On Conflict

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“The organizer’s job is not to create conflict, but to expose the conflict that already exists. Conflict exists any time a landlord fails to maintain his property but collects rent, any place where children pass a drug house on the way to school and on and on. When this conflict is exposed it creates a new situation, because it requires that the parties in conflict sit down to figure out a way to resolve the problem. The old rules don’t apply anymore. When conflict isn’t exposed, those in power continue their behavior. They are comfortable and no one’s complaining, so they keep treating the rest of us like crap.”

–Shel Trapp

“Dynamics of Organizing: Building Power by Developing the Human Spirit”

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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While attending a meeting of a coalition of groups that have been working together for about two years to improve the health and safety of the neighborhoods in the city of Syracuse, I was confronted with the quote you see above, the meeting facilitator had printed it out on a big sheet of newsprint hanging from the easel at the front of the room:

Continue reading “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”

Still Organizing In The Street

It’s been a year of change here at “Still Racing . . .”  After twenty years, I left my position as a community organizer with Syracuse United Neighbors.  I have taken a new job as an advocate for disability rights with ARISE–a center for independent living (CIL) here in Syracuse. There are 37 CIL’s in NY State and their mission is to help persons with disabilities live independent lives in the community–rather than being forced to live in institutional settings such as nursing homes.

The scale is different. SUN is a small grassroots group with two employees and an annual budget of $150,000.  ARISE is a sprawling social service provider with over 700 employees and a budget over $15 million. The atmosphere is more corporate–I have a cubicle, a name tag, I sign in and out of our building.  I am no longer salaried, I am an hourly worker. Continue reading “Still Organizing In The Street”

Twenty Years Ago . . .

Twenty years ago today, I took a job that changed my life.

Organizing My Fat Self

I’m a community organizer. The shibboleth of community organizing is “educate, agitate, organize.” Lay out the reasons behind the problem, get people pissed off about it and then work together to change the situation. It’s the opposite of social work, a field of work that identifies personal problems to correct rather than the “powers-that-be” that cause oppression.

One effective way for organizers to get a handle on the agitate part of the equation, to truly understand another’s oppression, is to focus on the oppression you may have faced in your life. Understand the disrespect and disenfranchisement in your own life–and allow yourself to truly feel the anger that oppression creates within you. This will allow you to help others to harness their anger and use it to to empower both themselves and their community.

Continue reading “Organizing My Fat Self”

“So, What Do We Know?”

A friend of mine, someone I hadn’t seen in awhile, commented on a Facebook posting of mine today. He asked how things were going in Syracuse, and since he has labored as an organizer, I laid the typical, world-weary organizer rap on him as a reply:

Things are limping along in Syracuse–more poverty than ever and less compassion because the upper and middle classes are feeling constrained as well. Unions fight to elect politicians who then ignore them when it counts. City government is going broke paying for city employees (police and fire) who refuse to live in the city–contributing to the decline of our tax base. You know–same shit, different day.

Too snarky, by a longshot. It’s all true–but somehow incomplete. I thought of a phrase that my wife used the other day: “So, what do we know?” It’s a nifty line that really resonated with me. I think it’s a great opener for a leadership meeting: short, snappy and demanding others to leap into the breach! Continue reading ““So, What Do We Know?””