Storytelling “Words” of Obama. Marshall Ganz and Why “Stories Matter”



How many times have Americans heard personal stories told by Obama about American’s struggling?  Can YOU trust Obama to be telling the truth?

Communists and Democratic Socialists have learned to put a “personal face” to sell their agenda.

Who did Obama learn this from?



Marshall Ganz: Why Stories Matter

BY  | FEBRUARY 18, 2009

Marshall Ganz is a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He played an instrumental, and largely anonymous, role in shaping Barack Obama’s recent campaign.

Most importantly, Dr. Ganz has served as mentor to my daughter (and Friends of Justice board member) Lydia Bean.  This understanding of story has helped Friends of Justice understand the power of our narrative strategy. I don’t have to tell you anything more because Marshall Ganz begins with his own story.  This article is taken from the current issue of Sojourners

Why Stories Matter
The art and craft of social change.

by Marshall Ganz

I grew up in Bakersfield, California, where my father was a rabbi and my mother was a teacher. I went to Harvard in 1960, in part because it was about as far as I could get from Bakersfield, which was the terminus of the dust bowl migration that John Steinbeck made famous in The Grapes of Wrath.

I got my real education, however, when I left Harvard to work in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. I went to Mississippi because, among other things, my father had served as an Army chaplain in Germany right after World War II. His work was with Holocaust survivors, and as a child the Holocaust became a reality in our home. The Holocaust was interpreted to me as a consequence of racism, that racism is an evil, that racism kills. I made a choice to go to Mississippi.

I also was raised on years of Passover Seders. There’s a part in the Passover Seder when they point to the kids and say, “You were a slave in Egypt.” I finally realized the point was to recognize that we were all slaves in Egypt and in our time that same struggle from slavery to freedom is always going on, that you have to choose where you stand in that. The civil rights movement was clearly about that struggle. It was in Mississippi that I learned to be an organizer and about movement-building.

I went to Mississippi because it was a movement of young people, and there’s something very particular about young people, not just that they have time. Walter Brueggemann writes in The Pro­phetic Imagination about the two elements of prophetic vision. One is criticality, recognition of the world’s pain. Second is hope, recognition of the world’s possibilities. Young people come of age with a critical eye and a hopeful heart. It’s that combination of critical eye and hopeful heart that brings change. That’s one reason why so many young people were and are involved in movements for social change.

THE INITIAL CHALLENGE for an organizer-or anybody who’s going to provide leadership for change-is to figure out how to break through the inertia of habit to get people to pay attention. Often that breakthrough happens by urgency of need. Sometimes it happens because of anger-and by anger I don’t mean rage, I mean outrage. It’s the contradiction between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be. Our experience of that tension can break through the inertia and apathy of things as they always are.

How do organizers master urgency to break through inertia? The difference in how individuals respond to urgency or anxiety (detected by the brain’s surveillance system) depends on the brain’s dispositional system, the second system in the brain, which runs from enthusiasm to depression, from hope to despair. When anxiety hits and you’re down in despair, then fear hits. You withdraw or strike out, neither of which helps to deal with the problem. But if you’re up in hope or enthusiasm, you’re more likely to ask questions and learn what you need to learn to deal with the unexpected.

Hope is not only audacious, it is substantial. Hope is what allows us to deal with problems creatively. In order to deal with fear, we have to mobilize hope. Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change.

The way we talk about this is not just to go up to someone and say, “Be hopeful.” We don’t just talk about hope and other values in abstractions. We talk about them in the language of stories because stories are what enable us to communicate these values to one another.

ALL STORIES HAVE three parts: a plot, a protagonist, and a moral. What makes a plot a plot? What gets you interested? Tension. An anomaly. The unexpected. The uncertain and the unknown. A plot begins when the unknown intervenes. We all lean forward because we are familiar with the experience of having to confront the unknown and to make choices. Those moments are the moments in which we are most fully human, because those are the moments in which we have the most choice. While they are exhilarating moments, they are also scary moments because we might make the wrong choice. We are all infinitely curious in learning how to be agents of change, how to be people who make good choices under circumstances that are unexpected and unknown to us.

