Inspiration this week has come in the form of a mid-level organizing training on Long Island with partners of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table — Several months ago Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy and I connected on bringing some of the practices and insights I have been working on with Up With Community to a mid-level organizing training for 15 seasoned staff on Long Island. Our goal would be to help build relationships, strengthen analytical tools, and lay a stronger strategic foundation for the wins ahead. After jumping up and down in my seat for a few minutes, I got cracking and was connected with Daniel Altschuler and Steve MacFarland of Make the Road New York and Lucas Sanchez of New York Community for Change to work on crafting a popular education driven, 6-week training.
I first learned of Long Island, and Suffolk County 7 years ago when Suffolk County made headlines for a series of anti-immigrant local ordinances attacking the bedrock of local communities. At the time, I was an organizer with the Center for Community Change on the Fair Immigration Reform Movement – struggling to wrap my mind around a new form of hurt for our communities. I had been tasked with interviewing local groups that were fighting back and helping share their insights with other local community groups seeking stop to this type of legislation. With leadership from Long Island and other communities we were able to stem the tide of these ordinances, though many around the country remain vigilant to block new attempts that arise. It has been amazing seeing the growth of power among these groups since then, and the level of coordination they are striving for. Mixing urban and rural connections and spanning two counties, they are building an infrastructure to combine medium-term wins into lasting change on the Island.
Needless to say, I was psyched to re-engage with this community and build a training rooted in their needs, experiences and knowledge. Having a mixed set of work backgrounds and training in the room, meant that we could rely on all of the participants to share their input and insights a co-learning model. We built the sessions to start with strengthening our foundational understandings of power, relationships and the nuance of the political context in Long Island. In each of these sessions we explored concepts and knowledge that we often think we know, but may actually only have a “fuzzy” understanding of. My favorite concept lately is moving away from fuzzy definitions to concrete understandings of work so that we can create stronger strategy. When I see a strategy that is still too vague, or has logical gaps, my first thought is to explore if we’ve fully understood how power works in our community and the precise interventions we think can shift power and how.
Our biggest challenges in the curriculum design came in the last session – teaching popular education design for all aspects of organizing. We had been exposed to 101 trainings on popular education and read plenty of books on how to write pop-ed curriculum, but we had not experienced training like this, for organizers, on how to apply the concepts of popular education to our day-to-day work of agendas, mini-trainings, and meeting design. If you have examples of this training or ideas that you think could help future versions of this training – please email me to share. Ultimately, we chose to build a session where we trained a simple set of principles (the popular education spiral) and then gave them a series of exercises to apply it to agenda setting and project design – we’ll be testing that one in a few weeks.
I am grateful to Daniel, Steve, Lucas, and Ana Maria for giving me the opportunity to experiment, create and dig in with them – if you have training stories to share, please send them our way, we’d love to post and share them.