Using Popular Education to Build Popular Campaigns

Popular Education uses pictures and activities to encourage discussion and reflection on the issues affecting our lives. Popular education is based upon the principles that all people have knowledge, based on their experiences in life, and all people have dignity as human beings. Through reflection, participants bring their own knowledge to the educational process, becoming both students and teachers. Popular Education has as a distinctive element the political intention of building a knowledge that turns into collective action for liberation and social transformation.

Popular Education helps us identify, through democratic process based in reflection, the change we want and helps us animate our community to participate in that change. Colectivo Flatlander tells us: “If we eliminate the reflection part, we are reducing organizing to mobilizing, if we eliminate the action part, we are just intellectualizing the struggle.”

In the teaching of community organizing, just like with any other teaching/learning environment, the mastery of skills is best accomplished when the student’s entire self is brought into the learning environment. The traditional learning environment, where one instructor imparts his or her knowledge on the students, can not only easily bore students, but also doesn’t recognize the fact that students learn better when they are involved in both the learning and instructing process. Likewise, the instructor must recognize that she or he is also a student. The instructor must first learn how to teach the students before being able to teach them. The instructor must learn what the students care about and want to learn, how they learn best, what they already know, and what they can teach. The teacher also learns how to properly respect the students and, because the act of teaching is necessarily part of the wider struggle for social justice, human rights and autonomy, the instructor must also learn what issues, challenges, and victories the students bring with them into the teaching circle in order to connect them with the wider movement.

For that reason, pop-ed should be an important part of any instruction. This guide is an aid for that process, based in the experiences—both successes and failures—of the author as well as ideas from different political movements. Colectivo Flatlander is a major contributor, as well as the New Organizing Institute. Other ideas are inspired by La Union del Pueblo Entero, the United Farm Workers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Teatro Campesino.

Check out more on Popular Education on Colectivo Flatlander’s website:

I. Apertura – Abrir el espacio / Opening the space

Opening the space is key in popular education. Just because people form a circle, doesn’t mean all feel included in that circle.  Each group, whether newly formed or meeting regularly, requires continuous attention to maintain the cohesion and unity of the group. Apertura exercises bring new participants in and refocus the group to the learning space. They recognize that all participants are whole people and invite participants to bring some of their life and experiences into the circle.

Apertura exercises do not necessarily always come at the beginning of the workshop. Reserve weightier exercises for the middle of the workshop or for groups with more social cohesion.

Favorite Food Introductions


  • Ask participants to introduce themselves, but instead of saying their last name, say their favorite food. “Hi, my name is John-Michael Pizza.”
  • Explain to participants that the exercise is to remind us that in our circle, we bring our whole person and we need to draw on that whole person in our process of learning son. It is also a reminder to everyone that we are whole people and we should interact with each other like whole people, not just based on our interest in son jarocho.
  • This can also be done with the person’s favorite son to find out which sones the group should focus on learning.

Espiral / Spiral


  • Ask each participant to state their full name, what comité or organization they are a part of, and one word that describes what they bring in their hearts or minds to the meeting.
  • Write each word on a piece of butcher paper, starting in the center of the page and spiraling outward.
  • Once everyone presents themselves, review the words and explain that these words express what we want the space to represent.
  • Tips: explain that we don’t want speeches since the time is short and we want everyone to have a chance to contribute. Hurry along those who start talking a lot.


  • This spiral can be an abyss into which we fall or a well from which we gather life-giving water.
  • If the words are all positive words, point out that this comes from a pueblo that has been attacked, battered, but we didn’t say “what I bring is vengeance, or hate.” This shows that we’re coming from a place of positivity.
  • Share Che Guevara quote: “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.”
  • Yes, we must be connected to feelings of enojo, which move us, but if we only feel enojo, that enojo will eat you up inside.

True / False


Write the words “agree,” “disagree,” “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree” on large pieces of paper. Place each poster in an obvious spot somewhere in the room, preferably on a wall. Then make a statement such as “we all like spinach” and have everybody move to the part of the room that matches their opinion. You can create “opinions” that relate to the theme of the meeting.  For example, “I want to learn how to sing son jarocho.”

Tip: start with simple questions like “I love music,” and move toward more complex or thoughtful questions like, “Obama supports immigration reform.” End with a unifying question, where everyone will end up at “strongly agree,” like “I love justice” or “sí se puede.”

“El Cartero llama…”


  • Poner las sillas en un círculo, con una silla menos que la cantidad de personas.
  • La persona que empieza en medio dice: “El cartero llama a él (o los) que traiga huaraches” o cual quier otra cosa.
  • Las personas con huaraches se levantan y corren para agarrar asiento en otro lado del círculo.
  • Después de unos turnos, cambia la frase a “La lucha llama…” y explica que la lucha llama a todos. Dar un ejemplo como, “La lucha llama a los que tengan esperanza.”


