Moving past our Past By Bineshi Albert & Shash Yazhi Charley Goal

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Moving past our Past

By Bineshi Albert & Shash Yazhi Charley


• To name, acknowledge the challenges they face while putting them in right perspective to move forward with their work with passion.


60 min (but could be up to 3hrs)



Flipchart paper

Large post it notes


Printed timeline

Tape, etc.

We will take participant thru a process of naming issues and problems they face in their communities. We then will ask participants to share accomplishment of their communities (recent and historical). Thru reviewing a historical timeline a placing themselves and their work in that timeline we hope to get participant to view their work with power, passion and conviction.



10 Brainstorm Problems and issues
what burdens are you carrying with you? What issues and problems are worrying you right now? What have you been carrying for generations?
Notes: we are all the time carrying stuff, Heavy burdens. Some are directly connected with the work. Many times they are issues that exists out in the community. But they have a significant impact on us personally. We want to just name them. They are hear in the room with us all the time. Lets acknowledge them.
20 Brainstorming Accomplishments
Small group sharing of accomplishments from their tribe, community, family and self. They will complete a notecard for each category.
What are you especially proud of? What are you glad happened? Name something that has happened that continues to inspire you.
15 Share the Accomplishments
Each person shares one with the small group.
Large group convenes. Share one good one from each group.

Whole group post their accomplishments chronologically on the timeline.

15 review and Whats next
10 mins Look are where you have been. Some good and some bad. What do you think is the greatest accomplishment posted up there? something to note that is not posted – you are here. You made it to here. Your family survived. You survived. You are accomplishing good things.

5 mins Homework. Think over next few days. What legacy do I want to leave? What small step do I want to take. What big leap do I want to make? What is my mark? Write it on a note and share it on this future side.

Intro to Community Organizing (40min)

Community organizing is a process where people who live in proximity to each other come together into an organization that acts in their shared self-interest. Unlike those who promote more-consensual "community building," community organizers generally assume that social change necessarily involves conflict and social struggle in order to generate collective power for the powerless. A core goal of community organizing is to generate durable power for an organization representing the community, allowing it to influence key decision-makers on a range of issues over time. Community organizers work with and develop new local leaders, facilitating coalitions and assisting in the development of campaigns. Organized community groups attempt to influence government, corporations and institutions, seek to increase direct representation within decision-making bodies, and foster social reform more generally. Where negotiations fail, these organizations seek to inform others outside of the organization of the issues being addressed and expose or pressure the decision-makers through a variety of means, including picketing, boycotting, sit-ins, petitioning, and electoral politics. Organizing groups often seek out issues they know will generate controversy and conflict. This allows them to draw in and educate participants, build commitment, and establish a reputation for winning. Thus, community organizing is usually focused on more than just resolving specific issues. In fact, specific issues are often vehicles for other organizational goals as much as they are ends in themselves.

Community organizers generally seek to build groups that are democratic in governance, open and accessible to community members, and concerned with the general health of the community rather than a specific interest group. Organizing seeks to broadly empower community members, with the end goal of distributing power more equally throughout the community.

What community organizing is not

Understanding what community organizing is can be aided by understanding what it is not from the perspective of community organizers.

  • Mobilizing: When people "mobilize" they get together to effect a specific social change, but have no long term plan. When the particular campaign that mobilized them is over, these groups dissolve and durable power is not built.

  • Advocacy: Advocates speak for others instead of trying to get those affected to speak for themselves.

  • Social Movements: A broad Social movement often encompasses diverse collections of individual activists, local and national organizations, advocacy groups, multiple and often conflicting spokespersons, and more, held together by relatively common aims but not a common organizational structure. A community organizing group might be part of a “movement.” Movements generally dissolve when the motivating issue(s) are addressed, although organizations created during movements can continue and shift their focuses.

  • Legal Action: Lawyers are often quite important to those engaged in social action. The problem comes when a social action strategy is designed primarily around a lawsuit. When lawyers take the center stage, it can push grassroots struggle into the background, short circuiting the development of collective power and capacity. There are examples where community organizing groups and legal strategies have worked together well, however, including the Williams v. California lawsuit over inequality in k-12 education.
  • Direct Service: Americans today often equate civic engagement with direct service. Organizing groups usually avoid actually providing services, today, however, because history indicates that when they do, organizing for collective power is often left behind. Powerful groups often threaten the "service" wings of organizing groups in an effort to prevent collective action. In the nonprofit world there are many organizations that used to do community organizing but lost this focus in the shift to service.

