? And I think that is an enormous intellectual challenge for our time right now. Where's that alternative?
BILL MOYERS: We need a new story?
MARSHALL GANZ: We need a new story. But it's also a new way of describing our economic challenges and our political challenges that emphasizes not this idea of what each individual competes with, each other individual as the answer, but the ways in which we cooperate and collaborate with one another as the answer.
You know, Albert Hirschman, the development economist wrote this book a number of years ago, I'm sure you know about it, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” And sort of the idea was, okay, so you got an institution. And it's screwing up. And so one way to fix it is to exercise voice. The other way is you can exit. The market solutions are all exit solutions.
BILL MOYERS: Explain that to me.
MARSHALL GANZ: Well, so you don't like the way the schools work, exit, make your own over here. And that way you exercise choice. You don't like the way public health works, exit, over here, make your own. Now the only problem is you can only exit and make your own if you got the money to do it. And so the result is that you create these parallel systems of elite systems that are, you know, that fragment the whole.
The public gets poorer and poorer and poorer, and you create all these little isolated golden ghettos all around of privilege. And the focus is on how do we find market solutions, market solutions, market… when we should but saying, how do we find more effective ways to exercise voice? How can we have more, more effective public deliberation? How can we bring more people into the process? How can we create the venues where people can actually learn and deliberate with one another?
BILL MOYERS: Can you take this one step further or beyond government over to the leadership of other institutions, business leaders, educational leaders? I mean, how do we write a narrative that includes them in this new story of collaboration, cooperation?
MARSHALL GANZ: You know Karl Polanyi's book, “The Great Transformation,” written in 1941, sort of nailed it when he said, if you have a good that can, where price captures value, you can marketize it. And where price does not capture value you cannot marketize it.
And he was talking about labor and land when he was writing in 1941. And he was trying to explain the, the problem of the open market system after World War I that had wiped out all sorts of social structures that cleared the way for the rise of fascism in Europe. I mean, this is the context he was writing in. He was saying, "So the open market system was allowed to be a solvent that ground everything down."
Because it doesn't respect values other than price values. Now how do you put a price on education, really? How do you put a price on health, really? How do you put a price on art, really? Now when we price these things, we undermine their value. And so that's why we need churches. That's why we need schools whose value isn't based on pricing, it's based on a different set of understanding and the resources that it generate doesn't depend on pricing. So I don't know. There's potentials out there. But I think somehow we need to get this into the, we need to get into this debate. We need to get into this argument and have it be about something really substantive. And not get drawn into these, "Oh, we're too polarized" or something. We need to be more polarized, but polarized around the right things.
BILL MOYERS: Is there any kind of organizing like that going on?
MARSHALL GANZ: There's a lot of organizing going. I'm privileged to get to see it, because I work with young people. Within the immigrant world, the dreamers have done some great stuff. I mean, they do the organizing, the house meetings, the one on ones, all that good old organizing stuff. You know, the crew of young organizers came out of the Dean campaign in 2003 in…
BILL MOYERS: Howard Dean?
MARSHALL GANZ: Yeah, 2003-04, and that crowd that have, you know, percolated through Obama and all that in a variety of different ways. But they've brought sound organizing techniques into electoral politics in a way that had disappeared. It had all been marketing. It was all marketing. And not that marketing's not there now in a big way.
But the confusion between marketing and movement building is really a big one. And I think that's one of the things the environmental groups really, really missed the boat on. I think they thought that they could market their way to legislation. What I mean is that through polling and advertising, they could make what, the changes they wanted palatable to enough of the people that they could, in that way, create enough of a ground that they would get the legislation.
That's a marketing proposition. Movement building is you know that you don't have a majority. What you got to do is build enough of a constituency that you can develop the power you need in order to achieve what you want. And so what you're doing is engaging people, who engage other people, who engage other people. And you build a movement that way.
BILL MOYERS: Looking back on your life, is there a core to it? Is there a common denominator?
