You can do it, but you have to train for it

A training plan gradually built up my strength and prepared me to run a marathon. How can you build up your organizations strength to achieve your goals?

A training plan gradually built up my strength and prepared me to run a marathon. How can you build up your organization's strength to achieve your goals?

When I started running I could barely make it 3 miles. After that, I was out-of-breath, my knees screamed, and my stomach felt woozy.

But I kept at it. I ran a bit farther each time. The more I ran the more I could run.

Now, I have three marathons under my belt, and it came from consistently doing what was just at the edge of my ability, and watching my ability increase.

Community organizing is the same way. Organization strength grows just like running strength does; by consistently completing efforts that are just at the edge of your ability.

I see too many social change organizations that want to do the equivalent of running a marathon without working up to it.

So when faced with the recent escalation in Gaza, for example, I hear people saying we need to completely reverse US policy toward Israel, that we need to stop Congress from passing a resolution supporting Israel’s “right to self-defense,” and that we need to do this immediatly.

Let’s be honest, that’s more than running a marathon, that’s more like running the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon.

I would like to run Badwater, and I would like to see the U.S. have a balanced policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I know I’m not ready to do either just now.

Is this a call to despair? No, far from it. This is a call for honesty and a movement “training plan” to make us strong enough to achieve our goals.

Keep that long-term vision of a balanced US foreing policy toward Israel and Palestine. Keep that goal of running Badwater. Keep that goal of universal health care, of eliminating nuclear weapons, and eliminating malnutrition.

Then develop a plan to build up the strength or your organization and your allies to get you there.

Each of my three marathons has been difficult. For each of them I followed a training plan to get me ready to run all 26.2 miles. This training plan told me how far to run, how hard to run, when to run, and when to rest. And that marathon training plan came after I had successfully shorter races.

So if our goal is to change U.S. policy in the middle east, the first step is not a 180-degree shift in policy; it’s a 2-degree shift. Maybe the first step is to get funding for coexistence groups in the Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Maybe it’s getting an interfaith coalition to raise money for humanitarian relief for Gaza to show that Jews, Muslims, and Christians can work together and do all want to end the suffering.

I said earlier this isn’t a call to despair. In fact, it’s the opposite. Always failing because you take on more than you can manage, that is cause for despair. Taking on a realistic, thoughtful way to grow and strengthen so you can accomplish more than you can now? Not that’s a cause for hope.


For a great tool to plan how to acheive those steps along the way to your goal, check out the Just Enough Planning Guide.

Looking for opportunities to build your skills?

The Center for Progressive Leadership Action Network has launched a great tool listing progressive training opportunities.

You can view a map with 2008 training opportunities, or view a calendar of all the opportunities nation-wide.

There are a few bugs to work out, a lot of the opportunities are already out-of-date, for example,  but it’s a great resource nonetheless.

How to learn good speech cadence: read along with famous speeches

Lately I’ve started listening to famous speeches on my MP3 player as I work out.

While I’m running, I’ll listen to A Time to Break the Silence or Eisenhower’s farewell address. And if I’m not running too hard, I’ll even try to talk along with the speech.

It’s amazing how slow many of them are.

Of course, one of the most common mistake people make in public speaking is to talk too fast. We get nervous. We confuse speed with enthusiasm. Or maybe we just want to get it over with.

What’s the result? Our audience never has time to let our words sink in, and our mile-a-minute talk fest leaves them slightly dazed.

Listening to, and especially speaking along with, famous speeches has helped me become a better speaker. It has taught me just how much I can slow down in my delivery. It has helped me learn how to vary my cadence, my volume, and my tone for dramatic affect.

Try it. You not only get to hear some of the most powerful words of our day, you also get to become a better communicator yourself.

(Bonus hint: If you’re looking for speeches to listen to, check out American Rhetoric and their Top 100 Speeches.)