Taranto The Scuola de Bollenti Spiriti, which is translated as the School of Hot Spirits, is an unusual name which may strike you as different, but in this case that’s a good thing because it is different and in quite a good way. The school took applications from all over the state of Puglia, receiving some 600 total applications for only 30 slots in the school, for young people between about 18 and 30, and sessions lasting from November through January. I think the rate of acceptance in Harvard University is actually higher than that on a percentage basis! The students get accommodation and lunch money, but are not paid. The hot spirit speaks to the seriousness of purpose and the passion – and I found intelligence – that they bring to finding a way to both learn and make a difference in their communities. What a novel and unusual concept, and what a good one!
My mission impossible in two-days was to give these great men and women not only an introduction and history to community organization, but the story of ACORN and ACORN International, and some real tools that they might be able to use in building organization in their own communities throughout Puglia. They were a sharp and snappy group as you might expect, and kept trying to jump ahead for previews of coming attractions even as I tried to steer them step by step through the process. Not surprisingly they started more at the “reform now” part of the concept than with the “community organizations” segment found in the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now!
As always, dues was a surprise, but they had their minds wide open, not only because they wanted to create social change and power, but they also want to get paid in this area of huge unemployment. They pushed back, but they wanted to believe, and that’s more than enough to work with in planting the seeds of passion for organizers.
I saved the exercise where they got to try door knocking with each other until the end of the day, when even hot spirits have been known to flag. First one side of the room would be the organizers, and then after ten minutes we reversed the players, so that the former pretend-“members” of the Villa Castelli community where we were meeting, suddenly turned the tables and became organizers.
We had moved the meeting in the afternoon from the theater space in the community center where we were meeting to the municipal hall where the mayor and council of Villa Castelli hold their meetings. We did this because there were 6-person, 3 on 3 street soccer matches that were scheduled for 4pm and there was a fear that they might be too loud for our hot spirits. The shrill sounds and excitement of the door knocking role plays were so loud in the municipal hall that in truth it might have been wise for us to move the organizer training to the municipal hall so that our noise didn’t disrupt the young soccer players in the street.
We would not want any young people to get hurt because we were training the hot spirits to be such passionate and effective doorknockers and future organizers!