Gray Panthers, Youth in Action, and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (live blogging #USSF)

Here are summaries of some of the workshops I attended today:

Organizing Across Communities: Age & Youth in Action by the Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington

A workshop run by a sweet group of older (wise) people focused on bridging the gap of age in activism and building an intergenerational movement. Gray hair = gray panthers. Some critical thoughts on organizing with age in mind: 

  • #1 = Build Common Values!
  • utilize mentors – teach activist history, learn from older movements and successes
  • Listen! old and young listening to each other
  • Build skills – young activists can learn from old
  • Mutual RESPECT
  • Both young and old, ask each other for what is needed

Movement Building: Storytelling, Framing and Messaging by: Dream Act

Caught this workshop at the end with YP4 2008 Fellow, Sonia Guinansaca! Working with the Dream Act, Sonia spiced up the Youth Space (Basement of Cobo Hall near Michigan Rooms) with some excellent tips on telling your story to build support. She focused on making your cause personal. Awesome work! 

Growing Wings – Evolving out of the Nonprofit by: The Movement Strategy Center (MSC)

Tackling the concept of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex elegantly with a fun skit, one of the key members of the MSC who helped build the YP4 blueprint curriculum, Jidan Koon and colleagues from Serve the People, APAL, and Anak Bayan packed the 7th floor room of the Wayne State University Student Center. The building’s shifting and shaking could not deter the young leaders’ voices as they talked about operating within and without non-profits. Some key concepts to take away: 

  • Meet people where they are: house meetings, coffee shops, events at clubs
  • Connect to project with field trips
  • Create a collaborative/ cooperative organizational model
    • delegate responsibility
    • distribute leadership
    • collective decision-making/ agreements
    • build family/ organization culture of helping each other
    • create voluntary levels of involvement
  • Have a 40/60 gender rule to keep balance

reporting from "ground zero" (live blogging US Social Forum #USSF)

The United States Social Forum launched in 2007 based on the successes and excitement of the World Social Forums. The year 2010 is being marked by various regional events like the US Social Forum to take the place of the World Social Forum. So the fact that Detroit was chosen to host the US Social Forum (USSF) is very exciting.

As exciting as it is, it also happens to enable numerous aspects of privilege. As over 10,000 people converge on Detroit, people often to refer to the city as “ground zero” for the economic crisis. The weekend before the USSF, Young People For (YP4) held their regional training at the Renaissance Center for their Midwest fellows. I attended the opening event with alumni and partners to meet the new class of fellows. Like the World Social Forum, YP4 is breaking their national training into regionally based events. Many of the fellows noted that before they came to Detroit they had thought of the city as a place NOT to visit. With a view over the riverfront, looking across at Canada, many mentioned that they had no idea Detroit was so beautiful. Others commented that they had no idea Detroit had a downtown and tall buildings.

These large convergences of people bring Detroit into a brighter light and change the perceptions of many. There are plenty of things to be worried about in Detroit, but not just because it is “Detroit.” Likewise, as the city fills with activists and radicals of all shades, the majority of Detroit residents are unaware of what is even happening. YP4 Director, Rebecca Thompson, informed us that many of her family members in Detroit and friends had no idea that the USSF was happening the next day. I’ve worked with a few local Detroit organizations that canvassed some neighborhoods to let people know about the USSF, but the impact was minimal at best. How can this happen? How can residents of a city, businesses, and even some government not know that 10,000 people are coming to their city to infuse it with new ideas, people, and solutions to social problems?

This could be a result of the slightly disorganized activities of the USSF organizing committee. I won’t go into the stories that I have heard of the power struggles between organizations working to put this event together, but it is worth noting that thoughtful improvement can be made. A thought that occurred to me the other day was: What if the USSF was organized with local groups tackling specific issues host a topic and organize like-minded groups across the nation so that this conference is less focused on talking and more on building potential solutions that Detroit organizations can use and others can take home?

After hanging around, surveying the organizations tables with my girlfriend (Nichole :-D), we headed about 2 miles away for the march. We were a bit behind and stopped in the shade to watch the chanting crowd go by. At the length of almost 8 city blocks (or more) it was an incredible sight to see in a city often referred to as a “ghost town.” And yet privilege came out again as local Detroiters asked, “What is going on?!” and the Detroit Red Cross asked me, “Do you know what all these people are doing?” YP4 staffer, William noted that if this was in DC, everyone would know with posters, twitter updates like crazy, and just the general buzz.

