Holding Urgency

*Written by Vladica Jovanovic based on a session run by Predrag Stojicic at GA Serbia Gathering March 2015


“The origin of the word Urgency in different languages:

** Latin urgere – press hard, push, shove, drive, hunt,

** Arabic ilhah – persistence, keeping on it,

** Slavic – enemy, Serbian – emergency,

** Hindy – right now, imperative,

** Swahili – being above everything else, a priority,

** Japanese– two words: 1. no space and move with the strong energy, and 2. fast,

** English – compelling, immediate action or attention.”

URGENCY  in community organizing can be created, experienced or managed in various ways. In our discussion in Serbia, we differentiated between

  • internal urgency: created by leadership/constituency values, needs or experience of oppression …etc, and 
  • external urgency: created by the outside circumstances like legislation deadlines, policy windows, opponents actions or reactions..etc.

We also differentiated between

  • Urgency of need vs urgency of opportunity– the immediate issue that needs to be solved otherwise bad consequences will happen vs this action or circumstance that can really move us forward in our campaign.
  • Urgency of caring vs plausibility of action – creating urgency by getting the people to care is futile if there is no call to action they can commit themselves to or engage in.

Treating urgency as something exlusively external is an illusion. Campaigns start from individuals feeling an issue as urgent and pressing to them, and then they work to transfer that feeling to others – constituency and supporters.  It is internal in its essence, even though it can be supported, enhanced or diminished by external events carried out by your campaign or by other players.


Case Study:

“Honor killings” in Jordan – There have been 15- 20 cases a year of male members of the family killing their female relatives under accusation of committing acts to dishonor the family- often a relationship with a man regardless of the nature of the relationship. In such cases, families are under horrible pressure and in grievance – they are mourning a loss and simultaneously are required to press charges on another family member, which would mean losing not one but two loved ones. A campaign is working to stop the so called honour killings. However its leadership team is not the constituency or directly affected so urgency is an issue for them. There is no continuing internal urgency among the team members and there is no external urgency since there is no parliamentarian process or calendar to look at the legislation that gets the murder out with a reduced sentence. Urgency is created with each case and each lady murdered and dulls down between the murders. The question is how to create urgency within the leadership team -especially when it is hard to recruit women from the constituency of the problem or relatives of murdered ladies.


Some thoughts on strategies and perspectives

It is important to understand where you can find support for your actions and be proactive in getting it. For example, in India people who are against these kinds of practices are at universities. Most of the time they are educated young people. It is their values that will motivate them to act not their direct experience.If there is an online action, monitor the number of people engaged and what they have to say. Do you observe or find different definitions or interpretations of honor code – redefining the honor could be the call to action.Are the killings connected to tradition and religion and to what extend?

Are there community opinion leaders who are promoters of the honor code concept and how do you deal with them?

If the leadership team cannot move on with the campaign, it is worth taking a step back and asking: Why did people care enough about the issue to get on the team, but didn’t care enough to get into action mode and create urgency? What should happen to get them there?


Internal Urgency

External Urgency



Making an act of moral sacrifice, of personal civil disobedience – e.g. Rosa Parks Woman murdered by a relative under the pretext of “honour” Election day- to put an issue on the agenda
Involving people directly affected in action Publishing stories/investigative reporting Important dates /events in your context or in your cause (Dec 1st or MLD Day)
Transforming a private injustice to a public injustice through visualization of pain and evangelization Using them as calls to action – connecting them to your campaign – linking urgent actions and finding a hook for our campaign Strategic litigation that an ally or a “victim” pursues
Providing a vision of hope through clear example of something we can do right now- a path for action Investigation committee holding sessions on the right you are working for
Making consequences real
Sharing stories and using data in your story to make it personal – ex: Chai Jing ­­­
Deliberate polarizing – forcing a choice
Community meetings as a mirror of campaign – facing the challenge and fear

Sometimes, there are events campaign teams cannot predict, but there are ways of preparing for the unpredictable in terms of creating a structure and strategy which enables a rapid response and can be integrated into the existing campaign peaks and planning. On the other hand, creating inner urgency is a completely different challenge, but there is a value in transforming business as usual into a state of emergency through meaningful action, and using that for your campaigns. To do that, there needs to be continuity of both the team and their commitment, which is usually done through community meetings and acts of recommitment to action. Community meetings, in general, are an excellent reality check for the campaigns, overall work and commitment. In changing behavior campaigns (which are most often power with in essence) – these meetings are the space where you  hold each other accountable (a good example of that is a no violence campaign with mothers beating children – confessions if they did something outside of the rules are made in the community meetings). This way of thinking needs to be part of strategizing, but there is a challenge of how you embed this into a tactic when you are strategizing?


Strategizing and urgency

If we are questioning whether urgency to do a campaign exists, is that the time to re-strategize? It is the time to reflect. It means a need is there to re-phrase ourselves and be clear with what the issue is as well as being transparent about the fact that the urgency for the campaign lies in the hands of the team – it is internal. The issue is urgent to us first, otherwise there would be no campaign. When creating campaign chart, it’s important to think about what creates urgency on different levels – internally – emotionally and strategically, and externally as well – what will motivate constituency and supporters.

What comes as a pre-condition for people to respond to urgency and act on it is building the courage of the constituency to do it. In the Montgomery Bus Boycott, women were in defiance but were not organized. It took one Rosa Park to move them to act – it was, and it is, a strategic approach to creating an infrastructure for people where they will feel safe because they are not alone. Sometimes the best way to battle fear of engagement in fase of urgency happens lies in making acts of civil disobedience with clear consequences, taking that extra step, being the example of taking it further to the next level, modeling.

“Taking control of who creates urgency in your campaign is the necessity of taking control of timing in your campaign” – Marshall Ganz

Additional ways of creating urgency are setting the deadlines for others. This increase  urgency and accountability. If we are setting the deadlines, we are in control and it pressures  our constituency and the opposition equally. (e.g. We need your answer in three days, because we are holding a meeting to decide how do we take the matter further. No, the meeting cannot be postponed.)

A different approach to urgency can be drawn based on the source of urgency in terms of the campaign:

External —> mobilizing ——> as a reaction to public event

Internal —->organizing ——> taking control of creating urgency around your own work so you can create urgency and respond to the outside opportunities for urgency


Read the Executive Summary of the  Global Affiliates Gathering in Serbia March 2015 

Read the 1st of the GA Serbia Notes – Understanding Impact

Read the Agenda of the Global Affiliates Gathering 

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