Resilience-Based Organizing

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At MG, we are learning about and support inspiring stories of direct action resilience in many places across the country and the globe. We have been particularly interested in organizing work that has in common is a shared recipe for change – one that draws deeply from our diverse ancestral and experiential wisdom of how to live well together (buen vivir) and combines it with the strategies needed to upend the power-structure of the dominant political-economy and usher in the next economy based on a new, single bottom line: balanced, life-affirming relationships in the places we call home.

This recipe for resilience combines the right ingredients to cook up effective change. In traditional campaign-based organizing, communities identify a problem/issue and then target a political figure with decision-making power to change rules or implement regulations in order to alleviate that problem. This is still absolutely valuable and needed work – the work of winning the incremental changes that improve conditions. However, a different strategic approach (new for many today) is emerging among organizers across the country and the world. Resilience-Based Organizing (RBO) is emerging among communities that are steeped in an ecological consciousness and who recognize that a way to make transformative social change requires that we organizes communities into a collective effort to meet the need at hand through direct democratic decision-making and physical implementation by those who are being impacted by the problem. These actions are taken with the knowledge, and, ideally, the intention, of butting up against legal or political barriers that force the questions of whether we have the right to self-govern and take right action in our own interests. The approach is to lead with the vision; live that vision; and live it in a way that reorients power to be more local and democratic; rather than simply trying to win concessions from corporations, or the structures of government that serve them.

The concessions that are often obtained through traditional campaign-based organizing are tempting – and at times needed just to get by; especially when we are all so hungry for change. But concessions are like fast food: convenient, even tasty sometimes; but in the end, leaves you unhealthy and, more often than not, unsatisfied. And while it is much harder to grow, harvest, cook and share our own food, in the end we all know how much better it really is. It is power. Just like healthy food, resilient communities are not meted out on a tray, served up hot, anonymous and uniform. Resilient communities can weather the inevitable changes set in motion by a death-dependent economy, built entirely on exploitation. They are grounded in reflective, responsive and deeply reverential relationships.

There are three core ingredients that make Resilience-Based Organizing effective:

Building a Transformative Narrative: People will not go someplace we have not first traveled to in our minds. “Here at the Center for Story-based Strategy we always remind organizers of that,” asserted Christine Cordero, of CSS. And so we must first craft together and paint for others an irresistible vision of the future. A vision that is not built on a fear of the worst, but of knowing that everything can be better. A vision that recognizes that social inequity is a form of ecological imbalance, and the solution to millions just “getting by,” is not in “getting ahead,” but in “getting together.” What has anchored so much transformative organizing is a willingness to articulate a bold vision worth working for.

Restoring our labor: What the hands do, the heart learns. While there is no way forward without vision, vision is not enough. We must apply our own labor to build that vision now, regardless of how “un-realistic” or “impractical” we are told it is. If we put our work only into opposing what we don’t want, we build not love for our vision, but only longing. The first rule of ecological restoration is the restoration of our own labor. Human labor is the precious natural resource, concentrated, controlled and exploited, that has been wielded like a chainsaw against the rest of the natural world. Because of this, we must take it back from the chains of the market and restore it to the web of life. This should be the basis of our organizing at every scale, from the school to the workplace; from grassroots organizing to trans-local movement building. Through models of Transformative Justice, for example, in which people self-organize to directly address harm in their community without relying on policing and prisons, organizations such as Creative Interventions based in Oakland, Ca are working with victims of violence to create their own solutions.

Contesting for Power: If it’s the right thing to do, we have every right to do it. Ultimately, the struggle at the heart of Resilience-Based Organizing is one of democracy. In order to remake the very shape of governance, from one that centers power in the illegitimate authority of corporations, military states and global financial elites to one that centers power in the hands of the people, we must organize in our communities to take the visionary right action that directly asserts our right to self-govern. If it is the right thing to do, we have every right to do it. This is how we expose and depose the corporate oligarchy that is the barrier to the collective liberation or our communities and ecosystems.

In 2012, Movement Generation began documenting, building upon and catalyzing this form of power building with our collaborative partners here in the Bay Area (Urban Tilth in Richmond and People Organized to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights – PODER in San Francisco) as well as with our broader set of allies.


Left: RBO training and strategic planning with AYPAL
Right: MG, Urban Tilth, and PODER on an RBO learning exchange trip in Detroit, MI

To learn more about RBO, contact Carla Perez at