Field Exercise Inspires Colorful Window Display in Harvard Square

March 30, 2012
By Doug Gavel

"What inspires you?"

It was that simple message hand-written on a yellow post-it note taped to the front door of a vacant shop in Harvard Square that has since prompted hundreds of colorful and heartfelt responses.

"My 10th grade history teacher." "My friends and parents." "Fish fingers and custard." "Martin Luther King." "The Dalai Lama." They are all honored on the otherwise nondescript storefront wedged between a sandwich shop and a jewelry store on Brattle Street.

The post-it idea sprouted from a group of students on a Saturday morning field exercise as part of Marshall Ganz' MLD-377 community organizing course. As Ganz explains, the exercise is intended to provide a real-life opportunity to put into play the five core principles he teaches in class -- relationship building, storytelling, structure, strategy, and action.


"They get to experience how all the pieces fit together in a very quick way. [The students have] to pair off, share stories of what they care about, find a common interest, strategize what to do about it and go out on the street and recruit people to take action," Ganz said. "It's sort of like throwing them in the ocean and giving them a chance to learn what it feels to swim."

More than six weeks after the first post-it note was stuck to the door, it remains in place waving in the breeze, but it is no longer alone. Today dozens of post-its adorn all of the store windows, attesting to the power of a single idea presented at the right place at the right time.

"I was inspired to see that a simple question could resonate with so many people and move them to action," said Jonah Evans MPP 2012, a member of the group that devised the post-it plan. "We've all been inspired by someone. That feeling of connection doesn't always happen in public, especially Harvard Square. It's a nice excuse to slow down and realize what we have in common."

"I think it's interesting," Ganz remarks. "It's remarkable that it's staying up out there and that people are adding to it, so it has clearly touched a nerve."

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Jonah Evans pictures in front of the post it notes

Jonah Evans MPP 2012, a member of the group that devised the post-it plan.

"I was inspired to see that a simple question could resonate with so many people and move them to action," Evans.

picture of people taking pictures of the store front

People stop to take pictures of the notes.