  • Community Development[citation needed]: Consensual community development efforts to improve communities through a range of strategies, usually directed by educated professionals working in government, policy, non-profit, or business organizations, is not community organizing. Community development projects increasingly include a community participation component, and often seek to empower residents of impoverished areas with skills for collaboration and job training, among others. However, community development generally assumes that groups and individuals can work together collaboratively without significant conflict or struggles over power to solve community challenges. One currently popular form is Asset Based Community Development that seeks out existing community strengths.

  • Nonpartisan Dialogues About Community Problems: A range of efforts create opportunities for people to meet together and engage in dialogue about community problems. Like community organizing, the effort in contexts like these is generally to be open to a diverse range of opinions, out of which some consensus may be reached. A Study circle is a good example of this. However, beyond the dialogue that also happens inside organizing groups, the focus is on generating a collective and singular "voice" in order to gain power and resources for the organization's members as well as constituents in the broader community.

In Small Groups
  • Provide definitions- give examples that have to be put in categories- small groups. Terms: programming, advocate, social work, direct service, community service, band aid vs. root cause, single person/family vs. entire community/collective, holding accountable.

  • Can we get 3 quick examples of things our communities have accomplished thru organizing. Historically or present day. (it might just be our own survival) Share fishing rights example, Tecumseh example, sacred sites example, IHCIA example,

  • There are so many problems in Indian Country. Won’t make progress if we don’t focus our attention and efforts. The desire may be to just put a band aid on the problem, because the wound is so bad, but really, we need to get out of the situation that is causing the injuries to our people.

Picking an Issue (50min)

  • To understand the difference between a problem and an issue.

  • To understand the criteria used when picking an issue.

  • To practice developing skills in choosing and developing issues.

  1. Introduction (10min)

Issue campaigns are a reflection of the organization’s mission and values, and the ability to win those campaigns are a reflection of our power. The affiliates of AJS & CCC share a common vision of organizations which build power, engage in direct action organizing and work on economic and racial justice issues.
Problems vs. Issues

Define a problem – Something that people feel strongly about, a source of distress…

Examples of problems: Housing, Racism, Poverty, Lack of Health Care, etc.

A problem is a bad thing; an issue is a specific piece of a problem that can be solved. If you raise a problem without a solution or strategy you are complaining. If you raise it with a solution and strategy that’s lead by the community, you are organizing. Organizing involves identifying solutions that can be moved forward through an organized strategic plan.

Take the problems and turn them into issues:







Increase the number of IHS clinics and service providers to decrease wait times.

People should earn a wage that supports their family

Make more people qualify for Food Stamps

Ensure that Native students are receiving the same college prep as non-native students.

Define an Issue – Issues meet the following criteria:

  1. Compelling and Timely

  • It is widely and deeply felt and commands attention

  • Potential to affect a large number of people

  • Potential to engage a large number of people into action

  1. Specific and Achievable Goals

  • Clear and specific gains to be made whether the issue is immediately winnable or not

  • Can be stated in one simple sentence with clear and specific solution

  • We have the power and resources to advance our goals

  • Clear cut target or decision-maker

  • We can get organized within a timeframe that we control

  • We have the power to frame the issue in the media

  1. Builds the Organization
  • We will be stronger after the issue is won or lost

  • Builds the organizations membership, leadership and funding base

  • There are internal opportunities to do political education

  • Unifying – it unites diverse and divided constituencies into new and unusual formations – including temporary allies and long-term strategic partners.

  • Builds and energizes people of color to join the campaign and organization

  • Gives us internal opportunities to do political education on racial justice

  1. Promotes our long term political values, vision and strategy for systemic change

  • Demand is an intermediate step towards achieving our long term goals for systemic change. (Addresses root cause of problems, rather than just the symptoms)

  • Raises consciousness and promotes messages about systemic problems and solutions both internally within the organization and externally in our media work and in our demands.

  • Builds strategic long-term alliances across constituencies, sectors, and issues to build a powerful movement for social justice

  • Gives us external opportunities to highlight institutional racism in our data, media work etc

  • Promotes a demand that promotes racial equity and economic justice


  • It is difficult to work on a problem. In order for our organizations to build power and win we need to cut our problems into issues.

  • As multi-issue organizations, we will constantly have to decide which issues to work on and when. It is imperative that leaders and staff of our organizations understand how to evaluate which issues it makes sense to take on, based on the above criteria.

II. Racial Justice Lenses—look for race dynamics on any issue picked. (15 min)

On the idea of uniting instead of dividing, let’s take a couple minutes to look at an example scenario. The goal of this piece is to give you one more important tool to use as you evaluate potential issues. The other goal is to put on some funny glasses (hand out the funny glasses).

