Hot Topics for International Organizers

Paris   Ok, perhaps the very first question on your list was not, “What do community organizers working around the world talk about when they first get together?” Too, bad, because it is actually a wild run of issues snatched from here to there.

First on the list was the demonstrations by tens of thousands in Hamburg, Germany who organized a greeting party for the G-20 meeting there called “Welcome to Hell.” Knowing, as we all do, the long meetings and back-and-forth correspondence that accompany the art of “titling” any big demonstration, we all had to admire how clear and specific the Germans made their intentions known for their demonstrations. Hamburg has a vibrant progressive movement and long tradition and clearly took the whole siting of the G-20 meeting as almost a personal affront. The footage shared around the table made the whole affair appear like a barely contained mini-riot, and the reports of arrests and police cars burning had a certain “hellish” flavor. The Times had mentioned that President Trump tried to establish some of rapport with Chancellor Merkel by sympathizing with her about the demonstrations, something he has learned about firsthand in the early days of this presidency with the flourish of the resistance.

And, then as our ACORN Kenya organizers call it, comes “sharing.”

There was a lot of interest in the work in the United Kingdom in reaction to the Grenfell fire massacre in London, and ACORN’s work in trying to make sure similar buildings are identified and tenants protected elsewhere in the country. Others reported that French organizers, in contact with British organizers working with McDonalds workers, were complimentary of the ACORN delegation representing well in a recent London march around these issues. One world, indeed, as the message was shared that plans for a strike at McDonalds in September sought ACORN’s support in the effort.

There will be much more of this when the full meeting convenes as other organizers arrive from Canada, France and elsewhere. One major topic of interest on the agenda was a discussion of what UK ACORN head organizer, Stuart Melvin, had referred to as the “political break” movements of the recent year, Trump, Sanders, Corbin, and Macron, and how they would impact these countries, and of course, our own work and planning. Lieke Smits from the Netherlands will be joining us for that conversation as well, which will be exciting for everyone.

There were catch-ups and reports of organizers not able to make it to this year’s meeting. Eloise Maulet is still in Cameron working with the organizers to launch our ACORN-Alliance organization in Douala. Their first action last week at been exciting to see, and as we were meeting word was coming in that they had won a commitment that potable water will be coming to their neighborhood. A chapter meeting had just concluded in Aubervilliers, where we are organizing in Paris and they were celebrating news that they had won a reduction in water rates after their campaign.

The work is hard, but everyone was excited to hear that they were making progress, and it was good to come together.

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The Interesting Transition from Ideological Argument to Personal Contact

Bönen 21.11.2014 [© Dietrich Hackenberg - www.lichtbild.org, Nutzung nur gegen Honorar, Urhebervermerk und Belegexemplar]

Bönen 21.11.2014 [© Dietrich Hackenberg – www.lichtbild.org, Nutzung nur gegen Honorar, Urhebervermerk und Belegexemplar]

Berlin   Visiting with political and labor organizers and activists of all stripes in Germany was fascinating and for me, an education. It was impressive to see the deep, lifelong commitments that so many have made individually to progressive work that permeates down to their living conditions. Similar to France and the United Kingdom, people often worked at minimum wage for years in support of their political and community projects, and then went home to cooperative housing arrangements, often erasing any lines between the personal and the political, or so it seemed to an interested observer.

Unions are still strong. But, these are times of transition. Unions are not as strong as they were. I heard that the massively impressive building of Ver.di, the second largest union in Germany, where we met with a group of people one evening, was now seeking tenants for space they no longer occupy. At the same time there is new energy in some organizing projects. In our meeting at Ver.di were three or four organizers and activists preparing for a strike for a first contract at a huge hospital where they had won bargaining rights while still trying to organize a secondary unit of 2300 workers.

On the other hand, talking the next day to students from the Global Labor College, a small elite program to train future union staff and policy people, it was somewhat surprising to hear how little attention and training was focused on organizing, as if somehow everything would remain locked in place. Asking students about to graduate if they were being placed either in their countries or elsewhere, it seemed they were offered internships, but in many cases they laughed and told us that this was largely an exercise in them providing free labor in exchange for future contacts, and it was unclear if they would be able to find a place in the labor movement in the future at all.

Party life is carefully articulated and dissected into large slabs and small slivers. People often have more voice, than they have power. Meeting with top education, strategic planning, and campaign staff of Germany’s Die Linke, perhaps the largest left-progressive parliamentary party in Europe, was fascinating. A more talented and thoughtful team of people would be hard to find anywhere in the world. Yet, as the meeting went on, it became clear there was a transition at work here as well. Where once parties could communicate easily to a large base of ideologically compatible people, modern times and issues were intruding and confusing the base of working class voters everywhere. Participation in voting was falling election after election. Wedge issues like immigration were toxic, but there was also a sense from some sectors of the base that there was satisfaction in assuming a fixed level of support was possible without aggressively trying to adapt to modern political campaigning, communication, data, and field operations.

Just as I had found in the Netherlands, people are pushing forward and making plans, while listening and learning on the run. There is good cause for hope in the future, but like everywhere, we are running against the clock and change – and sometimes the calendar – are not always kind to us.

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Please enjoy Holy Communion by The Pretenders.  Thanks to KABF.

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