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Organizing for Change

Making Our Voices Heard

Strength in Numbers

This impulse toward activism usually begins when something affects us or someone we know. We may be motivated by a health problem or by injustices in our neighborhoods and schools. A friend or family member may alert us to issues we care deeply about and want to work to improve.

Organizing does not take experts or a lot of money. What it does take is a committed group of individuals willing to invest time and energy to work together toward a common goal. The Internet and mobile technology (which has even higher use among African Americans and Latinos than among whites)2 have made it easier for more people from diverse backgrounds to share information and get involved in causes that matter most to them.

Creating change on a larger level takes many voices. After we have taken a few steps on our own, we may want to get involved with groups working on an issue or start a group of our own. Here are some questions for groups to consider in the early stages of organizing:

  • Can we clearly define our issue?

  • What do we already know about the issue? What don’t we know? What research has already been done, and by whom?

  • What will be the scope of our work? Do we have enough people to manage the work we want to do?

  • Which online/offline communications tools will we use to spread our message? Which communication tools are used by the people most affected by this issue?

  • Are there organizations or individuals already working on the problem? If so, how can we work together?

  • How many women are affected? Are the women most affected involved in efforts to create solutions?

  • Who are the opposition? How are they supported/ funded?

  • What approaches to the problem are we considering? What resources are needed to accomplish them? Where will we find the needed resources?

  • How will our group be organized? What will be our group norms on inclusiveness, diversity, decision making, and logistics?

The answers to these questions will help you to create a supportive group infrastructure and work toward formulating an action plan. Think of specific objectives and consider what tools and resources you need to realize each goal. Remember to focus on telling people’s stories, which helps to personalize the issue.

Don’t assume that everyone will know about an event if you post it on Facebook. Think about whom you’re trying to reach and adapt your message—and your medium—accordingly.

In our group, very few women had experience speaking publicly to or before the media. So we set aside some meetings to role-play, to practice speaking before a group, and to learn how to say the most important things in the least amount of time. We also practiced saying the things we wanted people to hear, even if they were not related to the interviewer’s question. Doing all this is a great way to break through shyness and stage fright.

Get Your Message Out

Need help making your voice heard? These groups work with individuals and organizations, helping them to tell their own stories and develop media expertise.

  • The OpEd Project (theopedproject.org) trains female experts in all fields to write for the op-ed pages of major print and online forums of public discourse. The OpEd Project works with universities, nonprofits, corporations, women’s organizations, and community leaders and offers seminars open to the public in major cities across the nation. Scholarships are available.

  • The Women’s Media Center (womensmediacenter.org) aims to make women visible and powerful in the media. In addition to offering media training workshops to the public, women can apply for the Progressive Women’s Voices Project, an all-expenses paid program that trains women to position themselves as thought leaders/experts in their fields; craft strong media messages and newsworthy pitches; and prepare for both friendly and hostile broadcast interviews.

  • Barefoot Workshops (barefootworkshops.org) is a New York City–based nonprofit organization that teaches individuals and organizations how to use digital video, new media, and the arts to transform their communities and themselves.

  • “Get Noticed! How to Publicize Your Book or Film” (aidandabet.org/resources/get-noticed) is your DIY guide to promoting a project. Written by Jen Angel, Matt Dineen, and Justine Johnson, this fifty-plus-page booklet covers everything from writing press materials to using social media and pitching stories to reporters at independent and mainstream media outlets.

Recommended Resources:  Activist ToolBox

  • Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice develops a range of tools and  media that support reproductive justice  organizing and movement building work

  • Center for Media Justice Toolbox provides research, tips, and tools to help  social justice and human rights advocates  build campaigns, organize events, and  strategize on issues 

  • The Citizen’s Handbook, a website put together by Vancouver Community Network, offers well-organized lists of organizing  tactics and activities

  • The Community Toolbox, a service of  the Work Group for Community Health  and Development at the University of  Kansas, is a global resource for free information  on essential skills for building  healthy communities. In addition to offering  practical guidance, it includes links to  hundreds of resources and groups related  to community health and development

  • TechSoup provides nonprofits and libraries  with technology that empowers them  to fulfill their missions and serve their communities 


2. “Mobile Access 2010,” Pew Internet & American Life, July 7, 2010, pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Mobile-Access-2010.aspx.

Excerpted from the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.


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