Yet another surprise...

Finishing the last chapter for tonight's book study, Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer talks about the work of... Marshall Ganz.  I haven't thought/heard about Marshall in 20 years - but apparently he has been active - in a variety of culture changing ways that still resonate with our old commitments.  On the Harvard Kennedy School of Government web page is this decription:

Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, entered Harvard College in the fall of 1960. In 1964, a year before graduating, he left to volunteer as a civil rights organizer in Mississippi. In 1965, he joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers; over the next 16 years he gained experience in union, community, issue, and political organizing and became Director of Organizing. During the 1980s, he worked with grassroots groups to develop effective organizing programs, designing innovative voter mobilization strategies for local, state, and national electoral campaigns. In 1991, in order to deepen his intellectual understanding of his work, he returned to Harvard College and, after a 28-year "leave of absence," completed his undergraduate degree in history and government. He was awarded an MPA by the Kennedy School in 1993 and completed his PhD in sociology in 2000. He teaches, researches, and writes on leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations, and politics.

I knew Marshall back in the day - then he was the head of Salinas, CA field office of the United Farm Workers - and I was the administrative assistant to Secretary-Treasurer Gilbert Padilla.  He was an organizing genius and maverick who knew how to get the job done:  he was tireless, dedicated, idealistic and pragmatic. I first learned to sing, "Woke Up this Morning with My Mind" - a gospel song turned freedom tune by the Civil Rights movement - from Marshall's friend Jessica Govea during a Farm Worker Campaign. During a contract negotiation that required Gilbert's presence, I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in Marshall's apartment. And I appreciated the role he played in an inter-racial movement as a middle-class white guy.

Here's a picture I recently found of the glory days of the Farm Workers:  (from left to right: Dolores Huerta, Mack Lyons, Richard Chavez, Cesar Chavez, Eliseo Medina,
Philip Veracruz, Gilbert Padilla, Marshall Ganz and Pete Velasco) Gilbert was my boss, Pete was my neighbor and I played guitar for Richard's daughter's wedding.

Like hundreds of UFW activists grand and small, there came a time to let Cesar do his thing and create our own lives.  And it seems that one of the things Marshall worked on was running something called "Camp Obama" in the days of preparation for Obama's bid for the presidency. Journalist Zack Exley writes:

No one who attends a "Camp Obama" training weekend can deny that something truly beautiful is taking place inside the Barack Obama campaign. But beauty does not win votes. Is the campaign's innovative, intellectual and emotional training program leading toward electoral power, or, just another screaming disappointment for the grassroots?

Well, clearly Camp Obama was part of the reason for the 2008 victory because as creative community organizers have known since the time of Saul Alinsky, you have to "combine the language of the heart with the message of the head because it is values, not just interests that move people to get involved in politics."  What Ganz did with this camp - and apparently what he has been doing on a professional level for the past 25 years - has something to do with helping activists figure out how to advance the cause of democracy and civil rights beyond feel good vigils.

He puts it like this on a website from the Kennedy School (

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.) We welcome your suggestions and/or feedback on this site. Please email Professor Ganz's assistant, Joanna Hamilton (

Read more about his insights and commitments here: Why Stories Matter.

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

Amazing the different blessings that stumble your way when you're not looking, yes?


Black Pete said…
And Earl Shorris (Clemente school of the Humanities), who has just passed away, worked with exactly the same anti-materialist ethos. Thanks for this, James.
RJ said…
Thanks for letting me know about Earl, Peter, I will check him out.

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