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Organizing for Impact

Q&A with Cesar Hernandez

Cesar Hernandez brings years of organizing experience to his role on the Foundation’s Grants Review Committee. From his early days working with CAUSE and California Rural Legal Assistance, he is now Senior Organizer for the Center for Community Change—a national social movement organization. In between trips around the county guiding economic justice campaigns, Cesar sat down to share some words of wisdom.

McCune Foundation:
How do organizers build trust in a community?

Cesar Hernandez:
Organizing is about connections with people. You think you can just send an email and a thousand people will show up? No, it takes relationships, conversations, accountability. You have to be genuine in your desire to be in a relationship. Dig deeper about what it is that motivates someone.

McCune Foundation: How do you know you are being successful? Cesar Hernandez: The metric for organizing success is not the number of actions or meetings. It’s how many leaders you train and their capacity to create their own change. The power you build among residents creates the situation where change can happen.
McCune Foundation: Given the importance of growing new leaders, how can organizers share power with them? Cesar Hernandez: Relationships change as people come into their own power. An organizer has to be okay with new leaders taking more active roles, they should be happy about it. If as an organizer, I’m the one attending every meeting with a decision maker or I’m the one speaking at a hearing, I’m not organizing others.
McCune Foundation: Any advice you can share from past experience? Cesar Hernandez: Ask yourself, do you have enough power and are you clear about what you want to change? You should never take action just for action’s sake. Actions—a rally or mobilization—should be part of a thought-out strategy. Remember, it’s not about the action itself, but about the reaction an action will cause for the decision maker you are targeting.

McCune Foundation:
Why is community organizing an effective approach to change?

Cesar Hernandez:
Community organizing not only changes an issue, it transforms people. It’s about building power for leaders and individuals so they can act together. Let decision makers know you are a force to be reckoned with.