Organizing Principles

There are a few key principles that guide the way we do our work:

The Iron Rule: Never, never do for others what they can do for themselves.

This principle is central to how COPA organizes. We believe deeply in the human potential of every individual, no matter what racial or socioeconomic or educational background, to have the capacity to learn to speak and act for themselves and their communities. The Iron Rule says we will not speak for others, but rather, we will teach others how to speak, act and engage effectively for themselves. The Iron Rule goes beyond just rejecting paternalism. It means we enter into relationships of mutual accountability, which rests on mutual respect, a willingness to suspend judgment and engage in reciprocal listening and openness to the other.

Power without love is tyranny, and love without power is sentimentality.

This principle is central to how COPA organizes. We believe deeply in the human potential of every individual, no matter what racial or socioeconomic or educational background, to have the capacity to learn to speak and act for themselves and their communities. The Iron Rule says we will not speak for others, but rather, we will teach others how to speak, act and engage effectively for themselves. The Iron Rule goes beyond just rejecting paternalism. It means we enter into relationships of mutual accountability, which rests on mutual respect, a willingness to suspend judgment and engage in reciprocal listening and openness to the other.


Power precedes program.

This principle refers to the first step in the organizing cycle, building relationships of trust to form power before taking an action. Power, in the form of organized people, is necessary to win an action. A criticism of COPA has been that we spend too much time ‘just talking’ before any ‘real action’ happens. Conversation is necessary to build trusting relationships which form the foundation of an organized people. For any action to really be effective, it must be grounded in hundreds of conversations. Trust is necessary before action can be taken together, knowing that you are clear on each other’s interests and will have each other’s back when the going gets tough. And there simply are no shortcuts to building trust. Trust takes time.

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