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Learning in the Streets

Building strength in numbers. Developing grassroots leaders. Raising independent money. Mapping power relationships.

These are some of the key ingredients that go into building powerful community organizations that can win transformative change – which is why they’re core elements of the Alliance’s flagship Four-Day Organizer Training.

Our training team has been leading the Four-Day program annually for over a decade to build the organizing, strategic planning, and media skills of Alliance affiliate organizers and grassroots leaders.

This summer, there was so much demand that we had to multiply our Four-Day training schedule. We trained a cohort of 21 organizers at our West Coast Four-Day in Seattle in June (hosted by Washington Community Action Network). We ran an East Coast Four-Day for 25 organizers in Albany at the end of July (hosted by Citizen Action of New York – see photos).

And we just wrapped up a special Four-Day intensive for staff from our newest affiliate, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United, in New York City.

The Native Organizers Alliance (a project of AJS) also led a tailored Four-Day Native Organizing Training for 28 Native organizers working in Indian Country in June, along with a Native youth training in Montana in July and a condensed organizing workshop for the American Indian Center of Chicago in August.

What makes the Alliance’s training program stand out?

  • We learn by doing. While we hit the books (learning about the history and theory of community organizing), we also hit the streets. That’s how organizers from Washington to Maine and New Orleans to Vermont ended up shoulder to shoulder on a field canvass in Albany a few weeks ago, mobilizing residents of a working class neighborhood to urge their state senator to support a $15 minimum wage for all workers in New York. That’s what we call learning in the streets.
  • We lead with race. Where concerns about “divisiveness” sometimes lead groups to avoid talking openly about race, we teach organizers how to put race up front and centralize a racial justice analysis in their work – including internal training on the levels of racism, integrating racial justice analysis into picking issues and developing campaign strategies, investing in leadership development in communities of color, and leading with race in the media.
  • We’re serious about numbers. From the 80/20 rule for home visits to the 50/50 rule for counting turnout to the rule of 3 contacts for increasing engagement, we know building strength in numbers requires learning the science of effective organizing, setting measurable goals, and then holding ourselves and our teams accountable for outcomes.
  • We build strong ties.Our intense trainings build new relationships among staff and leaders across organizations to strengthen our team going forward. When you find participants staying up until two in the morning sharing organizing stories (like they did in Albany), you know you’re building strong ties.

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With summer winding down, it’s back to school time and that may mean time to hit the books for many… but here at the Alliance, our training team is busy planning the next round of learning in the streets.

Indian People’s Action Conducts Youth Training

The Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), a network of grassroots Indian groups, is only as strong as its local affiliates. In Montana, we’re proud to have Indian People’s Action (IPA) in the NOA!

IPA has a long history of grassroots organizing in Montana with significant victories over the past two years on voting rights, health care, and addressing injustice in the judicial and prison systems.

Michaelynn Hawk, executive director of IPA said, “This year, IPA set the goal of expanding our leadership to include more young activists because in Indian Country, a large percentage of the population is below the age of 30 years old.”

The KTVQ.com website carried a news story on the July 24-26 youth training.

“The weekends are a time to kick back and relax for many people, but this Friday through Sunday, the Indian People’s Action convenes in Billings to work through serious issues.” And the article concluded with, “The organization aims to increase what it calls ‘the movement building capacity of Indian Country in Montana’.”

And that’s just what they did! Young people came from the Crow, Northern Cheyenne Reservations, as well as from Missoula. The participants engaged in in-depth sessions on environmental issues, criminal justice, health care and organizing Native-style. One of the participants said in the group evaluation, “I wish the training was longer.”

Lita Pepion, an IPA board member, said, “It is important to have events like this to continue our tradition of passing on knowledge from old to young (and vice versa),” She also said, “ Whatever we do today will impact the next seven generations and our work helps to assure future generations will have improved access to social, racial and economic justice as all people, regardless of ethnic background or any other identifier, should have.”

The IPA board of directors participated with great enthusiasm because they believe in the future work in Montana Indian Country. As one board member said, “We want them armed with the knowledge, skills, connections and ability to begin working toward social justice in whatever issue they are passionate about.”

Indian People’s Action is also an affiliate of the Alliance for a Just Society.

Native Organizers: Building a Grassroots Movement in Indian Country

Thirty organizers and activists from across Indian Country came together in Seattle in June for a special training opportunity hosted by the Native Organizers Alliance: the annual intensive four-day Native Organizing Training.

Grassroots organizing is both an art and a science. In Indian Country, the art of organizing is reflected in the Native-led action against oil drilling in the Arctic by the ‘Kayaktivists’ in the “Paddle in Seattle”, and the round dance flash mobs of Idle No More.

In four days our aim was to study the science of organizing – Native style, in keeping with our traditions and with our history.

