The Empowerment Manual

A Guide for Collaborative Groups by Starhawk

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A Peek Inside

Collaborative organizations have the unique potential to harness their members’ ideals, passions, skills, and knowledge—if they can succeed in getting along together. The Empowerment Manual is a comprehensive guide for groups seeking to organize with shared power and bottom-up leadership to foster vision, trust, accountability and responsibility. This desperately needed toolkit provides keys to:

• understanding group dynamics
• facilitating communication and collective decision-making
• dealing effectively with difficult people

Drawing on four decades of experience, Starhawk shows how collaborative groups can generate the cooperation, efficacy and commitment critical to success. Her extensive exploration of group process is woven together with the story of RootBound—a fictional ecovillage mired in conflict— and rounded out with a series of real-life case studies. The included exercises and facilitator’s toolbox show how to establish the necessary structures, ground rules and healthy norms. The Empowerment Manual is required reading for anyone who wants to help their group avoid disagreement and disillusionment and become a wellspring of creativity and innovation.

The Empowerment Manual is now in bookstores, or you can order online from:

• 100 Fires, our independent, and highly recommended, online bookseller: 100 Fires
• New Society Publishers

e-Reader versions of The Empowerment Manual are available wherever ebooks are sold. A .pdf downloadable version (can be read on an ordinary computer) is now available from BooksOnBoard.

A Gift from Starhawk and an Invitation to Help Build the Gift Economy

“The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings” is a bonus chapter, not included in the print version of the book. You can only get it here, as a gift.

A PDF of this chapter is available now.


“This download is a free gift from me, Starhawk, to you. I hope it will help make your meetings more effective, creative and fun! I feel privileged to be able to support your work in this way.

If you feel moved to give something back, please feel free to support Earth Activist Training by Donating here.

Earth Activist Training offers permaculture design certificate courses with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. Our courses attract dynamic people on fire with the desire to change the world, and we give them tools to do so.

We work hard at fundraising to make courses available to those with limited means and to expand the diversity of our programs. Any amount is gratefully received! Generally, up to half of our students receive some level of financial aid. $800 funds one work-trade scholarship.

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Thanks so much!”

a peek inside…

Excerpt from the Introduction:

Today we face overwhelming social, economic and ecological crises, from wars to natural disasters to nuclear meltdowns. Climate change is progressing even faster than predicted. We are challenged to recreate our technologies, our energy systems, our economies, our food systems and our way of life — and to do it not over the next century but within the next few decades. We have a short window of time to either make the transformation to a world where we all can thrive or devolve into a grim future of ecological catastrophe and all the social breakdowns, war, destruction and suffering that go with it.

To choose the positive future, we need the imagination, the commitment and passion that can never be commanded but can only be unleashed in groups of equals. Those groups need to work. They need to function well, as smoothly and efficiently as the most well-oiled hierarchical machine. And some of them, at least, need to last. That’s why I’m writing this book.

Another excerpt from the book may be downloaded here, courtesy of New Society Publishers.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A New Era of Empowerment
What are collaborative groups? Why this book is needed. How the book is structured. Leading exercises and meditations.

Chapter 2: RootBound Ecovillage and the Talisman of Healthy Community
Introduction to our exemplary — or not so — ecovillage and its problems.

Chapter 3: The Circle of Vision
Finding a group vision, core values, intentions, goals and governance.

Chapter 4: The Axis of Action — Power and Responsibility

Different kinds of power, rules and norms, earned and unearned social power, privilege and entitlement, balancing power and responsibility.

Chapter 5: The Axis of Learning — Communication and Trust
Communication norms, functional and dysfunctional. Basic skills for good communication in groups. Accountability and building trust.

Chapter 6: Leadership Roles for Leaderless Groups

Group roles and different types of leadership. How to be an empowering leader. Empowerment to the midline. Accountability.