  • La lucha llama a todas y todos
  • La lucha debe de ser divertido y activo

II. Co-responsabilidad / Co-Responsibility

Co-responsibility exercises help build the understanding in participants that the work, lucha, struggle, movement is for everyone and the responsibility of everyone. Integrating them into the week to week work helps members indentify as leaders in a meaningful way. It also creates spaces for workshop leaders to listen to the issues, challenges, and quejas of participants and other leaders.

Acuerdos/Ground Rules

Acuerdos (ground rules) are a way to explain in a collaborative manner both the importance of mutual respect and that maintaining respect and dialogue is the responsibility of everyone.

Usando acuerdos es una manera de explicar en una manera colaborativa la importancia de respeto mutuo y que mantener el respeto y el diálogo es la responsabilidad de todas y todos.

  1. Explain that the space is a space for everyone and that to have a productive dialogue, everyone’s views and ideas must be respected. Explicar que el espacio es de todas y todos y para tener un diálogo productivo, las ideas y puntos de vista de todas y todos tienen que ser respetados.
  2. Preguntar: “Qué se necesita para tener un diálogo?” Ask: What is necessary for there to be dialogue?
  3. Write responses on a piece of butcher paper big enough for everyone to read. Escribir las respuestas en un pedazo de papel (como butcher paper) en letras grandes para que todas y todos los puedan leer.
  4. Responses will vary depending on the group. Some suggestions that might not be brought up follow. Siempre hay variedad en las respuestas según el grupo. Sugerencias que quizá no surjan en el discurso:
    1. Put phones on silent. Poner los celulares en silencio.
    2. Be present both physically and mentally
  1. Accept where people are coming from in their ideas, beliefs, thoughts, etc.
  1. Review acuerdos with everyone, giving explanation where necessary. Leer los acuerdos para que todas y todos los escuchen, dando explicación cuando es necesario.

Circle of Support

Tell participants that being involved in the movement is a way to work out our frustrations and stress with oppression in society. Working together in the movement is an act of unity and should be a circle of support for our individual struggles. Ask participants to say one thing they are worried about or concerned with. Tell them that in this event/meeting/discussion we will support each other’s frustrations and share each other’s good vibes.

La baraja de la planificación / Planning cards

Planificación colectiva y decisiones colectivas / Collective planning and decision-making


See instructions with the card set. Ver las instrucciones que acompañan el juego de barajas.


  • Learn and practice collective decision making. Aprender y practicar tomando decisiones en una manera colectiva.
  • Create space where everyone’s voices are heard and respected. Crear un espacio donde se toma en cuenta y se respeta las voces de todas y todos.
  • Learn that there are different ways to interpret things and the ideas of all are important. Aprender que no hay solo una manera de interpretar las cosas y las ideas de todas y todos son importantes.
  • Learn that it is more important to come to a collective decision for action and work together than be right and not do anything. Aprender que es más importante llegar a un acuerdo de acción colectiva y trabajar juntos que tener la razón y no hacer nada.

Balloon Activity / Dinámica de globo de helio

Mutual respect for our work – Respeto mútuo a nuestro trabajo

Set up/Preparación:

  • Sit the group in a circle of chairs. Identify a note taker. Tape a large piece of paper to the wall. Formar un círculo con sillas y sentarse. Escoger una persona para tomar notas. Poner un pedazo grande de papel en la pared.
  • Get one balloon filled with helium and tie a string or ribbon with a light weight to the balloon. Amarrar un listón o mecate con un peso a un globo de helio.


  • Instruct the group that you will throw up the balloon and call out the name of a person in the group.
  • When their name is called, the person will get out of their seat and try to catch the balloon before the weight touches the ground.
  • When the catch the balloon, they will say what their work or position in the organization is, one thing they like about their work with the organization, and one challenge they have in their position. The note taker will record the name of the person and their challenge.
  • After each person says their challenge, ask the group how the organization can help them overcome their challenge. Discuss among the group if necessary. Note taker records the response to the challenge.

