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Organizing Communities Across Boundaries: Day One
Submitted by marc on March 29, 2008 - 4:09pm.
Over 100 activists gathered yesterday for the Organizing Communities Across Boundaries: An Organizing Teach-in sponsored by the Midwest Social Forum. The purpose of the weekend meeting is to build collaborative relationships and develop organizing skills to bridge the divides that segment the social justice movement.
The teach-in began on Friday, Mach 28 with Rose Brewer from Project South and Adrienne Maree Brown from the Ruckus Society facilitating an opening plenary session on “Can We Win it All?” Rose and Adrienne began with an overview of shifts in social movements as people struggled to break with hierarchies and out of “silos” that divide us from each other. People, especially young people, who have been impacted by issues are now in leadership positions. Social movements are moving away from the control of foundation who often limit activism through funding restrictions. Organizations come and go, but key to success are movements built around networks of people. We need to move from protests, which often react to oppression, to developing and presenting visions of where we want to go. As Frederick Douglas noted, power concedes nothing without pressure, and we need to continue to press our demands in order to realize policy shifts.
After Rose and Adrienne presented their introductory comments, we broke into 12 groups to discuss questions that our movements face. We then came back together to share those questions. The questions included:
How do we encourage organizations to share rather than compete for resources?
How can we build more effective networks between organizations?
How can we move from reacting to visions?
How to shift from foundation to a community base and funding.
How to identify what are mutual interests?
What are our expectations for the weekend?
How to learn and work as we move from protest to vision?
How not only to process decisions, but also move to action?
What is the best way to get change?
How can we show a vision when it is not concrete?
How to move from informal to more formal networks and organizing patterns?
How to engage in protest and nonviolent direct action without reacting to events?
What are alternative to electoral political campaigns?
How can we gain support for implementing our visions?
How do we engage issues that do not directly effect us?
How can we engage faith based communities?
How can we work with local governments?
Rose emphasized the importance of intersectionality–how struggles are informed and shaped by each other. Rather than non-profit 501c3s we should think about 501cFrees in which the most important currency are relations with each other.
After this introductory plenary, we moved into relationship building cohorts and caucuses. Patrick Barrett noted that not only are skills important, but we also need to build relationships. Big gatherings are good for gaining a sense of being part of something bigger, but this small gathering is designed to help us build relationships.
The group then broke into 10 small groups (cohorts) designed to foster relationships that cut across communities. An objective of the cohort groups was to break people out of their comfort zones and “silos” in order to build ties across communities and issues.
Following the cohorts, we met in 5 caucuses for people working on the common issues of youth, environmental justice, immigrant rights, LGBT, and students.
Friday ended with an intergenerational fishbowl on cross-cultural best organizing practices. Organizers began with one representative of each of 4 age groups in the fishbowl (under 21, 22-35, 36-50, and above 50) in order to begin a conversation about commonalities and conflicts across these boundaries. The purpose was to bring out the best knowledge and practices from movement activists. As the conversation advanced, people in the audience tapped out those in the fishbowl so that we had a constantly rotating source of knowledge. The largest age group was those 22-25 (ca. 40), with those under 21 the second group (ca. 25). Together, they were about 2/3 of those present. One person noted that the young and the old are the most disrespected in our society, and that they needed to talk to each other to learn from each other and to organize around common concerns. We had a vast range of experiences in the room, but they all led us here. We also talked about the problems with the professionalization of radicalism. Activists need energy and passion–they can learn the other skills. A problem is that after the civil rights movement, activism became a job which killed movement building.
The first day ended with Invincible performing a spoken word piece, and then Cecilio Negrón leading a drumming session that extended into the night.