In a story, a challenge presents itself to the protagonist who then has a choice, and an outcome occurs. The outcome teaches a moral, but because the protagonist is a humanlike character, we are able to identify empathetically, and therefore we are able to feel, not just understand, what is going on.

A story communicates fear, hope, and anxiety, and because we can feel it, we get the moral not just as a concept, but as a teaching of our hearts. That’s the power of story. That’s why most of our faith traditions interpret themselves as stories, because they are teaching our hearts how to live as choiceful human beings capable of embracing hope over fear, self-worth and self-love over self-doubt, and love over isolation and alienation.

HOW DO WE recapture that power of public narrative and learn the art of leadership storytelling?

A leadership story is first a story of self, a story of why I’ve been called. Some people say, “I don’t want to talk about myself,” but if you don’t interpret to others your calling and your reason for doing what you’re doing, do you think it will just stay uninterpreted? No. Other people will interpret it for you. You don’t have any choice if you want to be a leader. You have to claim authorship of your story and learn to tell it to others so they can understand the values that move you to act, because it might move them to act as well.

We all have a story of self. What’s utterly unique about each of us is not the categories we belong to; what’s utterly unique to us is our own journey of learning to be a full human being, a faithful person. And those journeys are never easy. They have their challenges, their obstacles, their crises. We learn to overcome them, and because of that we have lessons to teach. In a sense, all of us walk around with a text from which to teach, the text of our own lives.

The second story is the story of us. That’s an answer to the question, Why are we called? What experiences and values do we share as a community that call us to what we are called to? What is it about our experience of faith, public life, the pain of the world, and the hopefulness of the world? It’s putting what we share into words. We’ve all been in places where people have worked together for years, but there’s no us there because they don’t share their stories. Faith traditions are grand stories of us. They teach how to be an us.

Finally, there’s the story of now-the fierce urgency of now. The story of now is realizing, after the sharing of values and aspirations, that the world out there is not as it ought to be. Instead, it is as it is. And that is a challenge to us. We need to appreciate the challenge and the conflict between the values by which we wish the world lived and the values by which it actually does. The difference between those two creates tension. It forces upon us consideration of a choice. What do we do about that? We’re called to answer that question in a spirit of hope.

Our goal is to meet this challenge, to seize this hope, and turn it into concrete action. After developing our stories of self, then we work on building relationships, which forms the story of us. From there we turn to strategizing and action, working together to achieve a common purpose, learning to experience hope-that’s the story of now.

I LEARNED IMPORTANT lessons in Mississippi that underlie the art and work of organizing.

All the inequalities between blacks and whites were driven by a deeper inequality-the inequality of power. Paul Tillich taught us that the work of justice requires power, and for power to become justice requires love. All three are intimately related. We cannot turn our love into justice without engaging power. Justice is not achieved without struggle. It’s not achieved without mobilizing power. Organizing is about mobilizing power.

The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and 1956 was an example of turning individual resources into collective power. To resist the segregated buses, the black bus riders refused to pay the fare to the bus company, and they refused not as individuals but as a community. By withdrawing that financial resource from the city of Mont­gom­ery, they turned an individual resource into collective power.

Gandhi taught us that most systems of power are based on interdependence and require some degree of cooperation between those who are exploited by them as well as those who benefit from them. Communities get organized because there are people among them who are skilled organizers, who are skilled leaders.

Leadership is about enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty. When there’s certainty, when you know what to do, you don’t need leadership. It’s when you don’t know what to do that the art and creativity of leadership matters. It matters even more in enabling others to work together to achieve a common purpose in the face of uncertainty.

One way to look at leadership is reaching down to mobilize the resources of a constituency and turning them into goals consistent with that constituency’s values.

We start with the skill of relationship-building, the story of self. Then we develop the skill of motivation or the story of us. Third, the skill of strategizing, the story of now. And fourth, the skill of action.

Marshall Ganz is a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. This article was adapted from his presentation at Sojourners’ Training for Change conference in June 2008.


**Emphasis added**


Break here for this Link:

Radicalism for “Change” a la Obama and Alinsky. “Top down, Bottom Up, and Inside Out”

*Michelle Obama quotes Alinsky’s “World as it is; and the world as it should be” ……..