Agarrando la tarea, soportando nosotros mismos / Holding up the task, holding up each other


  • Ask each person to grab a pen, marker, or fork. Pedir que todas y todos agarren una pluma, lapicero, plumón o tenedor.
  • One person starts by calling the name of someone in the group. The two hold the pen/marker/etc. by their fingertips. Once the pen is supported, the person that called the name tells the other one thing they appreciate about them. Una persona empieza con llamar el nombre de algien mas en el circulo. Las dos personas soportan la pluma con los puntos de sus dedos. Soportando la pluma entre los dos, la persona que empezó dice una cosa que aprecia de la otra.
  • In turn each person calls a name and the two hold up the pen with their fingertips, the first person saying something they appreciate about the second. En turno, cada persona llama un nombre y las dos personas agarran la pluma con el punto de sus dedos, la primera persona diciendo algo que aprecia de la siguiente persona.
  • All should stay holding up their pens throughout the exercise. Todas y todos deben de mantener las plumas por lo largo del dinámico.
  • The last person to be called holds up the pen of the first person and says something they appreciate about that person. La última persona de ser llamada agarra la pluma de la primera persona y le dice algo que aprecia de esa persona.
  • After everyone is supporting a pen, instruct everyone to grab each other’s hands instead of the pens. Después de que todas y todos están agarrando las plumas, diles que agarren confortablemente la persona de la mano en vez de agarrar la pluma.


We need to hold up the tasks of the organization, but if we just hold up the tasks (the pen) we will tire easily. If we also hold up each other, holding the task is less tiring.

III. Collective strategy

True / False

Instructions: Write the words “agree,” “disagree,” “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree” on large pieces of paper. Place each poster in an obvious spot somewhere in the room, preferably on a wall. Then make a statement such as “we all like spinach” and have everybody move to the part of the room that matches their opinion. You can create “opinions” that relate to the theme of the meeting.  For example, our membership is the most dedicated membership in the world.

Tip: Start with simple questions like “Cesar Chavez es un gran lider,” and move toward more complex or thoughtful questions like, “Obama quiere una reforma migratoria.” End with a unifying question, where everyone will end up at “strongly agree,” like “Si se puede.”

Idea: use this activity when planning tactics in a campaign. Use questions like “I will march for immigration reform,” “I will participate in a sit-in,” etc. It’s a good way to find out what actions people are willing to take.

In planning for a more serious action, one where taking risks may be strategic, the posters can be labeled with “Si, participaría,” “No participaría,” on two corners of the room, and “Acción violenta,” “Acción no violent.” Then read a list of types of actions and ask people to go to the side of the room that corresponds to their opinion and preparation to participate. Actions like “Hunger strike,” “Sit-in,” “Taking a street,” “Occupying an office.” Even actions that will not be considered by the group can be included, like smashing windows and burning busses, to show that some people will consider the actions as non-violent even though the majority of people think they are violent actions. It illustrates that people’s perceptions vary and that we are all prepared to take different types of actions. This is a much more serious activity but can be used to find out what kinds of actions the group is prepared to take. ALTERNATIVE: instead of  “Acción violenta,” / “Acción no violent,” include “supported by the community” / “not supported by the community” to find out what the group thinks the community is prepared to support them on. Maybe they are prepared to occupy an office but don’t think their community would support them in it. That might mean taking that action off the list of possible campaign actions.


The Tug-of-War activity is used to illustrate that power is a relationship between those in need and those who control access to what those in need need. The activity is used to illustrate, create or test strategy in a collaborative manner.

                Note: See full instructions in document “Tug-of-War – Creating Collaborative Strategy.doc”

For example of this dinamica, check out this youtube video: (Part 1) (Part 2)

The basic idea is that the power-holder and his or her allies pull one end of the rope while your group and your allies pull the other end. Through strategizing, reflecting and analyzing, your group adds allies, resources and tactics to your end of the rope to increase your power to win the change you need.

A major strength of the exercise is that it illustrates the fact that power is a relationship. Our oppressors, power-holders, have power over us because they control something that we need. If we didn’t need them or the resources they control, the relationship of power would be non-existent. On the other hand, we often control of influence resources that they need to gain and maintain power. It shows that we need to increase our power in order to balance the relationship of power and influence/force them to give us access to what they have that we need.

It is great for illustrating power in a way that is active and fun as well as accurate. It is also great for including the thoughts and ideas of individuals with lots of and very little experience in organizing. A participant may suggest an ally, tactic, or interest that you’ve never considered before but that could significantly increase the power on your side of the tug-of-war.

Preparation: come with the change you want to see clearly defined. An example would be security, a path to citizenship and access to education for undocumented youth. The DREAM Act is not itself the change, but rather one possible venue for that change to be realized. Another such venue would be a Presidential Executive Order protecting DREAM-eligible youth. Most organizations have a pretty good idea who has the decision-making power to make that change. Do any research into that decision-maker and bring it to the strategy session. Your idea of who the decision-maker is might change as the activity progresses, taking into account the good ideas that come up along the way. As you strategize around undocumented youth, you might come to the realization that an executive order is more realistic than passing legislation, for example. Or that one particular Senator has influence over other Senators and must be targeted primarily.


