Marshall Ganz

Marshall Ganz (born March 14, 1943) is a senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He worked on the staff of the United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions and nonprofit groups. He is credited with devising the successful grassroots organizing model and training for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign.[1][2][3]


Early life and education

Ganz was born into a Jewish family in Bay City, Michigan, in 1943. After they moved to California, they lived in Fresno and Bakersfield, where he attended local schools. His father was a rabbi and his mother a teacher. For three years after World War II, his family lived in occupied Germany, where his father served as a US Army chaplain working with displaced persons. Having encountered survivors of the Holocaust, his parents taught Marshall about the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism.

Ganz entered Harvard in the fall of 1960. He left before graduating in 1964 to volunteer for the Mississippi Summer Project, where he worked in a freedom house in McComb. He helped to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. He stayed on in Mississippi as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Amite County.[4][5][6]

Work with United Farm Workers

In fall 1965 Ganz returned to California to work with Cesar Chavez to organize agricultural workers. He served in a variety of positions for the United Farm Workers of America, including organizer, field office administrator, negotiator, director of the grape and lettuce boycotts, and director of organizing. For eight years, from 1973 to 1981, he was an elected member of the union’s national executive board. Chavez’s background in the community organizing tradition shaped Ganz’s understanding of organizing.

Saul Alinsky had hired Fred Ross in 1947 to develop the Community Service Organization (CSO) to organize Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley. Chavez and Dolores Huerta learned community organizing working for Ross and CSO. When Chavez shifted his focus to farm workers, he asked Ross to join him as director of organizing. As Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), as it was then named, battled the Teamsters for its first contract with the DiGiorgio corporation in 1966, it was Ross’s methodical and disciplined approach to tracking each farm worker supporting the union that helped Chavez win.[7] Chavez also took from CSO the idea of service organizations for the farm workers, to supplement the standard union activities.[8]

Ganz’s experience with the farm workers led him to formulate his concept of “strategic capacity.,” He says this explains how Chavez’s farmworker organizing succeeded, while earlier efforts by radicals, and contemporaneous campaigns by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) sponsored by the AFL-CIO, and by the Teamsters, failed. Ganz defines strategy as “how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want.”[9] Strategic capacity, for Ganz, consists of three elements: motivation, access to relevant knowledge, and deliberations that lead to new learning. Chavez’s efforts eventually prevailed because his organizing team had stronger motivation, deeper knowledge of the Mexican-American culture of the Central Valley, and diverse perspectives that generated fresh tactical ideas.[10]

At the peak of its success in 1977, the UFWA stopped its aggressive organizing and turned inward. Chavez worked with Chuck Detrick, founder of the Synanon drug treatment cult, to transform the internal life of the union. As Chavez purged the union of its long-term leaders and loyalty to Chavez became the primary criterion for employment, the UFWA lost its strategic capacity. Over the next three years, members of the Executive Board opposed to the direction Chavez was taking the union resigned, including Ganz in 1981.[11] Union membership has dropped from a peak of 60,000 in the late 1970s to around 5,000 in 2009.[12]

Political consultant

After leaving the UFWA in 1981, Ganz began working on California political campaigns—directing field programs, training organizers, and leading strategic planning for such candidates as Nancy Pelosi for Congress, Alan Cranston for Senate, Tom Bradley for governor, and governor Jerry Brown. He also worked on campaigns of such unions as the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Screen Actors Guild. In 1987 he formed and served as executive director of two groups to develop organizing programs, Services for Organizing and Leadership, and The Organizing Institute. He led voter registration, get-out-the-vote, and organizer training. He also conducted research on voting, leadership development, and community organizing.

Return to Harvard

Ganz returned to Harvard in 1991 (after a 28-year absence) to finish his undergraduate degree in history and government, graduating in 1992. He received a Master in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government in 1993 and a Ph.D. in sociology in 2000.[13] He became an instructor for the Kennedy School in 1994. Since completing his doctorate in 2000, he has been a lecturer in public policy, teaching courses on organizing, leadership, civic engagement, and community action research. He has collaborated with Harvard professors Theda Skocpol on African-American fraternal organizations, and with Lani Guinier for a course on law and social movements. Marshall Ganz teaches 4 courses at Harvard Kennedy School of Government: 1. Public Narrative: Self, Us, Now. Public narrative is how we turn values into action—the discursive process by which individuals, communities, and nations construct identity, formulate choices, and motivate action. Public narrative is a leadership art composed of three elements: a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate our values through the language of the heart, our emotions. By telling our personal stories of challenges we have faced, choices we have made, and what we learned from the outcomes we can inspire others and share our own wisdom. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others.[14] 2. Public Narrative: Conflict, Continuity, Change. This module builds on its prerequisite “Public Narrative: Self, Us, Now.” Confronted with the same challenge, different leaders may respond with different narratives, calling on different “us’s,” and each of which may elicit a different form of action. 3. Organizing: People, Power, Change. In this course, students learn how to view social, economic, and political problems from an organizing perspective as well as how to act on them. Ganz focuses on teaching five key practices: how to turn values into motivated action; how to build relationships; how to structure leadership as a collaborative team; how to strategize; and how to translate commitments into action. This framework is equally useful for community, electoral, union, and social movement organizing. 4. Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change. Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change is an Executive Education online program designed to reach leaders of civic, social, and political organizations from around the world who wish to learn how to organize communities that can mobilize power to make change. The program represents a unique online learning opportunity for nonprofit and non-governmental organization managers to interact with colleagues from around the world and Professor Ganz.

In addition to his teaching load, Ganz continues to be active in local politics. On June 11, 2014, Ganz endorsed Don Berwick for Governor of Massachusetts.[15]

Organizing model

In contrast to the structural emphasis of the once-dominant resource mobilization and political process schools of social movement analysis, Ganz emphasizes the subjective agency of social movement participants, whose values, intentions, and narratives constitute the essential material of analysis. Ganz begins with the famous three questions of Hillel the Elder, “If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am for myself alone, what am “I”? And if not now, when?” Ganz relates these questions to “the story of self,” “the story of us,” and “the story of now.”

For the 2008 Presidential campaign of Barack Obama, Ganz maintained that campaign workers approaching potential voters needed to be able to quickly tell their story of self to establish a relationship with the voter. The story of us connected the values and interests of the campaign worker and voter with candidate Obama. What Martin Luther King Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” focused the voter’s hopes on the imminent election. The importance of relationships, rather than campaign platforms, dominated the Camp Obama training program for campaign workers. Ganz has continued to develop this model in “Camp OFA” for Organizing for America, the successor organization to the Obama campaign, and for “Camp MoveOn,” a training program for leaders of‘s local councils.

The Camp Obama model was based on the model first developed and used in a project for the Sierra Club. Ganz teamed up with Harvard psychology professor Ruth Wageman in an effort to improve the volunteer programs of local chapters.[16]

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