The Difficult Task of Community Building
Last year I was a regional organizer for MoveOn.org, a US based liberal organization that fights for concerns of middle class Americans. While I spent over six months training and learning organizational skills, I was never really prepared for what I would face once I went out into the community to build a "council" or team. As an initial outreach I created a rally at the local office of my congresswoman; the rally was in support of the Wisconsin unions fighting for their right to organize. After sending out emails and invites, I received a half-hearted response from my lists; some people suggested different dates, some people expressed their concern that they rally was useless, some people simply complained about their own problems. On the day of the event, I was advised that we would be met with Tea Party protestors and was forced to contact the local police department due to concern of conflict. I, along with my teenage children, arrived to find a crowd of about 10 MoveOn members and about 25 Tea Party protestors. The congresswoman's staff came to speak with us and within seconds the rally became a fight between supporters and protestors. Even within my own group there was little consensus building; rather, women fought with other women, men argued with other men and even my kids got involved. Days later I followed up with everyone and was, yet again, met with complaints and criticism. Within three months, I decided to leave my role.
Unfortunately this experience is not unique to movements. Time and again I find that we simply can not agree and rather than agree to disagree, we argue, complain and fight. These conflicts cause the issues to be ignored and the problems to grow larger. Our complaints don't address what is at hand but address our own egos. In order to truly facilitate change, we must build bridges and acknowledge that we each have our own needs and interests which must be heard and recognized. Until we learn how to work as a community, we can never hope to change communities.