I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.
Over the last year, I attended two dynamic national conferences: one called “Creating Change,” which included more than 4,000 LGBTQ activists and organizers across the country working on multiple issues that affect disenfranchised people, and another dealing with building power through voter engagement. I was both surprised and gratified to find that the young people, who had gone through Spirit in Action trainings years ago, were now middle-aged leaders or speakers at the conferences. Many of them are heading up successful national and regional organizations and networks.
I shouldn’t have been surprised because I know that Spirit in Action is an incubator, empowering hundreds of people to work in a more heart-based, sustainable way. They have picked up the mantle of working in a different way and spread it across the country: “Changing the way we do change,” by operating from a place of heart and vision.
This is the greatest accomplishment we have made in helping build a truly transformative movement for social change – creating new leaders who will continue to carry on our work.
We continue to work with young leaders – many just out of college who want to work for social justice and make a difference in the world. Language like transformative change, visioning and other ways of building collaboratives have taken off. Now it’s not just us talking about it, but lots of organizations, trainers and foundations.
And, like everyone, we continue to see things get worse and more attention given to the symptoms rather than the deeper social problems causing the issues in the first place.
My organizing in North Carolina has historically centered around issues of poverty, including civic engagement at every step. By building political power and educating our low-income constituency, we made significant, systemic changes both locally and nationally. Because we organized in this way year round, we were able to register and get out the vote to more than 44,000 people and had more than 90 percent voter turnout! This is the kind of civic engagement work that Spirit in Action wants to train others to do. It requires long-term organizing and support in order to be sustainable.
In another area of concentrated poverty, a small “hole in the donut” community surrounded by wealth, not only did it take about 20 years to win all the things they wanted for their community, but they moved beyond their original vision. When our work started here, most community members were not registered to vote. With concerted and consistent grassroots organizing efforts, we obtained a 98 percent voter turnout.
This community now works with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to host a national conference to show other poor communities how they successfully won a complete transformation of their community. Not only did we change policies that affected people both nationally and locally, but we kept people engaged in organizing, holding elected officials accountable and making major changes in their communities.
At Spirit in Action, we continue to focus on development of collaborations, organizations and leaders, particularly with those younger, 20-something leaders. Out of our networks and trainings have grown large, national organizations; other networks like Standing in Our Power or the Progressive Communicators Network; as well as national, regional and local leaders. We will be working more in the future offering webinars and remote training. We are continuing to work with low-income white people to identify what messages reach them and get them to understand and get involved in issues that affect their lives.
None of this can continue to happen without your help and financial support. Please consider a generous gift as we embark into this important year of building civic engagement projects with low-income people.
Peace, Power and Love