Popular Education Practices for Community Organizing

Every time we facilitate group learning, we have the chance to uncover our personal and collective power to change circumstances for the better.  Popular education practices shift dominant power dynamics by unraveling the 'expert paradigm' and tapping into the capacity of groups to develop their own solutions to the problems they face..


Tap into the Power of Circles

There is an inherent power in circles.  When we come together in circles, we show up as our full selves.  Circles remind us of our human values, like unity, equality, connection, love, and inclusion. Even when we aren’t in the shape of a circle, we invite those values in and make sure everyone feels included, valued, and protected.

  • Start and end in a standing circle
  • Focus on unity, equality, connection, love and inclusion
  • Analyze hierarchical structures critically
  • Practice working in non-hierarchical structures
  • Invent new non-hierarchical structures


Recognize Community Members as Experts

All people are experts in something— their own lives.  As popular educators, our job is to tap into that expertise.   We begin by creating space for people to share their experiences, knowledge and skills.  From that foundation come critical questions and new learning.  This is important for two reasons: 1) This is how humans learn: we make connections to what we already know; and 2) Recognizing and honoring our own expertise helps to dismantle internalized oppression.  

  • Start workshops with opportunities for participants to share their own stories
  • Create space for people to analyze their own realities
  • Connect new ideas to people’s experience
  • Build skills as needed so the expertise is within the community


Create a Dynamic Flow between Ideas and Action

Learning is for the sake of informed and strategic action and all action holds great learning.  Our goal is to create a dynamic relationship between ideas and actions, theory and practice, movement and reflection.  Processes are not complete until they lead to informed and reflective action

  • Start by creating space for people to share and reflect on their own experiences
  • Invite people to identify problems they want to solve or critical questions they want to address
  • Create space for participants to generate theories and solutions that they can test
  • Use simulations to try-on new ideas and solutions
  • Build opportunities for action and implementation of ideas into the curriculum
  • Reflect on actions taken and from there refine solutions or actions as needed
  • Repeat this process


Create Space for Critical Inquiry and Liberation

When people join together with their peers to name their world by critically reflecting on the socio-economic and political conditions they exist in and then imagine and try-on possibilities for something much better, liberation happens

  • Prioritize opportunities for shared analysis
  • Be explicit about oppression, power and privilege to support participants in questioning the status quo
  • Create opportunities to reimagine the world
  • Ask critical questions
  • Create space for participants to articulate critical questions


Integrate Authentic Relationship-Building throughout Processes

The key to real change is genuine trusting relationships between human beings who believe in themselves and each other.  Facilitators have power to create a felt and experienced equality within the room, between the facilitator and other participants, and between the participants.  Relationship-building approaches can be engaged throughout our entire processes together.  We build true solidarity by taking time to make space for the diversity of backgrounds, opinions, and perspectives that everyone comes with, not just parts of people.  We find shared problems, and respect everyone’s unique perspective, voice and personal process.  Love drives the work.

  • See every activity as an opportunity for participants to build deeper relationships with each other
  • Honor, celebrate, and explore differences to foster true respect
  • Explore the concept of solidarity to generate practices that cultivate true solidarity
  • Listen for what people love and reflect that back to them
  • Create space for different styles and processes
  • Find shared problems that can be addressed collectively; or intersections between unique problems


Draw on Personal Experiences as Windows into Systemic Realities

Our work is about exploring the microcosm to better understand the macrocosms.  Understanding structural oppression is key to healing from Interpersonal oppression.  Interpersonal oppression provides a starting point for understanding structural oppression.  Our job as facilitators is to create the conditions that allow students to connect their personal experience to an analysis of the systemic realities that impact our personal experiences.   Contextualize: Connect to the history, present and future of the topic.

  • When planning workshops, look for opportunities to tap into personal stories and ways to draw out systemic analysis
  • Bring in frameworks for understanding systemic issues
  • Create space for participants to articulate how they are impacted personally by systemic issues
  • Whenever possible, provide an historical context for current issues
  • Invite participants to map issues exploring the personal, the interpersonal, and the structural
  • Use theater games to create microcosms of systemic realities


Cultivate Creativity & Intuition

Humans are creative beings; the more opportunities to nurture our creativity, the more human we become; we use our creativity to solve problems.  The work of an organizer is generative, you create the work as you go and use multiple creative means to provide everyone opportunity to contribute in a medium that works for them.

  • Create space for creative problem-solving
  • Invite participants to identify all the ways they use their creativity in their daily lives
  • Constantly reinforce that we are creative beings
  • Draw upon multiple modalities: art, music, theater, dance, games, construction, sewing, cooking, agriculture, math, philosophy, etc.
  • Treat every challenge as an adventure


Actively Seek to Understand and Build Power

Ultimately, the work is about transforming our relationship to power.  This first means having an analysis of power and understanding that power works on multiple levels: personal power, collective power, and dominant power.  In popular education spaces, we tap into personal and collective power to transform or interrupt dominant power. As facilitators it is important that we have our own analysis of power and how it works, and that we allow power building to be the guiding light of our practice.

  • Develop your own power analysis
  • Use games and simulations to get people analyzing power dynamics
  • Develop a shared framework for understanding power
  • Cultivate personal and collective power
  • Demystify dominant power


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Facilitating Power
We are dedicated to cultivating personal and collective power through innovative approaches to education and organizing that meet the demands of our shifting social climates

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