  • Okay, so let’s all try our glasses on. Now take them off. Now put them back on again. Now take them off again. Notice a difference? That’s because these are some very special glasses: they’re your handy dandy racial justice lenses. When you’re not wearing them, things look blurry so it’s easy to believe anything you hear – on the TV, on the radio talk shows, wherever. But when you’ve got these glasses on, you have a clear vision of the world from a racial justice viewpoint.

  • We could have another set of glasses for women’s justice issues, and another set for disability justice issues, but right now we’re going to focus in with our racial justice lenses. We are focusing on race because we think that racism plays a fundamental, structural role in determining how our society is constructed.

  • Now, what we’re going to do is look at a situation, first with our glasses off and then with our glasses on, and answer four simple questions:

    • what’s the problem?

    • who’s responsible?

    • what’s the solution?

    • what action should we take?

  • Here’s the situation: Imagine you’re driving along one day and you’re listening to the radio and there’s a talk show on talking about kids dropping out of the local high school. Someone calls in to the program and points out that the drop-out rate for Native students is a whole lot higher than for Anglo students. You remember some of the neighboring families in your area have kids that dropped out of high school, so you figure it makes sense. The radio show host says, “Yeah, and the moral of this story is that the American government needs to stop giving handouts to Native Americans to that they will learn the American work ethic.”

    • Okay, so let’s call timeout now and answer the questions (using butcher paper chart as below):

        1. First, let’s look at this from the perspective of the people in power, and what they want you to believe. What is it that we hear all of the time? Remember, your vision is blurry so you’re likely to believe anything (go through and fill out column in chart).

        2. Okay, now let’s put on our super duper racial justice lenses and look at this situation again. If we dig a little deeper, try to bring in other factors instead of just believing whatever the power people tell us, how could we answer the questions now?

Fuzzy Vision – People in Power Perspective

Racial Justice Lenses

What’s the problem?

Native students are lazy

Racism, low expectations, insufficient support in school system

Who’s responsible?

The students

School Board

What’s the solution?

Get a work ethic

Principles for fair and full support for Native students; $$ to make it happen

What action should we as community members take?

Dead end!

Document stories, outreach in the community, demand change from the School Board, build pressure to win demands
Take action!

  • Now, tying this back to the project of picking issues, how are the racial justice lenses important?

    • If you didn’t have the glasses on, would you say, from the way we filled in the chart, that this is an issue to work on? Probably not – it’s all individual responsibility and there’s nothing we can or should do.

    • But if you put the glasses on, now what would you say? Is this a defined issue that’s immediate, specific, winnable and would help build the organization? Sure is, huh?

  • So that’s why these glasses are so important: they can help you see things from a new perspective, see the injustice of patterns that before you might not have thought about, and, most importantly for us, help us see and decide together what some new and important issues could be for our organization. And with that, we’re going to break out into small groups and practice defining and picking issues…

III. Issue Evaluation Exercise (20 minutes)

  • Break into groups of 3-5. They need a recorder, a facilitator, and a reporter.

  • Each group should go through their specific scenario. They need to draw out the problem and then the issue.

  • After they’ve determined the issue and problem, each group should take it through the 4 criteria that each issue has to meet in order for your organization to work on it.

  • They should look at each issue from your organization’s standpoint, not another community group.

  • For each issue, groups should look at it both with and without the racial justice lenses on, see what changes, and be prepared to share that with the group (there may not be big changes for every issue, but it’s important to put the glasses on to make sure we’re considering broader perspectives)
  • Groups will have 10 minutes, and then 2 minutes each to report back to the group.

IV. Debrief (5 minutes)

Each group reports back how it ranked the various issues on the handout and explains the ranking.

Conclusion: As multi-issue organizations, we will constantly have to decide which issues to work on and when. It is imperative that leaders and staff of our organizations understand how to evaluate which issues it makes sense to take on, based on the criteria we discussed.
We need to remember that issue campaigns are an expression of our organization’s mission – in our case to achieve racial and economic justice.
It is important that our organization’s leaders and staff understand the difference between a problem and an issue, and develop the skills necessary to evaluate which issue(s) our organization should take on based on whether it is 1) compelling and Timely 2) specific and achievable goal 4) builds the organization and 5) promotes our long term political values, vision for racial and economic justice and strategy for systemic change
It is also important to understand how “race plays” and learn to see the race dynamics in issue to frame the solutions so that we can win.

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