MARSHALL GANZ: There were three questions posed by a 1st century Jerusalem scholar Rabbi Hillel, when asked "How do we, how do we understand what we are to do in the world?" And he responded with three questions. The first one's to ask yourself, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" It's not a selfish question, but it is a self-regarding question. Sort of saying, "Ask yourself what you're about, what you value, what you have to contribute, what…" But then the second question is, "If I am for myself alone, what am I?" But it, which is, it's to even be a who and not a what is to recognize that we are in the world in relationship with others and that our capacity to realize our own objectives is inextricably wrapped up with the capacity of others to realize theirs.
And finally, "If not now, when?" The time for action is always now, because it's often only through action that we can learn what we need to learn in order to be able to act effectively in the ways that we intend. And the fact that they're questions is also really important to me, because it suggests that this work, this work of organizing, leadership is not about knowing, it's about learning.
And it's about asking and it's about understanding that it is about dealing with the uncertain. It is about probing the unknown. It's not about control. It’s about, it's about learning through purposeful experience. And so that's kind of, I think, what I've tried to, as I look back, what I've tried to learn, to teach, to do, to practice is how to be that kind of a learner and teacher.
BILL MOYERS: Marshall Ganz, I look forward to the next chapter of the story. Thank you for sharing your time and ideas with me.
MARSHALL GANZ: Thank you, Bill. Thank you very much.
BILL MOYERS: “If not now, when?” Answering that question committed citizens are taking lessons learned from Marshall Ganz’s long career of organizing and activism and putting them to work. With me are two women from opposite sides of the country who are leading the way.
Madeline Janis is co-founder and national policy director of LAANE, the "Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy." The organization was created after the L.A. riots of 1992 and has helped lift tens of thousands of people from poverty, creating, quote, “good jobs, thriving communities and a healthy environment.” Madeline Janis led the campaign to pass a living wage ordinance in Los Angeles, she worked with that city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and has advised community organizations and unions all over America.
Here in New York, Rachel LaForest is executive director of the organization, "Right to the City." Now in 11 states, it is dedicated to the principle that urban dwellers, especially the disenfranchised, have a right to shape and design the place where they live. Rachel LaForest was a student activist, worked in organized labor and at "Jobs with Justice," where she coordinated a successful effort that raised the New York State minimum wage. Welcome to you both.
MADELINE JANIS: Thank you.
RACHEL LAFOREST: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Do stories matter as Marshall Ganz says they do?
MADELINE JANIS: I think that, very, very true that we need story strategy, especially strategy and structure. Those things really speak to the idea of a comprehensive, a smart campaign as well as having a grassroots base. And thinking through smartly what we want to win and all of that. But I would say that I think it's more than a voice.
You have a struggling, you know, housekeeper in a hotel who cleans 25 rooms in a day and can barely, you know, make it and barely puts food on the table. The idea of her being able to fight for better working conditions, a union in her hotel, a living wage, that's going to move her a lot more than just the theory of being able to have a voice in her democracy.
Although, when she finds her voice, it's just the most incredible, empowering thing. And it's overpowering when she stands up before a city council, or she stands up before a press and tells her story. So the things come together, you know, in a really amazing way.
BILL MOYERS: Ganz does say that the stories provide the motivation and the courage. Is that true in the case of the people you work with?
RACHEL LAFOREST: 100 percent. It's interesting to hear him talk about-- stories and myths and-- story and strategy. So-- we think-- and-- and our member organizations build their work off of-- the idea that telling the story is what makes alive and gives dynamism to values. And so, your values are conveyed through the story that you tell.
And we see it in religious texts and it's how we raise our children. There are, you know, lessons that we impart to our kids so that they express their values and what's very important to them through story. And-- It puts a face to the organizing that happens on the ground. It makes very real the people and the material conditions that they're going through. It introduces neighbors to each other. It establishes trust. It's something that really starts to build the power and a collective voice of a community, in a way that facts and figures and being able to put up front statistics just doesn't get to.
BILL MOYERS: So, give me an example.
RACHEL LAFOREST: Right to the City has a national campaign around affordable housing called the Homes For All Campaign. And we could inundate, you know, our constituencies or a broader audience with the facts and figures that show that millions of people are on waiting lists for affordable housing. Millions of Americans are homeless.
