May 212015
 

Last month, on April 22nd, We the People held our first community visioning!  With over 40 people in attendance, our potluck-style gathering was a huge success.  The positive energy in the room was tangible and every single attendee had something affirmative to say in our closing.  “Inspiring,” “exciting,” and “motivating,” were just a few of the words floating around the room.

Spirit in Action’s We the People organizing initiative is located in the unincorporated community of Swannanoa, North Carolina.  We have been conducting a listening project in collaboration with Warren Wilson students for over a year now, and has interviewed well over 200 community members in Swannanoa.  Through this listening project, we’ve identified the top concerns, and this big event was our first step towards making the transition from listening to action.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

Of course, this event was aligned with Spirit in Action’s values of listening, collective visioning, and building trust.  We held the potluck in the basement of the Swannanoa United Methodist Church, which is where the Welcome Table (featured in our last blog post) is located.  It was a laid back, upbeat atmosphere.  After we all had our fill of food, Linda led the room in a creative visioning process, asking community members to envision a happy, healthy Swannanoa.  Everyone closed their eyes and imagined what Swannanoa could look like 20 years from now.  We were each asked to picture a child we know in Swannanoa, and to dream of what we wanted this community to be like when that child was older.  Then, in typical Linda fashion, we pulled out the art supplies and drew that ideal community.  This envisioned community had sidewalks, traffic signs, hospitals, public transportation and a true sense of community. Just by drawing a town that had positive energy, the room filled with positive energy.

 

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

Once the creativity level was high and our minds were wide open with the possibilities, we voted on the top 3 community concerns (identified through the listening project) and formed 3 committees: public transportation, sidewalks, and the revitalization of downtown.  We split ourselves between those 3 committees and got to work.  As the ideas bounced between community members, you could feel the energy in the room!  Everyone had something to contribute and by the end of the evening, each committee had solid action steps to take forward.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

During the months of May and June, We the People interns will be busy researching next steps for these three issues in Swannanoa.  We will be hosting follow-up meetings with each committee and working with community members to develop leadership for these committees in order to start moving Swannanoa towards a better future!  Stay tuned for many more success stories to come.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

 

Apr 142015
 

By Amanda Citro and Caroline Duble

We the People: Working Together is Spirit in Action’s newest research and organizing initiative.  Our goal is to engage low-income and working-class people in grassroots organizing and to empower communities to take charge of the issues that affect them!  We’ve been conducting a listening project in Swannanoa, North Carolina over the past year and have interviewed over 100 people about their love of this community and about their shared concerns.  Written from the point of view of two Spirit in Action interns, Caroline and Amanda, this blog post highlights of the amazing work of an important group in the Swannanoa community, The Welcome Table.  Read more about the vision and progress of We the People on our website dedicated to this initiative.

Caroline and I arrived at a local food bank early on a Tuesday morning, just before the sun had come up.  We were there to meet with Beth Schultz and Jackie Kitchen, two tireless community members, to help them pick up food to cook for the weekly Welcome Table.  The Welcome Table is a community gathering and free meal that is held every Wednesday at the Swannanoa United Methodist Church.  

As we ran around trying to keep up with the food gathering, it was amazing to see how efficiently Beth and Jackie were able to plan meals while sorting.  They moved with so much energy and enthusiasm, reflected in their clear dedication to Swannanoa.  It was easy to see that they had been doing this for a long time, and worked well as a team.  It’s hard to describe in words how genuinely caring these women are, but one example might illustrate this: As Beth was sorting through the bread, I noticed that she was giving some of the best breads to a man from Loving Food Resources (another organization that provides food pantry services).  She told me, “We’ve been shopping together for so long that we know what the other person wants.  So, now we help each other shop!”   This eager, community-oriented attitude is inspiring and makes everyone want to be a part of it.

After shopping at the food bank, we headed back to the church and helped haul in the groceries.  Because it was Tuesday, we rushed to unpack for the food pantry along with other regular volunteers, who all seemed to know each other well, laughing and joking.  Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Jackie and Beth were busy preparing food for the Welcome Table meal the next day.  Despite the hectic environment, I was able to ask Beth a few questions about the Welcome Table and her role there. She mentioned that she had been working to prepare food for the Welcome Table for eight years, after moving to Swannanoa from Japan.  She also mentioned that she had lived all over the world but was drawn to the beauty of the Swannanoa community.  Finding Welcome Table and the Methodist Church provides her with the type of community she always looks for.  I was also able to talk to Jackie for a few moments.  She has so many amazing ideas to improve Swannanoa, including community gardens, a food co-op, affordable housing and more community events.