In our jam-packed, daylong sessions, we explored ways to build Native organizers’ skills to meet the unique challenges of organizing in Native communities, on reservations, and in urban and rural centers. We shared lessons, best practices and examined the techniques for building a stronger grassroots movement for social change in Indian Country.

In the end some participants said we needed another day, and most agreed we needed more breaks and time to digest the information. Good advice for next year’s Native Organizing Training!

While exploring the nuts and bolts of outreach, leadership development, strategy and tactics, the participants worked to find the unique, yet critical elements of community engagement that flow from Indian Country’s history and traditions.

After four intensive days together, it is clear that here is so much more to learn about how to deepen our understanding of Native community organizing.

This is just the beginning! The future of Indian Country rests on growing a broad infrastructure of Native organizers and activists who facilitate campaigns that get at the root causes of the lack of jobs, healthy communities and protect treaty rights, sovereignty and Mother Earth from destruction.

The training provided an opportunity to share stories of the tremendous challenges our communities face and our vision and passion for bringing about structural change that will help Native communities not only survive, but also thrive.

The participants were hungry for more opportunity to go deeper into the challenges they face on the ground. Next year’s sessions will need to provide that opportunity in various ways.

Some participants asked that we now consider regional trainings that go beyond Native Organizing 101, to tackle more real life, complicated strategic challenges in Indian Country.

Some suggested segments focused on political empowerment related to advocacy, voter engagement and lobbying. In their written evaluations most said that the most important part of the experience was getting together with others who share a common outlook on movement building in Indian Country.

Especially impressive were the younger participants,coming from cutting edge Indian Country experiences. For instance, one of the activists is a part of the occupation to protect sacred Apache land from uranium mining in Oak Flat, AZ. Another was a Native radio talk show host, and one young man will be headed to the White House for the Native youth gathering in the next week.

One woman representing the “AIM generation” (radicalized in the 1970s) is a traditional Dine organizer. She has been fighting for decades for compensation from the coal and uranium mining companies for the contamination of Navajo land, water and air. She felt uplifted by the energy of the young organizers in the room, who are just beginning the fight for justice in their communities.

One of the most popular sessions of the training was on power mapping. David Bender, the community organizer for the American Indian Center of Chicago, said learning how to map the potential allies and likely opponents in an organizing campaign will help him prepare both his leaders and grassroots members to think and engage more strategically in their work.

At the end of fast-paced week, participants – whether they work in small villages in Alaska, on the Navajo or Hopi Reservations, or in the heart of Chicago, Portland or Billings – went home inspired by the knowledge that they are a part of something bigger. Our hope is that the participants will continue to work together with support from the Native Organizers Alliance to amplify a stronger Native voice on key issues at the national level.

One young participant said, “Nothing is more important for organizers than having a collective with so many common experiences. I see myself working closely with my fellow students and the trainers as we go forward.”

The sheer demand for this training says something powerful about the groundswell of the grassroots upsurge in Indian Country: in a few short weeks, more than 130 people submitted applications for the 30 available slots.

Now the work will continue at home and at the Native Organizers Alliance. Some of the participants will help organize local Native trainings in Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota. One participant even volunteered to become a Native Organizers Alliance trainer.

On the national level, we are organizing a national advisory board and growing a circle of partner organizations that we will provide with trainings, and technical support such as research and joint fundraising to keep grassroots organizing moving in Indian Country.

Personally, it was inspiring to hear the journeys so many have taken to carry on and preserve – despite many difficulties – our history, cultures, and future. It is extremely important in our communities to widen the circle of those who can take action that will in many ways help our people to heal with pride and commitment to our common struggle.

I was also struck by the heightened awareness of the need for unity in Indian Country. There is so much more that unites us than divides us. The unity that exists between those who organize on the Rez, in rural areas or urban centers, and those who continue the struggle for tribal recognition, serves as the key to building alliances with the vast cross section of people in the U.S. – those who can and must be a part of the movement for justice in Indian Country.

The curriculum, preparation, and training, was a collaborative effort and would not have been possible without Ozawa Bineshi Albert (former organizer for the Center for Community Change and Native American Voters Alliance in New Mexico) and Donavon Hawk (activist and leader from Montana), my co-facilitators.

With much love and respect to all who participated in the 2015 Native Organizing Training. A new circle of movement building in Indian Country has begun, thank you!

For more information on the Native Organizers Alliance: http://www.nativeorganizing.org/

Caldwell, ID City Council Asked to Move Payday Lenders Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Community and ICAN Push Council to Limit Industry From Preying on the Poor

 

“With the average payday loan in Idaho carrying an interest rate of 350% and with the average borrower taking out 7 payday loans to pay off the initial loan”, 20131004_101226predatory loan businesses continue to swarm into our state.  Last year alone, payday loans accounted for a negative economic impact of $1 BILLION! http://www.insightcced.org/uploads/assets/Net%20Economic%20Impact%20of%20Payday%20Lending.pdf  This is money that our communities lost, nationwide.