Millions of people have been foreclosed out of their homes over the last five, six years. But rather than put out the figures, which I could read over my coffee in the newspaper and say, "This is horrible," but rather than do just that, we are telling stories about the individuals who are living through these experiences. So, we've got Mark Harris in Atlanta who's connected to an organization, Occupy our Homes Atlanta, which is a manifestation from the Occupy movement. He's a veteran, has been evicted from his home and is fighting, cannot find affordable housing in the city of Atlanta to be able to stay.
And so, telling his story puts an actual human being behind the idea. Allows people to see him, to see Roline Burgison, who's another one of our members from Providence, Rhode Island, who is paying 70 percent of her income to rent. So, what are the choices that she has to make around the quality of food that she's able to put on the food for her children, where she can send her kids to school, if she can send her kids to school. How she's able to get back and forth to work. Knowing these people, understanding them, is the best way to be able to make those linkages.
MADELINE JANIS: I think what it takes to win is all of these elements together.
RACHEL LAFOREST: That's right.
MADELINE JANIS: And we have to be really thoughtful and we have to recognize that it's a long haul. So we have to have, we have to organize. That's the number one. We have to have that housekeeper, we have to have that veteran. We have to have those people coming together and organizing. But we also have to have the facts and figures and we have to put them out in a way that's smart and that is right out there, in front of the decision makers.
And, by the way, we have to take control of our government, which means we have to be involved in politics. And then we have to put that all together with our stories and the communication.
BILL MOYERS: You recently won a campaign for a living wage for hotel workers in Long Beach, $13 an hour. How did you do it?
MADELINE JANIS: So, Long Beach is the second largest city in L.A. County. And we organized for two years in that city to win a living wage for all hotel workers. A living wage and five paid sick days. And we decided that we were going to do something differently there. We were going to do something the same in that the hotel workers themselves are telling their story, they're organizing. But we decided to organize small businesses. So we went out and we organized 130 small businesses to be part of a “buy local” campaign.
BILL MOYERS: Why small businesses? You would think that they would say, "But if you raise wages for our workers, we're going to cut our profit margin."
MADELINE JANIS: I know that's what you would think. But our polling showed that people recognized that the hotel workers who live in Long Beach, and there're a lot of them, don't have enough money to spend in their local stores, because they're not making enough money. And so, and these hotels have been beneficiaries of big subsidies from the city and the government. And therefore, they should be able to pay a living wage to their workers.
So our argument was, and the small business people made that argument themselves. They were strong advocates. "We want more customers. We want these hotel workers to be able to buy our clothes and our food." And so we had “buy local” signs everywhere. And then the most incredible thing was we won by 63percent.
And we kept seeing this, something that we thought was wrong. We had to be in an Alice in Wonderland story or something. We would see a Romney for President sign and a pro-Tea Party for Congress and Yes on the Living Wage, all on the same lawn. And that's because the idea of a living wage for people and their neighbors to be able to spend money in local stores resonated. And the--
BILL MOYERS: With Republicans?
MADELINE JANIS: With Republicans.
BILL MOYERS: With people who might be voting for Romney?
MADELINE JANIS: Yes. People were so incredibly energized about winning. And then, you know, January 1st 2,000 people and their families got this enormous raise and paid sick days. So then we organized the State of the City for Long Beach. And, you know, we had overflow crowds from every neighborhood.
BILL MOYERS: You organized what?
MADELINE JANIS: We called it a State of the City. People’s State of the City. And we had, you know, hundreds of people. Every single person running for office, every person currently in office in Long Beach all came. And we were able to articulate this broader agenda, with, you know, all of the things that regular people care about. But it came off of the win, the fact that you, people said, "Wow, 63 percent of the people are with us."
BILL MOYERS: I read that you did a story based strategy with homeowners facing foreclosure, that you're doing it in 11 cities. What's the story there?
RACHEL LAFOREST: So there is actually this brilliant organization that moves and does training for organizations in this country called The Center for Story Based Strategy. And their premise is exactly what Marshall describes. Is that values are communicated through meaning. Not necessarily through facts, but giving meaning to a set of values and being able to tell a story.