MORE on Marshall Ganz:

Welcome to Marshall Ganz’s Web module on organizing. Professor Ganz is a long-time organizer; a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and a principal of Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.

Please  click here to preview the featured video vignette of Ganz’s “Motivations” (52 seconds).


     This Web module contains learning materials that touch upon such questions as:

  • What is organizing?
  • How do people organize?
  • What skills are required of organizers?
  • How can these skills be shared with others?

This module is designed for organizers, students, and trainers of organizers alike. It is more of a library than online course per se. Organizers and students will find readings, video lecture clips and Web links on organizing (“Learning Resources” tab on this website). In addition, trainers will find a pedagogy of organizing developed by Professor Ganz and his colleagues (“Trainer’s Workshop”).

As Ganz explains, learning organizing is learning a practice, like riding a bicycle–falling off, and having the courage to get back on, is the only way you can learn to keep your balance. (See the “Learning Organizing” section of this website for more detail.)




Will Obama Inspire a New Generation of Organizers?

by Peter Drier

Spring 2008


Whether or not he wins the race for the White House, Obama, through his own example, has already dramatically increased the visibility of grassroots organizing as a career path, as well as a way to give ordinary people a sense of their own collective power to improve their lives and bring about social change.

Obama’s Organizing Experience

In 1985, at age 23, Obama was hired by the Developing Communities Project, a coalition of churches on Chicago’s South Side, to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing, and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores, and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms, and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to change things.

As an organizer, Obama learned the skills of motivating and mobilizing people who had little faith in their ability to make politicians, corporations, and other powerful institutions accountable. Obama taught low-income people how to analyze power relations, gain confidence in their own leadership abilities, and work together.

For example, he organized tenants in the troubled Altgelt Gardens public housing project to push the city to remove dangerous asbestos in their apartments, a campaign that he acknowledges resulted in only a partial victory. After Obama helped organize a large mass meeting of angry tenants, the city government started to test and seal asbestos in some apartments, but ran out of money to complete the task.


Although most community organizing groups are rooted in local neighborhoods, often drawing on religious congregations and block clubs, there are now several national organizing networks with local affiliates, enabling groups to address problems at the local, state, and national level, sometimes even simultaneously. These groups include ACORN, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), People in Communities Organized (PICO), the Center for Community Change, National People’s Action, Direct Action Research and Training (DART), and the Gamaliel Foundation (the network affiliated with the Developing Communities Project that hired Obama). These networks as well as a growing number of training centers for community organizers—such as the Midwest Academy in Chicago, the Highlander Center in Tennessee, and a few dozen universities that offer courses in community and labor organizing—have helped recruit and train thousands of people into the organizing world and strengthened the community organizing movement’s political power.


Obama enlisted Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who is one of the country’s leading organizing theorists and practitioners, to help train organizers and volunteers as a key component of his presidential campaign. Ganz was instrumental in shaping the volunteer training experience.

Many Obama campaign volunteers went through several days of intense training sessions called “Camp Obama.” The sessions were led by Ganz and other experienced organizers, including Mike Kruglik, one of Obama’s organizing mentors in Chicago. Potential field organizers were given an overview of the history of grassroots organizing techniques and the key lessons of campaigns that have succeeded and failed.

“Organizing combines the language of the heart as well as the head,” Ganz says, reflecting on his experiences as an organizer with SNCC in the civil rights movement and as a key architect of the United Farmworkers’ early successes. Not surprisingly, compared with other political operations, Obama’s campaign has embodied many of the characteristics of a social movement—a redemptive calling for a better society, coupling individual and social transformation. This is due not only to Obama’s rhetorical style but also to his campaign’s enlistment of hundreds of seasoned organizers from unions, community groups, churches, peace, and environmental groups. They, in turn, have mobilized thousands of volunteers—many of them neophytes in electoral politics—into tightly knit, highly motivated and efficient teams. This summer, the campaign created an “Obama Organizing Fellows” program to recruit college students to become campaign staffers.

