Join with an existing group, or start your own?
First, ask if there are any existing socially concerned organizations on your campus. Check with your student activities office, look for posters in the student union, and ask others if a peace and justice group has recently been active.
If a group of progressive students has already been formed at your school, talk to some key members and find out what kinds of issues they work on. If they seem politically compatible and open to your ideas it may be easier to join with them than to start a new group from scratch. If that group is very large you could start a spin-off group, or subcommittee. If there is no group that fits the bill, why not start your own?
Start your own group
To start a group of your own, first try to find one or more like-minded people to share in the initial work. Then advertise by posting flyers around campus and writing in the school paper. If you know students in other organizations, have them announce your meeting at their own. Choose a location for your meeting that is easily accessible, like a room in the student union, a cafe or a meeting hall. You can make the meeting open to all students, faculty, and members of the community. Or have your first meeting include a small group of people you know and your second one be an open-house meeting that is built broadly. You may wish to choose a working name for the first meeting and then let the group decide on its permanent name.
Know your campus
Are students at your school used to taking part in political activities? Is your campus an elite private university, a residential public university, or a commuter school for part-time students? How strongly is your school linked to the military, and is there a strong right-wing presence there? Activities that go over well at one school may not work at another.
Whatever your situation, it is helpful to talk to other activists to learn what has and has not worked. One suggestion is to invite activists from even as far back as 10 or 20 years to come to campus to discuss their experience with today's activists. Not everything they say will still apply, but it's likely that much will still be true.
Figure your constituency
You need to figure out who you want to involve in your activities. Undergraduates or graduate students? On-campus residents or commuters? Engineering students or liberal arts students? If you gain faculty and community support, it will only make your movement stronger.
Don't exclude potential allies
Many groups are started by people from similar backgrounds, and unknowingly may exclude people who do not come from the same background. For example, low-income students who work in addition to studying may not have time for four-hour meetings. Try to reduce the number of long meetings, and define smaller roles for students who may only have 30 minutes a week to help out.
Define your mission
The mission of your group should be located somewhere other than the inside of the founder's head. The purpose should be articulated so that the initial members will be comfortable. It should be debated at your initial meetings to give group members a sense of ownership over group decisions. One way a group can foster this ownership is to discuss and revise its mission at the beginning of each academic year. A mission should say, in one or two paragraphs, who you represent, what you do, where you do it, and why you do it, and how you do it.
Prepare for the new semester
Most campuses have an activities fair or orientation week where established activities can set up tables to recruit new members from the incoming class. Be sure to meet the deadline for reserving a table and that your display is inviting.
Get recognition and submit a budget
Once you have gained official university recognition, you ought to take their money. Consult your student activities office for some advice and guidelines before seeking funding. Some schools may let you add $1,000 or more to pay an outside speaker. Be forewarned that some administrations, states, and student governments have imposed restrictions on funding political activity to limit the political expression of student groups.
Reprinted with permission from the Campus Organizing Guide. Copies of the 16-page guide can be purchased for $1 each from Center for Campus Organizing, Box 748, Cambridge, MA 02142.