IDing the Power Holder and the Power Holder’s Interests

  1. Before beginning, explain the change that we want to realize and that your group is organizing to realize that change. (1)
  2. Explain that power is a relationship and that there is a decision-maker that has the resources to create that change. Ask the group who that person is. Of course if this is your first strategy session, many participants may not know the answer. You might just say who it is. (2)
  3. Ask the participants what they want—what are the primary interests of the power-holder? They will range from general to specific. Votes, money, maintaining power. Record them on a butcher paper for participants to see.
  4. If you are using the activity to create a collective strategy, make sure to challenge the participants to get specific. If the power-holder is an elected official, the group should identify what specific interests the power-holder has related to campaigning, elections, the position the elected official occupies, etc. Fulano de tal gives the person a significant amount of campaign contributions, for example. Or the person was elected by a specific margin of votes. If specifics are not known at the time, use it as a brainstorm session and do research into the ideas generated.
  5. Now ask participants what resources do we have that they want or need? What is it that the power-holder wants that we either have or can influence? If the power-holder wants re-election, we can influence voters through GOTV organizing or influence voters’ perception of the power-holder by affecting the power-holder’s public image. This can become more specific. If the power-holder has compadres that he needs to give favors to, we can expose the corrupt compadre relationship. If he depends on key campaign contributions, we can strain the relationship between the power-holder and his campaign financers.

Tug-o-War to Illustrate Power Dynamics

  1. Ask a volunteer to represent your group. Have that person hold one end of the rope.
  2. Explain that often, the power-holder will not care about you or your organization and not pick up that rope. In that case, you need to get the power-holder’s attention and get them to enter into that tug-of-war by initiating the organizing campaign around the resources that we have that they need. For example, in Alton, we had a large GOTV campaign and the influence we have in that arena may be enough to get Precinct 3 Commissioner Flores to pick up the end of the rope. If not, we have to do something that positions us as formidable foes to the power-holder retaining power. In the UFW’s grape boycott, the farmworkers had to strike before
  3. Ask someone to represent the power-holder and pick up the end of the rope.
  4. Explain that we need to build power on our end by organizing what we have that the power-holder wants. Reference the list created in previous section and add tug of war participants to represent each. If there are resources they want that we don’t have, we need to find out how to influence those resources. If they want votes and we don’t have the voters to challenge their re-election, we need to either organize voters or unite with ally organizations in their precinct that do influence voters (politically active churches, for example).
  5. Tell the participants that there are others that have an interest in the situation staying the way it is. Campaign contributors want the person re-elected and may come to their aid, for example. Ask participants to brainstorm those who will come to the power-holder’s aid and ask participants to represent them.

As the activity progresses, individuals will join on either side of the rope, representing the opposition on the side of the power-holder and allies that come to our side. We win when we add allies and tactics to our side of the tug-of-war that bring power to our side and that decrease the power on the other side. For example, if County Commissioners care about votes, we bring more voters to our side. If they care about their compadres, we expose those corrupt relationships. If they care about business relationships, we put pressure on businesses. If a County Commissioner wins elections because of being seen as a religiously pious man, we need to get churches on our side to come out against the power-holder.

In the end, the pueblo pulls the power-holder over to their side and we have a good idea of what it takes, in terms of allies, tactics, and resources, we need on our side to be able to shift the power relationship and influence the power-holder to give us what we need.

VI. Evaluación / Evaluation

These activities make evaluating your workshop more fun than the simple Plus/Minus/Change evaluations. While those evaluations are very helpful within teams that have more social cohesion, they can often turn off members or leaders who feel they are not involved enough to give specific criticisms. These activities allow participants to offer as much or as little feedback as they’d like while at the same time making the feedback process approachable, interactive and dynamic.

Dibujo de palitos / Stick figure


  • Draw a large stick figure on butcher paper. Make sure it has head, heart, and hands. En un pedazo grande de papel, dibujar un monito de palitos, incluyendo su cabeza, corazón y manos.
  • Ask people to come up and write something that they will take away from the training or meeting. Next to the head write something you will keep in mind.  Pedir al grupo que escriban algo que llevan del entrenamiento o reunión. Pedirles que escriban algo que se llevan en la mente al lado de la cabeza.
  • Next to the heart write something they will take to heart. Al lado del corazón, pedirles que escriban algo que se llevan en el corazón.
  • Next to the hands write something they will take in their hands, something they will apply to their work. Al lado de las manos, pedirles que escriban algo que se llevan en las manos, algo que puedan aplicar en su trabajo.

El juego del mono (o pelota)

In a circle, ask one person to start by holding up the mono (or pelota) and saying one thing that they liked from the activity and one thing that they want to learn more about. Ask them to then throw the mono or pelota to another participant and have them do the same until each participant gets a chance to share.



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