Unfortunately residents of Detroit are not as privileged to be as connected as those in DC. Likewise, residents, in the case of the USSF, have not been a focus of organizing or informing. This has become a common theme that I have noted within government and other activities to rebuild Detroit. Focus on the people who are actually in Detroit! The activists who come for this weekend may hold some new ideas about the city, but in the end they will leave and what will be left for the city of Detroit?

why are there no doctors?

(photo: empty waiting room at Zonke Clinic 2, no doctor)

Over the past 8 years Africa, international development, and health care have been the focus of my work and studies. Just last year (it’s been a year already?) I completed an internship in South Africa at a center for children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS called VVOCF (Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’). The internship was a completion of my ‘field experience’ requirement for my International Relations major at James Madison College and was supported by the Young People For internship program. The paper that I wrote as an investigation, analysis, and report has been by far my most rewarding piece of academic work, but also my most depressing.

To work with a community on difficult issues is one thing. To witness harsh realities while working within that community is another. But to know the historical and present reasons behind those issues and harsh realities is yet another – and it is painful only be able to watch. Sure you could argue that I and others spent time working with the community at VVOCF, but in truth all we can do as outsiders is watch. We will never live long-term in the community and we will never fully understand the issues that we study and claim to know so well.

My blogging well in South Africa took a hit because of the lack of internet access and since then has been limited to posts of some of my academic papers for classes. What will follow this post will be a series of posts copied and pasted from my final, field experience paper. I hope that it can be a resource for others. I also hope that it is a deeper look into an issue faced by a community with plenty of room for further research, learning and understanding.

There will be roughly a dozen posts on the health care system in South Africa: effects of apartheid, impacts of HIV/AIDS, issues in Zonkizizwe specifically, and conclusions. Be sure to check back later today for the first post.

the definition debate: what is a progressive?

Throughout history many banners have flown in the name of freedom, many different colors and styles spurred movements on to revolution and victory. From the Star Spangled Banner of the American Revolution to the red banners in the streets of China to the political banners of modern times. These streaming bits of cloth are more than physical symbols born by flag bearers. These banners are accompanied by boxes of thought and explicit doctrines of belief. We rally around banners, they lead us to freedom, they lead us to liberty, and they lead us to justice. But this what the banners of the past have lead us to today? We are now forced to rally behind one banner or another, we are forced to make a choice, we are forced to fight for freedom with conditions – yet freedom is unconditional.

Breaking over the horizon atop a mound of inequalities, injustices, and failed ideas rises a new banner, however this banner has no one flag bearer. It is a banner that waves and weaves between many people and multiple beliefs. This banner is a meshed quilt of the banners long since past and new lengths of fabric, innovately designed banners. This banner of sorts also bears a title: Progressive. However this title is unlike the titles from the banners of the past. This banner changes shape as it is held aloft to unite for a common cause.

The defining and constricting of this term, progressive, was a topic of great contention at the 4th Annual National Summit for Progressive Leaders of 2008 run by Young People For(YP4). I had many long discussion about what it means, the implications of the term, and the worries of a dogma growing within the progressive movement. To give a starting point:

From my “Hella Pone” workshop group representing Northern California, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin –

A progressive is: open minded, inclusive, compassionate, proactive and engaged in positive change, innovative, sustainable, optimistic, idealistic, for equality and justice, informed and conscious, evolving, and a leader challenging the status quo

The most important thing to remember is that the term progressive has a long historical and political connotation. Progressivism grew in the 1920s as a response to industrialization and traditional conservativism as well as to the more radical socialist and anarchist movements of the time. The American Progressive Party was born in the 1930s and advanced under Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson (?), and Franklin Roosevelt. Historically “progressives” advocated for worker’s rights and social justice. Early progressives were proponents of anti-trust laws and the regulation of large corporations and monopolies, as well as government-funded environmentalism and the creation of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. The principles of Progressivism and the early Progressive Movement would lay the foundation for future progressive thought and politics. Even wikipedia notes that the precise criteria for what constitutes “progressivism” varies worldwide. Here are some of the common (historical) progressive tenets outlined:

Ballot initiatives where citizens approve proposed laws through a direct vote, initiatives where citizens could proposed laws for legislation, direct primary, direct election of US Senators, referendum where citizens could vote to rescind laws, and women’s suffrage. Early progressives also called for a centralization of government to reduce the number of officials and eliminate overlapping authority. At the start of the Progressive Movement government corruption was near an all time high. They sought to promote professional administrators to deal with this issue. Trust-busting, socialism (government working for the public good), laissez-faire market belief, and regulation of large corporations represented the economic tenets. Environmentally progressives called for increases in national parks. On the social justice side, early progressives supported the development of professional social workers, the creation of settlement housing (basically a community center operated by professional social workers to increase the standard of living in inner cities), enacting child labor laws (to end children in the workplace), promoting organized labor and the prohibition (alcohol was a deterrent to achieving success for the cause).