And so, we've got a national campaign around housing that we use foreclosure, homeowners who are facing foreclosure, homeless families and homeless individuals, renters and public housing residents for the first time really coming together to talk about how each of their stories influences each other and what each of their struggles has, in terms of interconnectedness and how there's influence. And so, we brought them through a training with the Center for Story Based Strategy to really look at what the dominant narrative is around housing in this country.
BILL MOYERS: What is it?
RACHEL LAFOREST: Well, for a long time it's been that your ticket to the American dream, or demonstrating that you've arrived within the American dream, that a piece of that is home ownership. And that owning a home meant that you have claimed a stake and you are now a part of the fabric of this country. So what did that mean for people who were homeless, who were renters, who were part of public housing?
So it created a huge chasm. And so, we're challenging the assumption that home ownership means the American dream. But that rather that access to equitable housing and housing that is affordable and allows for people to participate in their communities is actually what the American Dream is.
BILL MOYERS: Madeline, I don't know of anyone who's won more organizing victories than you. Would you just tick off a few that you've won? Give me the headline of a few of them.
MADELINE JANIS: This past year we won this huge victory around completely restructuring our trash, the way our trash is dealt with. The way we deal with our trash in this country is an outrage, both for our planet, but also for the people who handle it.
Sanitation workers, people who sort the recyclables or people who work in the landfills. Long story short, the city of L.A. is going to be opening a new program next year. The entire city's going to be divided into 11 regions and each of those regions is going to have amazingly great labor standards, mandatory recycling, composting and clean trucks. We also won a clean trucks program at the Port of Los Angeles.
Five years ago, where the port said to Walmart and all the big global companies, “The old Diesel trucks, you're going to have to phase them out, and you're going to have to use clean trucks. And you're going to have to, by the way, you're going to have to deal with us directly. This is not just some open market system. We actually are going to exercise some control.
Now, that victory has resulted in 80 percent reduction in pollution from the port. 80 percent reduction. Air is cleaner. You also have workers who are driving those trucks who are, have been organizing. And because part of the problem was they were all misclassified as independent contractors. It was a very, it is a very abusive industry. Well, the truck drivers themselves are starting to turn that around and win union elections and to negotiate real, decent contracts. So what we're trying to do is imagine a new economy for all really that lifts all boats. And really get involved in our government, get people involved in our government in order to achieve that vision.
BILL MOYERS: A new economy for all. That involves a new story, doesn't it?
MADELINE JANIS: Yes. The new story of the economy is that everybody deserves a good job and a decent life. And that our government, our democracy has the tools to ensure that. And that responsible companies are so welcome. And companies that are willing to work in partnership with community and balance their interests. We want them to do well, but with a community interest, we’ll be more successful and we’ll have greater prosperity for everyone.
RACHEL LAFOREST: I actually think that the push for a new economy is also around innovation. So Marshall Ganz had mentioned this dominant narrative that the market, the free market solves all problems. You know, has the solutions to everything that we are encountering.
And I think that a new economy actually challenges that assumption that we all have, that the market has the answers. And you can look around the world and even places here in this country, where there are innovative, economic models that are cooperative models, like cooperative food systems, cooperative labor banks, cooperative housing systems.
Where communities actually have a certain level of ownership. I think that's a really important component of what we mean when we start to talk about a new American economy.
BILL MOYERS: Have either of you been able, with your colleagues, to sway a big corporation?
MADELINE JANIS: Many big corporations have been swayed. We believe in winning, we recognize that we're not going to win our whole dream. We're not going to win our whole agenda immediately. We're going to move step by step and hopefully we're going to convert a lot of good businesses along the way to be our partners.
RACHEL LAFOREST: Uh-huh. And change the culture. You know, you set a precedent and so then you model a culture that people want to emulate. I think for us, rather than a corporation because the last several years have really been working on consolidating a comprehensive housing campaign, we've been looking at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, essentially, a bank, if you will, holding most of the mortgages in this country.
