Organizing 101: What you need to know to be a successful organizer

Morgan poses in the center of a group photo in downtown Market Square, surrounded by four other PPT members. Everyone is holding up the fliers they’ll be passing out during their early morning canvass for riders to share how the service changes have impacted how they take transit.

PPT Member Morgan Cikowski had an opportunity to work full-time as a PPT Community Organizing Intern. Read what she learned about beginning organizing best practices.

Hello World! My name is Morgan and I am the Activism Team Lead at Patagonia Pittsburgh. I was excited to work with a grassroots organization like Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) because I have been a public transit rider for almost ten years and have deep relationships with other community based organizations, like Grow Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Prison Book Project, who are making change in Allegheny County. 

While with PPT, I was directly involved in many projects and pieces of current campaigns including:

  • Inviting and preparing for PPT Monthly Meetings, both in-person and virtually.
  • PPT Transit Service Campaign – I went out with PPT members and staff to speak with and listen to riders who were affected by the service cuts on the 61A, 71A, 71C, and 71D under Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. 
  • Public Testimony – I helped contact riders we spoke to after the canvasses and helped them to prepare to share how the service cuts would affect their lives in front of the PRT Board.
  • 2024 Strategic Planning and Transit Service Vision – I lead a breakout group in October asking PPT members what we want to work towards in 2024. 

New to organizing? So was I! Here are three things I learned about how to organize your community.

Number 1 – It’s okay to not know!

When I first started, I was worried about my lack of knowledge. I didn’t know the “ins and outs” of PRT’s system. I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh and was unfamiliar with many routes. The reality is, you’re going to encounter a lot of people who know more than you. Don’t be intimidated – embrace it!

So much of organizing is actually just listening. Organizers provide a space for people to share their stories, and find a way to make those stories heard by the community, and ultimately, the people in power.

Number 2 – Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Looking back, I definitely have a small list of mistakes! Missed follow ups, awkward conversations, disorganization. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Being honest about what you know and need help with is the key to building trust with your team. Other folks can fill in the gaps of knowledge for you. The whole “practice makes perfect” thing is actually true. It’s going to get easier!

Number 3 – Jump in! You have no idea how much your help is appreciated!

Grassroots movements need YOU! Many local community organizations are small in size, and get a lot of their momentum from volunteers and active members. Things like handing out fliers, calling fellow members, or creating artwork are so incredibly helpful. Those may sound simple, but taking tasks off of a staffers plate does not go unnoticed. Much more is possible when there are more hands on deck.

So what now?

Get involved in organizing with PPT!