For our purposes I think we are, in a way, giving the term a boost. Where progressive used to represent a political party or economic theory, it now represents a set of basic values that seem very simple for everyone to agree upon. Young People For lists the issues that fall under the progressive title as: civil rights, constitutional liberty, immigrant rights, independent judiciary, LGBT rights, marriage equality, access to higher education, religious freedom, environmental protection, voting rights, civic participation, women’s rights, worker’s rights, human rights, international issues, environmental justice, equal rights, I think John Halpin, senior advisor on the staff of the Center for American Progress said it best, “Progressivism is an orientation towards politics, It’s not a long-standing ideology like liberalism, but an historically-grounded concept… that accepts the world as dynamic.” Progressives see it as an attitude towards the politics of today. It is a thought process that is broader than conservatism vs. liberalism, which attempts to break free from what they consider to be a false and divisive dichotomy of ideologies. There is an excellent article (click here) on what progressivism means today in WireTap magazine written by a young person.

For our purposes today I believe the term progressive is a way to develop a focused set of values while encompassing many issue bases. The progressive term allows people to live and work outside the boxes of society. You can be a republican, a democrat, liberal, economically conservative, socialist, black, white, red, blue – you are not forced to conform to a certain norm – you can fall under the progressive terminology if you share the same values and visions for our world. This is a dangerous area in any movement when we begin to confine our thought and set a type of dogma for ourselves to follow. If you are a republican you are no less progressive, if you are a socialist you are not too radically progressive, if you are not a vegetarian you are no less progressive, if you embody the full range of progressive thought that does not mean that you are not and cannot be a progressive. It is often difficult to allow for this openness of a term because we are stuck in an old way of thinking that limits our abilities to accept. We are trapped by our own postmodern love of labeling ourselves and creating the other.

We stream to the progressive banner seeking a doctrine, an ideology, or a mantra to rule the day. But the banner needs to be People. As one of my good philosophy friends explained to me, and I paraphrase, at the end of the day we are all just fictional characters living in a world that we have created for ourselves. Our identities are all constructed from what we choose to think or what history has developed We label and fit ourselves into methods The banner is not Progressivism, but it is People. If we lose sight of that idea, then the rebirth of the progressive movement has already failed. People are our end goal and focus. We are not here to advance our self-interest or force our ideology. Within the progressive movement our focus is People not Progressivism and we cannot forget. The banner needs to remain people or we as the progressive movement will just become another title, another dogma of boxed thought – we need to remain open and innovative and changing, we need ensure that we do not become more than an applied method of thinking. The banner is not Progressive, the banner is People.

From Associated Progress, the essential progressive news network.

Previously posted on the Young People For Blog.

its MLK day . . . what will you do tomorrow?

Safely home finally from the National Summit for my fellowship with Young People For and the closing statements are still ringing in my ears. The only female and ‘african-american’ representative from Minnesota reminded the fellows that progress goes only as far as you are willing to take it. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day – we engage in community service, leadership conferences, and remember the amazing contributions of a person who most would agree was more than an ordinary man. What that is, isn’t so easy to define.

Today at the last day of the National Summit I experienced an incredible energy. Our last session with our state groups we joined in a circle, holding hands, and spoke of our inspirations. The human contact and the energy of those few fellows was nearly overwhelming, no joke. The closing ceremonies and wrap-ups were just as powerful. The energy and fire in the hand of lady liberty was replicated and immensly intensified by the fire of passion in that auditorium of the NEA.

The power and passion and energy in that final session was overwhelming. And through all the speakers and fellows speaking I was so impassioned that and my own energy was so built up that I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream and release this fire. I looked around the auditorium and I saw the future of America, I saw the future of our world. I saw the future because I know that I will see everyone of the fellows later in life – holding an office or running a progressive movement organization. I know that I will see everyone with great leadership roles in the future changing the future of America with passion!

I remember the CEO of YP4 bringing up Kennedy’s speech in South Africa, talking about the ripple effect of each person and as more people join on the ripples grow. Each person has the potential to make a difference in the world, we just need to decide what kind of a difference we will make and further joined with one another we can make a huge difference. We are the tsunami of change that this country and world is waiting for. We will wash out the halls of government where stagnation is unbearable. We will clear the minds of those who have forgotten the ideals that our great country is founded upon and we will instill a belief in equal rights for all people. There will not be enough buckets for the extreme right to bail out of the hole they have dug. Progress will soar to the fore-front and our actions will defeat the opposition’s rhetoric.

