Developing a long-term strategy for CJTO!

Why long-term strategy? 

We’ve grown a lot as an organization and embarked on many exciting projects since our founding in 2019. Something we felt was missing was a clear long-term goal around which we can orient and ground our daily work and individual campaigns, projects, and actions. In May, we formed a strategy committee that decided on a flexible year-long timeline to develop our long-term strategic plan. 

The strategy development process consists of four stages: a preparation stage, a design stage, a review stage, and a final organization-wide vote. We are currently in the preparation stage, which includes intention setting and reading together about past and contemporary social movements, theories, and strategies. 

Current timeline of the strategy development process (dates may shift as we move along)

A year can seem like a long time to develop a strategy – this is something we wrestled with as a committee. Ultimately, we decided that a year-long comprehensive process is worth it to set ourselves up well for 5, 10, or more years of incredible and necessary climate justice action! While the strategy committee is doing this slow and important methodical work, CJTO will also be keeping up other short-term projects and actions.

What have we learned so far?

As part of the preparation stage, we have developed a strategy committee syllabus. We meet weekly to discuss as a group, with rotating facilitators who create summary sheets on the readings in order to make participation in the discussion easier for anyone interested.  

You can check out our syllabus and follow along with us!

We’ve now completed the first theme in our syllabus “Histories: How Have successful organizers worked in the past?”. Here’s what we read and some big ideas:

Week One: Civil Rights & Black Liberation Movements

  • Payne, Charles M., I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (2007)
    • Chapter 8 – “Organizers and Organizing” p. 166-184
  • Self, Robert, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (2005)
    • Chapter 6 – “Black Power” p. 217-242

Big ideas: practical, immediate, and impactful actions show communities that the movement is real

Key concepts from this week were “deep organizing” or “spade work.” These involve organizers integrating into the local community via slow, patient, and deeply personal canvassing AND providing material needs outside of formal institutions. Deep organizing is predicated upon listening. It also involves building relationships. Deep organizing often serves both a practical function, by helping to meet the needs of our communities, and a performative or theatrical function, by drawing public attention to tangible issues affecting our communities. 

Doing deep organizing effectively would mean geographically grounding the scope of our activities to the municipal or even neighbourhood level, and scaling up from there to build solidarity between municipalities (and beyond). 

Week Two: Labour Movements

  • Heron, Craig, The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History (2012)
    • Chapter 4 – “The New Resistance” p. 94-119
  • Friedlander, Peter, Emergence of a UAW Local, 1936-1939: A Study in Class and Culture (1975)
    • Chapter 3 – “Offensive” p. 38-52

Big ideas: early union organizing was politicizing everyday life

The rise of neoliberalism has seen North American union organizing suffer from increasing centralization and bureaucratization. This has largely alienated union activities from the actual political needs of their members (i.e. unions now tend to fight only for wage and benefit contracts for their own industries, abandoning broader class struggle). In periods when it has been more successful, union organizing was employing those same “deep organizing” strategies we learned about in week one. Day-to-day relationship-building combined with performative “structure tests” created a deeply politicized workplace at the level of everyday experience, which fostered a sense of urgency and immediacy that is often lacking today.

Week Three: Other Political & Social Movements

  • Uetricht, Micah, Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity (2014)
    • Chapter 1 – “CORE” p. 20-43
  • Knapp, Michael, Anja Flach, and Ercan Ayboga,  Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan (2016) 

Big ideas: gradual transformative change that is not reformism means orienting ourselves at the neighbourhood and municipal level and building relationships that make it possible, when the conditions are right, to have structures outside of the state emerge

What does it mean to “reform” without being “reformist”?

We tend to think in binaries: i.e. there can either be a violent workers’ revolution OR we must work within and for the system (often the state via electoralism). The directly democratic councils and committees in Rojava, which implement gradual change completely outside the institutions of the nation-state, are an example of an alternative that uses decentralized, bottom-up political organization. 

Having “the right people in power” is not enough; often, leadership revolutions (whether of elected union officials or state politics) simply lead to consolidation of power in the hands of another party, and not to democratization. In both the Chicago Teachers Union and Rojava, we saw people making huge revolutionary moves, but doing it slowly and intentionally through deep organizing. 

Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved!

Deep organizing necessitates a combination of the practical and the performative in order to build strong relationships and embed ourselves in our communities. Deep organizing also necessitates a strong focus on the local; i.e. municipal or neighbourhood-based organizing. Being anti-capitalist/anti-statist in principle does not mean that we cannot strategically engage with the state, but it does imply the importance of building bottom-up political and economic structures outside of the state.

We always welcome new or old CJTO members to join the strategy committee at any time. To get involved, join #strategycommittee on our Slack channel or email us at!