Becoming David

Nearly a year before the 2008 presidential campaign heated up, I made a late-night airport run to pick up Harvard professor Marshall Ganz. The conversation during the short drive to Washington, D.C., was fascinating, as Ganz discussed sociology, moral philosophy, history, and the practice of organizing in a captivating and practical way. With these same qualities—an eye for history, organizing, and moral philosophy—Ganz summarizes the history, rise, and eventual decline of the United Farm Workers organization in Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement.

A rabbi’s son from Bakersfield, Cali-fornia, Ganz joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in 1965 after dropping out of Harvard College and working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi for two years. He spent the next 16 years with UFW, ultimately becoming director of organizing and a member of the group’s executive board. Since then, Ganz has become one of the country’s most respected scholars on the art and practice of organizing. Most recently, he advised the Obama campaign on organizing, training, and leadership.

Why David Sometimes Wins provides a sweeping history of the many attempts to organize California farm workers, beginning in the early 1900s—from the Sugar Beet Laborers Union of Oxnard in 1903 to the AFL-CIO in the ’60s. Each movement failed to create substantive change—until Chavez and the UFW came along. The lessons Ganz learned from his UFW experiences are useful for all organizers and movement leaders.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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