Chapter 7: Group Conflict
Embracing conflict and learning to constructively disagree. Types of conflict. Strategies for mediation. Wrongdoing and due process.

Chapter 8: Dealing with Difficult People
What makes people “difficult”? Trauma and internalized authority. Borderline personalities and victimhood. Clashing styles and norms. Patterns of reaction. Problems too big for the group. Hidden agendas.
Chapter 9: Groups that Work
Examples of successful collaboration: Rainbow Grocery, a worker-owned cooperative; the 1999 Seattle Blockade of the World Trade Organization; Reclaiming, an Earth-based spiritual network.

Bibliography and References

Praise for Starhawk’s
The Empowerment Manual

“Strong, sustained leadership at the grassroots is more essential by the minute, given the failure of political and corporate power-holders to stop trashing our world. True social change is a collaborative art. Here’s a trove of tips, guidelines, deft strategies, and open secrets that will speed and ease our capacity to work together. It comes to us with Starhawk’s signature blend of vast experience, wit, and love for life.”
Joanna Macy, author, The Work that Reconnects and co-author, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy

“It’s not easy to meld a sweeping vision with practical steps on how to implement it, but Starhawk has succeeded brilliantly in The Empowerment Manual. Filled with case histories, illustrative stories, and, most importantly, clearly written exercises for honing your collaborative skills, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in building community and truly empowering themselves and others.”
Toby Hemenway, author, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

“A vitally important manual for those of us stepping forward to build resilient communities together. Starhawk’s book should be kept close at hand and referred to before meetings, group decisions, and when dealing with difficult people. Rich in how-to’s and real life experience, this book will make the novice proficient as its methods are put into practice.”
Carolyne Stayton, executive director, Transition U.S.

“A ‘must have’ for everyone who lives in an ecovillage or intentional community (or who would like to), The Empowerment Manual offers real-life examples, effective process exercises, and relevant, practical advice on group dynamics arising from Starhawk’s years of experience in collaborative groups. I especially loved the right-on examination of earned and un-earned social power, balancing the power-sharing with fairly rewarding leadership, and Starhawk’s often hilarious account of the invented but oh-so-real Rootbound Ecovillage. I’m giving a copy to everyone who takes my workshops!”
Diana Leafe Christian, author, Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities and Finding Community, and publisher, Ecovillages newsletter

“With The Empowerment Manual Starhawk has delivered a work of timely vision with instant practical impact. Good people, leaders, communitarians, and activists of every kind have been needing the help that this work brings just in time. For too long we have been hitting our heads against the wall, trying to find ways to be more effective, as various external and internal challenges have often unmade our successes. This manual will help us refocus, grow together, and be best prepared. Thank you Starhawk!”
Mark Lakeman, founder, The City Repair Project

“In neighborhoods all over the world people are gathering together again, talking about survival on a much-changed planet, and many of them making changes needed so badly in these times when there is no time to lose. The Empowerment Manual is truly a guide to ensure the survival of those of us who are struggling to work collaboratively. It sheds a light on those dark corners of group dynamics that can leave us confused and disheartened. Starhawk gives us the tools to be the change we want to bring to the world.”
Donna Read, filmmaker, Women and Spirituality. (Since 1991 she has been collaborating with Starhawk through their film company Belili Productions.)

“Of all the wonderful and gifted leaders I have known, Starhawk is the one who best expresses the values of equalitarianism. In whatever situation I have seen her, she stands back allowing others and holding herself no higher than anyone else. This new book, The Empowerment Manual, is Starhawk at her best—as wise woman elder, articulate thinker and witty writer, experienced leader and fierce guardian of the planet. This is the how-to we’ve been needing, an eloquent and thoughtful handbook of intelligent advice detailing exactly how to bring the principles of cooperation, caring, and democratic sustainability fully into living practice. Extremely well done!”
Vicki Noble, co-creator Motherpeace tarot; author, Shakti Woman and The Double Goddess; and professor at Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto, California.