To paraphrase something a fellow said during a fishbowl, “we walk not because we are heading to a promised land, but we walk because it is progress. . .” Last night I stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps where Martin Luther King Jr. stood to deliver his speech on civil rights. It was an amazing site, looking out on the reflecting pool and the surrounding area, imagining a mass of people filling the the steps and surrounding area to a breaking point, and dreaming of the day when the next great progressive leader will deliver a speech to re-invigorate and enlighten America. After this MLK day join the walk, step by step we will bring back the progressive ideals that appeal to all people. What will you do tomorrow?

young people for. . .

This year I have been awarded a fellowship through the Young People For the American Way. YP4 is a youth-driven and youth-led program that brings together young leaders and activists who are eager to ensure that their voices are heard on critical issues, such as civil liberties, the judiciary, free speech, the environment, and civil rights. The program is designed for serious people who are interested in becoming more effective leaders and making a difference. I am happy and honored to say that I have been chosen as one of those people. Coming up this month in roughly 6 days is the National Summit of all the progressive leaders chosen for the fellwoship. I am very excited to be headed to Washington D.C. and meet the outstanding student leaders from across the US.

“In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation. . .”
– Great law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)

As I have said before, I am an idealist – or that is how many people define me – I am a dreamer, but I keep the realities of the world close at hand. In my young age I have experienced so much, met so many inspiring people, seen so much suffering, and witnessed an incredible amount of hope. I dream, but I also see my dreams come to life, I hope and that hope becomes an embodied passion. I dream of a world where my children can live and have no fear. Fear is merely the term used when there is an absence of compassion. I dream of a world where peace is the norm, we will cooperate and coexist and accept one another for who he or she may be. I dream of a world where passion for life and the well-being of others drives the world and not lust for fame, fortune, or the frivolity of things. I dream and I hope. One of my favorite quotes: “Dreams do not meet the overhead, believers do.” A person who does not dream cannot be a believer, but a dreamer has to do more than just envision, a dreamer has to put their heart and soul into their dreams. What I see as the greatest problem in our country (USA) and in our world is the great lack of passion and compassion in society. Where there is a lack of passion there is a lack of purpose. Where there is a lack of compassion there is a lack of hopes and dreams. This all leads to what we are experiencing today – a government with little citizen participation, a society bent on getting more, a world caught up in greed, and a cynical base of societal leaders.

The most basic human emotion of compassion is neglected. People need to be relating to one another as equals. Our pain is the same yet in this world that seems to bring no gain. Broken and dying the poverty stricken are lying at society’s doorsteps. Who will it be who brings about the change in people’s attitudes? What will you do? Today people relate to one another through historical class structures that have somehow made it into the modern world. We go to the schools of our same class (private, public), we attend the same stores as our class, and we meet at the same community centers as our class. Capitalism has driven us apart, its drive for more profit at any cost and hierarchical divisons make us insensitive to the plights of others – because they are below us. Yes, you guessed it I am a socialist. No, not a communist – a socialist, there is a difference. I believe that when economics and class structures are leveled then we will live in a truly equal (and then free) world. When we do not rely on gaining for ourselves, but for our neighbors then we will be a free society. When we can work together to end poverty of all peoples then democracy will be true.

This can all be changed as the decision making power lies with the people. Right now the people do not realize this because those in power use fear to control and gain more power. War, terrorism, flu pandemics – be very afraid and give more power to your government to protect you. No, this is where people need to step up and be more involved democrats (as in a supporter of democracy – not political party)! If we truly live in a democracy then we the people need to be sure that the powerful know what is at stake. Democracy is more than just an idea and a great white building – democracy is a mindset of the people. Democracy is more than a building and less than a person. Democracy lives outside the great buildings of Washington D.C., but has more power than each man or woman gives to it. The decision making power seems to fearfully reside with the primp and proper politicians on the hill, but truly the power resides in the hands of the people – we only need more passion and compassion!

This is just a glance at what concepts and values are in the world I imagine for the future. I believe it to be a possibility. Even more than a possibility, a hope. When we embolden and embody our passions and compassion, when we realize career politicians have no place in America, when we recognize that we each hold the power to help one another and change the world, only then will my imagination be served no longer. The burning issues of passion and compassion live on my campus, in my community, and in our country. When a student refuses to listen to all sides and later decide on their own, when a community leader pushes for a ban of rights for underserved people, when a country bows to fear – this is when the burning issues of passion and compassion rule the day. I strongly believe that the youth of today hold the creativity and the answers to reverse this trend and change the world for the better of society. The youth are the future, we are the future, what do want to see in your future?