Using Popular Education

Ideas and Issues International Organizing

freire1Chicago     Among a number of fascinating discussions at the Organizers’ Forum board dialogue in Chicago was a sharing of how people used popular education techniques in leadership development and training.  This was an area where we also benefited from a global perspective on organizing since the experience in Latin America and Africa using popular education following the principles of Paulo Freire and his experience in developing such models in Brazil.

Pat Sweeney from the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) headquartered in Billings, Montana led this discussion.  He walked people through the early experiences that WORC had used in utilizing popular education techniques and help from Les Leopold at the time to create a constructive way for their members and leaders to systematically look at some fundamental pieces of economic policy and how the interaction with rural public policy worked.  One of the outcomes, perhaps surprisingly, of this process led them to break ranks with so many other ranch/farmer organizations and oppose federal subsidies for agricultural production.
Carol Webb visiting with us as a guest of Mary Rowles from the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) shared with us her rich experiences of a recent three years working with community based leadership identification and development efforts in South Africa that utilized such methods, including one called training for transformation.  We also enjoyed the way it compared to the leadership development she had done in Australia with financial sector trade unions in that country for ten years before South Africa.  Some great stories there!

Gustavo Torres from Casa de Maryland, a new member of the board, also turned out to have extensive experience shaped by his time in the Colombian labor movement which had translated into a number of popular education workbooks in Spanish that Casa used as part of the training and access for programs and immigration rules and requirements in their work.  He was a big believer that such methods produced great results.

One challenge that became clear though is that such efforts when undertaken seriously and deeply require resources.  Each of these efforts had benefited by raising and developing separate monies to do the job well and right.  Unfortunately there was a sad consensus of the Organizers’ Forum board members that resources to allow such capacity building and development were now rare to non-existent unless buried in other programs as civic engagement or outreach.

Such work involves core principles and the commitment for organizers is deep in these areas, but it seems our ability to have moved others to understand the value so that such programs are appropriately resourced and then developed to the new levels that we found evident internationally are still lacking.