Every tenant council runs into snags here and there. Sometimes individual personalities just rub each other the wrong way, while other times divisions appear between race, age, gender, ability or other lines. And sometimes the problem is the fact the old tenant leaders have moved on, while new ones were not developed.
These problems are often a product of a society which puts profit before people, difference before unity, and conflict before cooperation. Since most tenants were raised in this society, we are products of it – so there must be a common understanding and commitment to what we are fighting for, and how we intend to get there together.
If the group starts to lose focus, consider writing a mission statement for the tenant council to endorse. Sometimes this can help to illustrate the pettiness of division and might help folks remember what got you started organizing against injustice in the first place. You can also hold a meeting addressing such issues and bring outside speakers to come and talk with the group.
Often it may be a problem of power. If your tenant council uses a Parliamentary structure that gives the most authority to a small group of people, often the membership will become restless with the way in which that authority is used.
In all cases, it makes sense to keep lines of communication between officers and the membership open. One policy that can help your tenant council to remain representative of the membership is to have an “immediate recall” policy. This means that any officer may be voted out of office at any time by democratic vote of the membership.
When old campaigns have passed on, don’t hesitate to pick up a new one right away. Nothing kills the spirit of a tenant council as quickly as a lack of activity.
The most important thing however, is the ongoing skill development of the membership. Often the people who come forward to lead in the beginning are those who already have decent organizing skills. But when those people become tired, or they move away, the building is left with nothing. It might even revert to the stage it was at before any organizing took place – and that’s a real shame. The goal should be for all of the membership to be developed as leaders. Then, leadership could rotate, or be taken on by different tenants for different issue areas.