“I don’t get it. This isn’t a quick way to persuade people. It’s not what I expected,” an Indiana mother told me with a huff of frustration.  Her remarks caught me a bit off-guard as I taught the last class of Grassroots Leadership Academy’s Grassroots Activist Certification program.

After thinking for a moment, I said, “You know what? I agree with you.”

The woman was right — leading a grassroots movement in your community isn’t quick or easy. It’s hard work to relate to, educate, and motivate people. It means you harness your passion and time to fight for a cause that’s bigger than yourself. It means you spend hours organizing a community of likeminded activists to help lead together. And if you deeply care about this great country, it means finding ways to improve your community never ends.

Recently in my travels with GLA, I watched a presentation about persuasion from a former Obama grassroots strategist, Sara El-Amine. Sara spoke about how organizing and persuading people in your community can be boiled down to one memorable acronym: IRS:

  • Inquire: Ask open-ended and genuine questions without interrupting the person you are trying to persuade. Genuinely listen and try to understand the person’s motivations and perspectives.
  • Relate: Identify similar experiences and common desires, using some of the person’s own vocabulary and phrases to build trust.
  • Share: Tell stories about why you believe what you believe and how it relates to you on an emotional level, not just an intellectual level.

I’ll be honest with you—the “IRS” method isn’t a quick fix. But unless we’re willing to invest the time in the lives of the people around us, we won’t be able to change hearts and minds and advance freedom in our communities.

Grassroots organizing is made up of countless daily encounters of relationship building and persuasion. That’s why I share this Saul Alinsky quote with GLA activists at the end of all my classes:

Much of an organizer’s daily work is detail, repetitive and deadly in its monotony. In the totality of things he is engaged in one small bit. It is as though as an artist he is painting a tiny leaf. It is inevitable that sooner or later he will react with ‘What am I doing spending my whole life just painting one little leaf? The hell with it, I quit.’ What keeps him going is a blurred vision of a great mural where other artists—organizers are painting their bits, and each piece is essential to the total.

Leadership is you choosing to act each day. You are not alone. Keep inquiring, relating and sharing for liberty, one relationship at a time.

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