coalition building v. community building

And as we carefully plan, to live and care for the land
In all, we share what we can, then we can eat the fruit
And when they tell us our lies, undercover disguises
We sever the ties and never be confused
And when we have to decide, to rise and gather the tribes
No matter the price, we will speak the truth
— sweatshop union, better days

i’ve been thinking about this past weekend, where bladyblog and i took a crew of young disabled guys to DC for four days. the trip was designed to provide opportunity for us to get to know each other and to learn about different gifts people bring to the disability rights movement (i.e. meet folks who do activism, who do policy, who are artists, etc). all 5 of the youth brought different experiences to the group and it was amazing.

i’ve attended and/or organized many disability youth events and have been trying to pinpoint what about this trip felt so different from all the others. though organized outside of a conference model, we still had a jam packed schedule. we still spent a lot of time doing political advocacy (i.e. hill visits). we were still in a hotel, not a home.

still something was different. there were no “what can i get out of this person?” or “how do i network in a way that maximizes my contacts?” vibes. it wasn’t about trying to get your hands on as many business cards as possible. everyone was completely invested in the trip and in each other. we’d get on the metro and i’d see all of them look around for each other, counting heads. when bladyblog and i were freaking out about money, feeding people, and such, they’d offer up a $5 bill.  the only way to describe it is that we were/are a family.

a friend and i had a conversation about community the other day. he carries a ridiculous amount of responsibilities within the movement, a People sits squarely on his shoulders. we talked about how he didn’t have the option of looking at community in terms of relationships, that there is so much work to be done (very true) and that he was left without the time to act on community-building in this way. sustainability, talking and all is nice but who has time for that when there is a movement to advance, oppressive constructs to dismantle, and institutions to bring down, right? our people are so oppressed the only way to act is with a sense of urgency. the day before that conversation, mrs. dart, bladyblog and i sat down and talked about justin’s understanding that love had to be a foundation for a social justice movement. she talked about the need to love even the enemy—from my understanding, not necessarily for the purpose for converting them through love but because if we could love them, we were already the victors. with love, our spirits cannot be taken or our movements broken.

i look at the event we organized this summer in which the youth we brought on this trip were rooted in. unlike other events like ours, we chose to focus on community, interdependence, and commonality instead of employment, leadership/network building skills, or college transition. talking about community does not mean we do not talk about the issues, injustices, or power, rather it is framework we employ to talk about these things. it is a way we live and view the movement.

i am grateful to learn this model from queer and radical women of color communities that organize outside/along side the nonprofit industrial complex. this weekend proved to me that community is not some abstract thing to talk about, but rather a powerful, transformative way to organize and come together.

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4 Comments

Filed under community, i love my people, organizing

4 responses to “coalition building v. community building

  1. Patti Digh who writes the blog 37 days said this in an interview recently:

    “Most of us exist in a state of overwhelm. I know I do. In those moments—as in all moments were change is needed—we need to consider the possibility that the change that is needed is often counterintuitive. That is, often the change that is needed is the exact opposite of what we believe is needed. So, when I’m stressed and have too much to do, I believe the answer is to work faster and let relationships falter because I don’t have time for them. What if the change that will help most is to slow down and foster deeper relationships instead?”

    It always amazes me when disconnected folks hit on the same wisdom at the same time!

  2. terri, thank you for sharing that! so true.

  3. “unlike other events like ours, we chose to focus on community, interdependence, and commonality instead of employment, leadership/network building skills, or college transition. talking about community does not mean we do not talk about the issues, injustices, or power, rather it is framework we employ to talk about these things. it is a way we live and view the movement.”

    This is beautiful. I think you’re also hitting on this tension between “practical” skills that are mostly about assimilation, and something deeper and more transformative.

    And Terri, I love that Patti Digh quote, especially “the change that is needed is often counterintuitive.” I have to think about that some more…

    Love —
    mattilda

  4. mattilda!

    *switches into fangirl mode*
    *squeals happily*

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