Skip to main content

This Independence Day, be the one at the cookout with all the best trivia. Revere-vs-Dawes-v5.jpg

Paul Revere - community organizer

Every schoolchild in America is taught the story of Paul Revere, the blacksmith who alerted the Massachusetts countryside that the British army was planning an invasion. What is less well known, though, is the reason for his great success: he had organized a powerful community all across the state.

Author Malcolm Gladwell explains more about how this network was activated on Revere’s ride in his book about social change:

Revere [had become] a kind of unofficial clearinghouse for the anti-British forces. He knew everybody . . . [W]hen Revere set out for Lexington that night, he would have known just how to spread the news as far and wide as possible. . . . When he came upon a town, he would have known exactly whose door to knock on, who the local militia leader was, who the key players in town were. He had met most of them before. And they knew and respected him as well. [all quotations are from The Tipping Point, pages 57-58, 36, and 59 respectively]

Revere's ride was the culmination of his lifetime of work. His relationships with people across the countryside made his famous horse ride a success—without them, he would not have succeeded in his goal. Like all good community organizers, Revere knew that he had to build real relationships, leverage the influential folks in the community to further spread the word, and lay the groundwork for action with an infrastructure of leaders that could support him.

William Dawes - traditional marketer

Paul Revere wasn't the only one warning the British were coming. Though he didn't go down in history, a fellow revolutionary named William Dawes made a similar emergency ride through a different part of MA that same night. His attempt to alert his fellow countrymen was such a failure that it confused historians:

Dawes's ride didn't set the countryside afire. The local militia leaders weren't alerted. In fact, so few men from one of the main towns he rode through—Waltham—fought the following day that some subsequent historians concluded that it must have been a strongly pro-British community. It wasn't. The people of Waltham just didn't find out the British were coming until it was too late.

Why did Dawes's ride not become the stuff of children's songs and history books? Dawes didn’t organize. He was likely a tenacious marketer, calling out to villagers with a very compelling message, but he had not done the relationship-building beforehand that would have made his efforts effective.

Despite the fact that Dawes visited at least four different cities in the area, those cities were far enough outside his neighborhood in Boston that he was simply ineffective: “like most of us—once he left his hometown he probably wouldn't have known whose door to knock on.”

Sparking a revolution

B5aTato.gifToo many companies, organizations, and campaigns adopt the strategies of Dawes rather than Revere. They ride through the countryside loudly announcing important updates, opportunities to get involved, and requests for help. And when it seems like nobody is listening, they double their ad budget, hire a social media manager, and design some memes.

Meanwhile, Revere is organizing communities and sparking a revolution.

Add your email below to get more content like this or download a NationBuilder organizing guide.

More content you'll like

Share this post

Be the first to comment

Wrap code snippets in <code></code> tags.
Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.