This organizing effort has mobilized many first-time voters, including an unprecedented number of young people and African Americans during the primary season. Now that Obama is the presumed Democratic nominee, he faces pressure to resort to more traditional electoral strategies, but so far Obama and top campaign officials have continued to emphasize grassroots organizing. It is evident in Obama’s speeches, his continued use of the UFW slogan, “Yes, we can/Si se puede,” his emphasis on “hope” and “change,” and the growing number of experienced organizers drawn into the campaign.

Obama’s stump speeches typically include references to America’s organizing tradition. “Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope,” Obama explained. “That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That’s how women won the right to vote. That’s how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom’s cause.” Change comes about, Obama said, by “imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before.”

In town forums and living-room meetings, Obama says that “real change” only comes about from the “bottom up,” but that as president, he can give voice to those organizing in their workplaces, communities, and congregations around a positive vision for change. “That’s leadership,” he says.


If elected president, will Obama’s organizing background shape his approach to governing?

Obama can certainly learn valuable lessons from President Franklin Roosevelt, who recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protestors and organizers. He once told a group of activists who sought his support for legislation, “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”

As depression conditions worsened, and as grassroots worker and community protests escalated throughout the country, Roosevelt became more vocal, using his bully pulpit—in speeches and radio addresses—to promote New Deal ideas. Labor and community organizers felt confident in proclaiming, “FDR wants you to join the union.” With Roosevelt setting the tone, and with allies in Congress like Senator Robert Wagner, grassroots activists won legislation guaranteeing workers’ right to organize, the minimum wage, family assistance for mothers, and the 40-hour week.

After his election in 1960, President John Kennedy encouraged baby boomers to ask what they could do for their country. At the time, JFK meant joining the Peace Corps and the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program. He could not have anticipated the wave of protest and activism—around civil rights, Vietnam, and later feminism and the environment—that animated the sixties and seventies.

President Lyndon Johnson was initially no ally of the civil rights movement. However, the willingness of activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses, along with their efforts to register voters against overwhelming opposition, pricked Americans’ conscience. LBJ recognized that the nation’s mood was changing. The civil rights activism transformed Johnson from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally. LBJ’s “Great Society” program—although criticized as too tame by United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther and other progressives—provided some community organizing positions with anti-poverty agencies, job training groups, and legal services organizations in urban and rural areas. Many of today’s veteran activists got their first taste of grassroots organizing in the anti-poverty, civil rights, and farmworker movements.

Now comes Obama, a one-time organizer, who consistently reminds Americans of the importance of grassroots organizing. If he’s elected president, he knows that he will have to find a balance between working inside the Beltway and encouraging Americans to organize and mobilize. He understands that his ability to reform health care, tackle global warming, and restore job security and decent wages will depend, in large measure, on whether he can use his bully pulpit to mobilize public opinion and encourage Americans to battle powerful corporate interests and members of Congress who resist change.


If Obama wins the White House, progressives within his inner circle will look for opportunities to encourage his organizing instincts to shape how he governs the nation, whom he appoints to key positions, and which policies to prioritize. Meanwhile, a new generation of volunteer activists and paid organizers will be looking to join President Obama’s progressive crusade to change America. But if it appears that is veering too far to the political center, they will—inspired in part by Obama’s own example, and perhaps with his covert support—mobilize to push him (and Congress) to live up to his progressive promise.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program at Occidental College, where he teaches a course on community organizing. He is coauthor of The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City,Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century, and several other books.

Keep reading here……..


New Democrats learning the Obama ground game

Obama for America organizer Marshall Ganz speaks to NDP Convention

AUGUST 15, 2009

HALIFAX – New Democrats were treated to the secrets of winning on the ground when Marshall Ganz, designer of President Obama’s grassroots campaign, spoke to the national convention today.

“The people who need the change have to be authors of that change, and that happens because there is skilled leadership to make that happen,” said Ganz. “In the Obama campaign the right candidate in the right setting gave us the opportunity to reintroduce the whole country to targeted campaigning; recognizing people as citizens working together, to build their future together.”