And seeing many, many properties tank and go into foreclosure. And so, at the pinnacle of this fight around the foreclosure crisis, there's been a real battle around principle reduction, which is reducing the cost of a home to its current market value, as opposed to expecting the homeowner to pay what it was when they took out their mortgage. Which would allow millions of people to say in their homes.
In addition to that there's an obligation to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, which would create affordable housing throughout the country. So we've got Ed DeMarco, who's been the acting director of the FHFA, the Federal Housing and Finance Administration, who has refused to even consider looking at principle reduction or the funding of the National Housing Trust Fund as a solution. And the win has been Obama announced that he's going to replace this man.
BILL MOYERS: You've been fighting to get him out.
RACHEL LAFOREST: For years. We've been fighting four plus years. Some of our groups knew that this was a problem and were targeting him from five or six years ago. And it really started to develop as the foreclosure crisis hit the forefront of the headlines, that it pulled in new local and national entities into this fight. And now this man is going to be replaced. And we are in the mix of discussing the kind of person that needs to be running the Federal Housing and Finance Administration. And it took years. And lots of hard organizing on the ground.
BILL MOYERS: What kept you going?
RACHEL LAFOREST: People's stories. People's joys and inspiration around small victories that happen on the ground. So in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield No One Leaves, a very small organization there, got an ordinance passed that said that any mortgage holder that is able to foreclose a family out of their home has to pay a $10,000 bond to upkeep the property so that the entire community is not blighted and so that people's spirits are not killed.
In Los Angeles SAJE, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy just won a comprehensive benefit, a community benefit agreement with the University of Southern California, who wants to expand out and build student housing. And they were granted $20 million in creating affordable housing, along with the student housing, and a guarantee to hire 30 percent of those jobs locally. So those small victories aggregate to this larger sort of beating heart and people feeling deeply inspired by each other. But it takes work. So a role for Right to the City Alliance is to bring those organizations together as often as possible, to talk about those victories and the models and the challenges so that there is reciprocal inspiration happening across the country.
BILL MOYERS: I'm going to give you both the last word by telling me, what can people listening do? What would you have them do?
MADELINE JANIS: There are great organizations in every part of this country. And, probably not well known. So people can be involved in multiple ways. They can be involved in organizing around a living wage campaign or around a housing rights campaign. Or a campaign that's, you know, that's environmental and, or building sustainable communities and good jobs.
There are, you can be involved in your church. And, you know, in churches and synagogues there are a lot of religious leaders of faith who are connecting to groups like, for example, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. In California there're chapters all over. The National Interfaith Committee. Be involved in your union. A lot of people still belong to unions in this country.
And, but unions are made up of human beings. And those unions are not going to become progressive, stalwart leaders in this country until you and all of your coworkers take responsibility for your union. And become involved and fight for a really broader progressive agenda. There're so many ways to become involved. And, you know, you just have your pick of them. And I would say also contribute your funding, your own personal money. You know, fifty dollars here, one hundred dollars there from everybody really adds up.
RACHEL LAFOREST: Two dollars, five dollars really adds up. And I would add that there are even smaller and more manageable things that people can do. Educate your family. Really be open to learning about what is the vehicle for your values that really gets your values expressed? You know, be open to talking to your children around, about immigration and what that fight is about. About education and what it means, what the fight looks like to make sure that they're able to be educated. About housing. Have conversations with your community and your family. Volunteer your time, open your home for an organization to be able to hold a meeting or bring some people together. There are so many ways. But so much of it can start with how you communicate in your home, how you open yourself up to understanding what the political current is, what the political moment is and the way that you can be engaged is huge in and of itself.
BILL MOYERS: Rachel LaForest and Madeline Janis, thank you very much for being with me. I've really enjoyed this conversation.
MADELINE JANIS: Thank you so much.
RACHEL LAFOREST: Thank you for having us. BILL MOYERS: At our website, billmoyers.com, Rachel LaForest and Madeline Janis tell us how their life stories led them to the fight for equality and democracy. So do three of Marshall Ganz’s students at Harvard and a chorus of others. We invite you to add your voice to the mix. It’s all at billmoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.