The following week we were both able to attend the meal at the Welcome Table and see the fruits of all the volunteers’ work.  While we helped to serve, we noticed people all around the room meeting up with old friends and checking in with them.  As community members dined on chicken and pinto beans, a colorful salad, and delicious desserts, we observed how joyful the entire event was. There was a strong sense of community in the familiar and comfortable way people work and eat together at the Welcome Table, and we both felt glad to spend time with such positive and kind people.

We the People is rapidly picking up speed in Swannanoa. As we continue to listen to community members, collaborate with community organizations like Welcome Table, and prepare for a community gathering and potluck, we are seeing interest in the project increase. Stay tuned for more updates from Swannanoa!

  • Beth and Jackie prepare a meal at he Food Bank

 

 

Mar 172015
 

Caroline DubleHello, all!  Some of you know me as the Social Justice Resident at Spirit in Action, but for many of you, this is your first time hearing from me.  My name is Caroline Duble; I am from Houston, Texas, and I have lived in Swannanoa, North Carolina for the past 5 years.  I graduated from Warren Wilson College in May 2014, and have been working for Spirit in Action since August 2014!

There are so many things that I want to share with you all, about We the People, about the class that Linda is teaching at Warren Wilson, about our vision for a better Swannanoa… but I’ve recently  returned from a spectacular professional development experience, and I feel the need to write about this experience first.

In February, Linda Stout and I flew to Denver, CO to attend the 27th annual Creating Change: National Conference on LGBTQ Equality. Over the course of 5 days, the Creating Change program presented 18 day-long institutes, two dozen trainings in the Academy for Leadership and Action, a special programming segment for faith leaders and organizers, over 300 workshops and caucus sessions, four keynote plenary sessions, film screenings, meetings, receptions, and a multitude of networking and social events. It was a whirlwind of new information, best practices, sharing, collaboration, and fun!  To give you an idea of what Creating Change is like, I will share a couple of my favorite workshops and lessons learned in Denver.

If you’re not already aware, the We the People program seeks to build power and create community across class differences here in Swannanoa.  I attended one workshop that specifically applied to this work, called “Organizing Across Class Differences.”  This workshop had attendees from many different class backgrounds that work in many different types of communities.  I had the opportunity to network and share best practices with other rural organizers from across the country.  We discussed how to be mindful of language and perspective when talking to people of a different class than your own.  The burden to code-switch and adapt to the privileged culture is often placed on poor people.  This workshop allowed me to brainstorm ways to create spaces in which everyone in Swannanoa can bring their voice without having to sacrifice their experiences and emotions.

I attended a myriad of workshops and events that focused on the intersections of queer and racial justice.  One such workshop was “#LGBTQFerguson,” which featured a panel of young, queer activists from St. Louis and Ferguson, MO who spoke about their experiences surrounding Mike Brown’s murder and how they have been empowered since this movement picked up speed in August 2014.  It was incredible to hear these young leaders describe their journey from isolation and disempowerment to community power and self-love.  By claiming space, they have made a huge impact on our nation, and will continue to do so until equity and justice are reached.  Young black and queer people are rising up to empower each other and demand justice.  I am floored by their commitment to civil disobedience that is motivated by deep-abiding love.  All attendees of Creating Change were lucky to witness an example of their direct action tactics when they interrupted the Creating Change plenary speeches, in collaboration with the Trans* Latina Coalition.  They did this to hold the Task Force accountable and ask attendees for a greater commitment to the #BlackLivesMatter and trans* justice movements.  They refuse to let business as usual continue, and they are making sure the national LGBTQ organizations get that message as well.

Immediately following this workshop was a memorial for Jessie Hernandez, a 17 year old, queer, gender non-conforming Latina recently murdered by the Denver police.  Some of the local organizers, called Branching Seedz of Resistance (BSEEDZ), spoke at the altar they set up in her honor. This memorial happened on the same day as Jessie’s funeral, and it was powerful to see so many conference attendees making sacred space to remember her and commit to seeking her justice. On the other hand, it was frustrating to see so many at the conference ignore what was happening and complain about the direct actions. We were lead in a chant, “La lucha sigue, sigue! Y Jessie vive, vive!” (The struggle continues! And Jessie lives on!).  This call to action will continue to ring in my mind, as I process and look ahead for pathways to equity in my own communities.

There are so many more workshops and events and speakers that I could mention.  The people that I met have already proven to be valuable connections in the social justice world.  I learned so much during my time at Creating Change, and hope that I can continue to attend in the years to come.  Stay tuned for more information about the work we’re doing in Swannanoa!