Volunteers and members of Idaho Community Action Network went into the neighborhoods of Caldwell and gathered 400 signatures from families who both see and personally experience the impact of payday and title loan businesses.  The canvassers met families; families who have lost their only vehicle; families who lost their home; their job and even their children, because they needed help.  They learned about loved ones who died owing a debt to a predatory lender.   Read more

Delaying the Vote in Immigration Reform Has Not Silenced the Movement

We have the votes. Supporters of immigration reform in the House of Representatives have said it on many occasions, even before the Congressional recess,http://rt.com/files/news/1e/ae/c0/00/us-immigration-protest-1.jpg that the votes exist in the House to pass immigration reform.

Delaying the vote seems to be the House opposition’s approach to waiting for the immigration reform movement to divide itself, disengage from the efforts, or even disperse. Read more

McGimmick Budgeting No Substitute for Living Wage

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Making Ends Meet: Part 2

We’ve certainly seen some sobering statistics regarding low-wage jobs out there. But — lucky us — one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world has kindly stepped up with tips for how its employees can manage their embarrassingly inadequate minimum-wage salaries.

McDonald’s recently launched a handy-dandy website that includes a wide variety of resources to help the average low-wage worker manage his or her finances. The homepage provides an informative video, asking viewers, “Do you ever wonder where all of your money goes?” The site also provides an informative workbook for workers to budget their monthly expenses and “plan for the future.” Read more

Native Americans Train to Defend Mother Earth

On August 23rd, Alliance affiliate, Indian People’s Action of Montana opened camp for a 3 day Direct Action training camp. Indian People’s Action brought Moccasins On The Ground to Montana. Drawing Native Americans from across the country to defend Mother Earth they trained activists in nonviolent direct action to stop the Keystone Pipeline that the Canadian developer, TransCanada is building to carry crude oil from the Boreal Forests of Albert, Canada across the United States to the Gulf Coast.

Many Native groups believe that the Environmental Impact Study did not adequately consider potential damage to American Indian Tribes and Tribal members in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, whose water aquifers, water ways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other vital resources could be damaged by the project.

100 trained defenders of Mother Earth and Sacred Waters

100 trained defenders of Mother Earth and Sacred Waters

Read more

MARCHING ONWARD!

Sing a song, full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song, full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sum of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won

Excerpts of The Negro National Anthem

—by James Weldon Johnson

“Lift every voice and sing till Earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmony of liberty…”

 

Whites and Blacks, young and old, rich and poor took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial roaring demands to address the devastating plight of African Americans facing discrimination and income inequality.  The marchers understood that the crisis faced by black men, women, and children were actually an American crisis wedded together and born out of the twin evils of racism and economic deprivation.  Such evils robbed all people, both Blacks and Whites, of dignity, self-respect, and freedom.  Together, they sang in harmony to redress old grievances affecting Black life.

Their marching orders were clear: they demanded an end to discrimination.  Read more

“No One Should Live in Fear…” Courts Rule on NYPD “Stop and Frisk”

A simple premise behind every law that gets created: No one should live in fear. The laws we create should support that basic assumption by reducing crime. But when laws have no bearing on crime rates, yet become the very source of fear that people live with, we have crossed the Constitutional boundary, and law enforcement itself becomes the source of fear.Stop Frisk BT

New York City’s Stop and Frisk law is one of the in-depth discussions the Alliance will lead this October at our 5th Institute for Pragmatic Practice symposium. Students, activists, organizers, policymakers and scholars will address the increase in racially charged, discriminatory and dehumanizing practices by law enforcement; actions reinforced by new ever-more draconian laws; and the increased boot print of prisons and detention centers on the everyday lives of Americans. Read more

CellBlocks and Border Stops

The Institute for Pragmatic Practice, Union Theological Seminary and the Alliance for a Just Society are hosting our fifth symposium,

Cell Blocks & Border Stops. Hundreds of organizers, academics, policy leaders, journalists, theologians and grassroots activists will convene and examine the intersection of immigration control and mass incarceration, and to consider the future of activism and organizing in these areas.

Today, more than seven million people are under control of the criminal justice system (prison, probation, parole or detention) exceeding the combined populations of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

Eleven million immigrants-roughly the population of Ohio-are out of compliance with federal immigration law, and at constant risk for harassment, detention, and deportation.

Counting friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors, tens of millions of people today are directly affected by the sprawling immigrant control and criminal justice systems. Poor Black and Brown people have been born this burden most heavily, driven by long-standing beliefs in racial inferiority and white supremacy.

REGISTER HERE– http://bit.ly/clblocks

But these systems leave few untouched.

Join us and noted scholars and activists Cornel West and Pramila Jayapal among many other noted speakers to end the dehumanization of millions of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

[Click here for a full event Agenda.]

REGISTER here– http://bit.ly/clblocks