Banksa Bystrica Having listened carefully to the presentation on the work of the central Slovakian coalition, Together There is More of Us, I was especially curious about the workshop led by Melody Lopez, executive director of the New York Civic Engagement Table, whose work seems largely to be creating, servicing, and directing coalitions of all shapes and sizes in various regions of New York State.
Lopez, described her operation as a “permanent” coalition, something like an alliance of a host of fifty groups, including large, well-resourced organizations and grassroots groups. There are two “tables,” as she called them, the larger one that does “nonpolitical” work and the smaller one with about fifteen active groups, that does political work. They work in four regions of New York State, including the city of course and Long Island with a developing region along the Hudson River. Their nonpolitical work focuses on civic engagement meaning nonpartisan voter registration and GOTV work, data, and tool development. They support a host of coalitions with their 5-person team ranging from the Fight for $15, the Alliance for Quality Education, where ACORN was a founding member along with the teachers’ union, and on to an array of other issues-based concerns. They lead more of the work on the political side from what I understood.
As she made her presentation, Lopez listed a wide range of garden variety coalitions. Permanent ones, like the Table, are just that and see their work as ongoing. Her coalition is currently going through something she described as an “alignment” process to make sure there was clarity on what we have always called the “rules of engagement,” meaning not only goals and objectives but the process itself from soup to nuts, celebrations to internal conflict management. They are especially working on making sure there is baseline agreement on the coalitions “theory of change.” But, by her reckoning, there are temporary or ad hoc coalitions which spring up for an intended purpose, geographical coalitions, like the one they are constructing in the Hudson River Valley, and issue-based coalitions that
focus on issues across a specific footprint, like those on immigration, living wages, and other issue-based initiatives.
The discussion went to another level during the question-and-answer period. Listening to a query from the Together coalition, Lopez almost seemed to be pulling a quote from the movie, “there will be blood,” when she flatly answered one question by saying, “there will be conflict,” making clear that recognizing the inevitability of conflict was a key ingredient in whether coalitions survived. In answer to another question, despite all of the high-minded goals of various coalitions and their interest in building power and change, she was also adamant that coalitions were fundamentally “transactional,” and based on the barter of self-interest among the members.
There was skepticism concerning the ability of coalitions to operate on perfect consensus and whether they could survive if members didn’t have an opt-out or smaller leadership team that recognized the different size and contribution of some coalition members with somewhat “weighted” votes that also allowed the coalition to prevent any member from blocking consensus. After doing sales-and-promotion on the value of coalitions, Lopez was not putting sugar in anyone’s espresso when the discussion turned to the mountains to climb in order to achieve success.