One of the greatest challenges any organizer or visionary leader faces is getting others to believe in their own potential to change the world.
But the thousands of protestors in Egypt have broken through this first barrier and seen themselves, their friends, and their neighbors alter the course of a nation’s history. I believe that their next step is to hold on to that togetherness.
Every Egyptian protestor who believes in democracy has an obligation to remain involved, for it is through involvement in communities, associations, unions, and groups that democracy is built, tended, guarded, and grown. These groups provide an essential feedback loop to democracy. Let me put it another way: there can be no democracy without civilian institutions. Citizens’ work does not end when the enemy is toppled.
I will use unions as my primary example, though you could just as easily substitute studentMy wish for you is that you find many and powerful ways to assemble together. As you are building your new government, I think you will find that there is tremendous power in coming together to pool your collective resources unions, community associations, religious groups, or artisan societies. These mutualist groups are all built upon trust and connectivity between their members, just as a democracy requires trust and connectivity between citizens and their government. But unions serve as mouthpieces for broad swaths of working adults (at least ideally—this role is hampered by a decline in unionism, as we’ve seen in past decades in America ), and are a way for people to voice their level of satisfaction with their nation’s progress.
The reports of protestors coming together to clean the streets in the days after their victory were heartening. This is exactly the kind of mutualism that will make their ongoing efforts powerful, if it can be sustained.
So my first word of advice to the people of Tahrir Square would be to keep coming together as you are already doing, and begin to establish your basic priorities—what do you need? In the United States , we at Freelancers Union learned that health care was the top need for people without traditional, full-time work. In Egypt , what is it? Employment? Safe streets? Help caring for young and elderly family members?
My wish for you is that you find many and powerful ways to assemble together. As you areEven the president of a strong democracy cannot govern a million individuals, but a million people who organize in groups can do a lot of governing on their own building your new government, I think you will find that there is tremendous power in coming together to pool your collective resources. Different groups joining together for different reasons, like creating loan funds or business cooperatives, may find they are powerfully equipped to make a difference and get their needs met. Cooperatives, for example, can not only meet many of their members’ own needs but also find ways the government can support their endeavors and lobby to win that support.
Continue to embrace the power of technology to support your organizing efforts. You’ve seen the power of cell phones and social media to educate and motivate people—keep this momentum going. Use Meetup. Dream up creative projects to tell your stories, and fund them through Kickstarter. There are sophisticated programs that political groups use specifically for tracking volunteers or voters, but we’ve just as often used Microsoft Excel or Google Docs. But don’t replace traditional organizing strategies. Collect names. Stay in touch. Have meetings. Focus on solving problems. Develop a revenue model so that you can keep your work going.
In short, there are five steps to building a sustainable group:
• First, collect names, email addresses, and phone numbers.
• Second, develop leaders.
• Sell something to support your entity, whether it’s services, goods, or subscriptions.
• Establish an agenda with a few clear top goals.
• Lastly, have a strategic plan to reach those goals and act only on those top goals.
A healthy suspicion of government can be a good thing. But know that when your democracy faces challenges, your greatest asset is your “ Tahrir Square ”—your collective voice. Even the president of a strong democracy cannot govern a million individuals, but a million people who organize in groups can do a lot of governing on their own, and make, to use an American saying, a darn squeaky wheel that needs to be heard.
Sara Horowitz is the Founder and Executive Director of Freelancers Union. Horowitz was named one of "25 People to Watch" in 2010 by Crain's New York, was selected as one of "100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow" at the 2002 World Economic Forum by the Schwab Foundation, named one of Esquire Magazine's "50 Best and Brightest" in 2002, and received a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1999