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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.

Comments

Adepeju's picture

Timeless truth

"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."

I wish everyone will read your post! the above quoted are timeless truth! Thank you for this.

Bonnie Samuel's picture

Community grass roots action

Great commentary on the state of "activism" in the US today. I'm a veteran of the 80's political and social action days in the Midwest. It was truly different then and I feel because people were more community/people oriented then than the isolated, electronically driven world today. As a woman in my 60's, I've been so frustrated with the various groups today who mostly have a web presence and constantly ask for donations, but what do they really accomplish? From the state of things, I'd say not much.

Wisconsin provides a good example. Here's a state of great liberal/action traditions and yet they can't seem to get the people most impacted, and those who say they support them, to organize with any strength. Teachers are gone, labor unions really dismantled and more and all they could muster was weekend protests after the initial occupation of the capital.

We are in real trouble!

usha kc's picture

Dear Ellen, thank you so

Dear Ellen, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Very good to read.

faridaY's picture

Interesting

It was very helpful for me to read this to know that I am not alone in finding that creating change in one's community can be very frustrating and that negativity is a problem everywhere. You were doing important work and I was wondering what positive moments did you have from the experience?

MaDube's picture

Don't I know it

When one of the leading female activists Jestina Mukoko was taken from her home by state security agents, then held in a secret place where she was tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment many of us were distraught that this was happening to her. But there were whispers some from the women's movement saying she brought it onto herself. That to me was very disappointing and sad for women to do that to other women. These are some of the challenges that women activists face in their work, resistance from some of their own and it will take a lot of hard work to change that.

Duda's picture

Many people in my country

Many people in my country (what left from ex. Yugoslavia), could tell you that we all can agree in only one thing, and that is that we disagree. It is very helpful for me to read this text.

Best wishes,
Dubravka

love2write's picture

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

Ellen Rosner Feig
Assistant Professor, Composition and Literature
Carl Wilkens Fellow, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur

And I hope that you find the way forward..

Yours,
Julie

@julietomlin

CindyColes's picture

A difficult job

I often remark that societal community is weaker than it used to be, or at least it's splintered into smaller, distinct sub-communities. I wonder what we lose when we can no longer engage in a large, cohesive group.

Your article makes clear how challenging it is to build community. Thanks for sharing!

Cindy Coles

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