Barack Obama won the White House with a stunningly successful ground campaign. Ganz described how the Obama team turned organisers into leaders, with the skills, strategies and data needed to win. Organisers learned to connect their own story to the campaign and build a grassroots movement for change.

“Progressives in the United States are very familiar with the politics of disappointment,” said Ganz. “The politics of hope is a lot more challenging. In the politics of hope you have to take the chance to seize the opportunities. We’re in a fast moment right now and so what we do really matters. The combination of a hopeful heart and a critical eye is what spurs change.”

Ganz began his career working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and has been at the forefront of organising popular political movements in the United States. He now lectures in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.



Some Background on Marshall Ganz:

Work with United Farm Workers

In fall 1965 Ganz returned to California to work with Cesar Chavez to organize agricultural workers. He served in a variety of positions for the United Farm Workers of America, including organizer, field office administrator, negotiator, director of the grape and lettuce boycotts, and director of organizing. For eight years, from 1973 to 1981, he was an elected member of the union’s national executive board. Chavez’s background in the community organizing tradition shaped Ganz’s understanding of organizing.

Saul Alinsky had hired Fred Ross in 1947 to develop the Community Service Organization (CSO) to organize Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley. Chavez and Dolores Huerta learned community organizing working for Ross and CSO. When Chavez shifted his focus to farm workers, he asked Ross to join him as director of organizing. As Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), as it was then named, battled the Teamsters for its first contract with the DiGiorgio corporation in 1966, it was Ross’s methodical and disciplined approach to tracking each farm worker supporting the union that helped Chavez win.[7] Chavez also took from CSO the idea of service organizations for the farm workers to supplement the standard union activities.[8]

Ganz’s experience with the farm workers led him to formulate his concept of “strategic capacity,” by which he explains how Chavez’s farmworker organizing succeeded while earlier efforts by radicals and contemporaneous campaigns by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) sponsored by the AFL-CIO, and by the Teamsters failed. Ganz defines strategy as “how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want.[9]

Strategic capacity, for Ganz, consists of three elements: motivation, access to relevant knowledge, and deliberations that lead to new learning.

Chavez’s efforts eventually prevailed because his organizing team had stronger motivation, deeper knowledge of the Mexican-American culture of the Central Valley, and diverse perspectives that generated fresh tactical ideas.[10]

At the peak of its success in 1977, the UFWA stopped its aggressive organizing and turned inward as Chavez worked with Chuck Detrick, founder of the Synanon drug treatment cult, to transform the internal life of the union. As Chavez purged the union of its long-term leaders and loyalty to Chavez became the primary criterion for employment, the UFWA lost its strategic capacity. Over the next three years members of the Executive Board opposed to the direction Chavez was taking the union resigned, including Ganz in 1981.[11] Union membership dropped from a peak of 60,000 in the late 1970s to around 5,000 today.[12]

Political consultant

After leaving the UFWA in 1981, Ganz began working on California political campaigns — directing field programs, training organizers, and leading strategic planning for such candidates as Nancy Pelosi for Congress, Alan Cranston for Senate, Tom Bradley for governor, and governor Jerry Brown.

He also worked on campaigns of such unions as the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Screen Actors Guild.

In 1987 he formed and served as executive director of two groups to develop organizing programs, Services for Organizing and Leadership, and The Organizing Institute. He led voter registration, get-out-the-vote, and organizer training, and conducted research on voting, leadership development, and community organizing.



**Does… Si, se puede (Yes, We Can) sound familiar? It was the chant by Cesar Chavez.  **


Marshall Ganz from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government explores this issue in an essay on constructing public narratives (PDF).


Did the Progressive Left “Groom” Obama for the Presidency (Ganz and Peter Drier)?  Is Obama only the spokesman for the Uber Left?


Do YOU trust Obama to be telling the truth?  What is Obama’s true agenda for America?



don't tread on me




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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. great for contiuous exposure with facts

  2. […] Storytelling “Words” of Obama. Marshall Ganz and Why “Stories Matter” […]

  3. […] Storytelling “Words” of Obama. Marshall Ganz and Why “Stories Matter” […]

  4. […] Storytelling “Words” of Obama. Marshall Ganz and Why “Stories Matter” […]

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