Published: July 11th 2011July 11th 2011
Tomorrow I head off to Los Angeles, California for a national Industrial Area Foundation training. It is an 8-day training that promises to be personally challenging and professionally forming.
I have no idea what I am in for.
Everyone that I have spoken to about this training says that it changed the way he or she thought about his/her self, his/her society, and the work he/she want to do. Often in this work, the motivation or "why question" is put forth toward organizers: "Why do you organize?", or "What does that mean for you?" and "What are you angry about?"
You see, even before I started this YAV year I was asked that final question. When I flew down here over a year ago to interview with the organizers, that was the final question the lead organizer asked me. "Because, in this work," he said. "You need something to keep you going: that fire in the belly. And if you don't have that, you'll get burnt out." On the IAF website, they describe this anger in the following way: A good organizer has "Anger and Edge. Not temper, not ideological fervor, not an abstract commitment to "the people," a clear sense of what's wrong, impatience in the face of that wrong, and a drive to address it."
This past Friday, I had my final meeting with my boss. Reviewing the entire year, what we had both learned and what this meant for me in the future, he spoke a bit about National training. "I would like you," he said, "to suspend judgement on the first couple of days. At times you'll hear organizers and trainers saying conflicting things. And that happens: Sometimes I disagree with other organizers, or take a different lesson away. But the important thing is that you are thinking hard about your story."
So that's what I'm up for during the next week: A time of intense self-reflection.
I'll be periodically updating this blog with thoughts, as I find it easier to reflect and process through writing.
But I want to say a bit more about the idea of being angry.
During the meeting with my boss, we spoke about what I had learned about myself throughout the past year. About how I have come to organizing and why I think it works. This is the easy part. I think the IAF model of organizing works because it gets to the root of the issues. It meets people where they are and works with people not for them. Inherently, it is slow, patient, difficult work. The improvements are difficult to document. But how do you document human development and the forming of leaders in communities?
A couple of months ago I worked on an Convention for the City Council candidates. During this convention, several church members shared stories about their experiences in the neighborhood in front of 250 people. One of them was a 16 year old girl. Now, is the sharing of the story about how her brother got hit by a speeding car down her street a massive community development? No. Is it because she is talking about city infrastructure issues? No. But what is unique is that the process of getting the young girl up in front of the audience to share her story involved her coming into contact with the anger she has about the event. Her brother got hit by a speeding car, and now she wants speed bumps so that other kids don't get hit by speeding cars down residential inner city streets. One of the things I told her while working with her on this was that it was her story: that she could not tell it incorrectly and that it happened to her (she recounted her emotions as she came running up to her brother). This re-acquaintance with her anger at the incident is a necessary step in conveying her message to the audience. And a process that we all go through when coming into contact with our own stories. Her anger was not inappropriate. She did not, on the other hand, get up there and yell at the audience, blaming people. However, what she did do was convey an accurate and calm sense of urgency to the audience about this issue.
This is cold anger. A passion, filled with urgency, and accountability concerning the issue at hand.
The next week will be a series of days where I will question, probe and analyze why I want social change. Why I feel a sense of passion in this work, and what keeps me energized through this work. Most importantly, I hope to understand a bit more about what all of this means to me, personally.