Pearl River None of us knew what to expect in the first of five regional trainings the ACORN Organizing School was conducting for leaders and activists of the Anthropocene Alliance. Twenty-five people from twenty different organizations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas gathered at the New Orleans Healing Center for an introduction to community organizing fundaments and more. Most of the groups were along the Gulf Coast from Gulfport, Mississippi to Sulphur, Louisiana, near Lake Charles. All of the groups are working at the frontlines of climate change, industrial development, environmental racism. Few would have thought of themselves as organizers, but as leaders and activists in their community, they came to acquire organizing skills and evaluate what they needed to do build their groups. Some were trying to see if they needed to have designated or full-time community organizers. It became quickly apparent that this was a great group excited to learn more about organizing.
After a brief introduction on the principles that drive community organizing, particularly as ACORN has worked both in the US and around the world, we launched into how to do door knocking, the structure of the rap, and the value of listening. The loudest drum we were beating, not surprisingly for ACORN, was the value of membership and the importance of people joining and paying dues. Rev. Richard Bell, a leader of ACV, A Community Voice, and Craig Robbins on our team, formerly deputy field director of ACORN in the US, modeled a sample door knocking rap and went through the principles. All good, and then the fun began, as the whole crowd broke into teams of two to practice, with one first playing the role of a potential member and the other acting as an organizer. Then they would switch and reverse positions. If you’ve never done it, try it – people had a blast. One of the leaders, Tish Taylor from the Louisiana River Parishes, looked at me as she came back for the summary and said, “I could do this all day!”
After lunch, we jumped into research, issues, tactics, and strategies to build campaigns. We broke into four teams that were staffed with experienced organizers. There was a common scenario involving flooding with potential targets, rising insurance rates, and more. Each group reported back on their ideas. There were some innovative tactics. One group was going to a city council meeting as if they were a fish in an aquarium. Levees were a big issue that groups wanted to attack.
It’s not what happens at the meeting, but what people do with what they learn after they get home. Valerie Jefferson from Women in Action in New Orleans challenged everyone on that question. She was spot on.
Our maiden voyage was at the dock, and the folks were cheering.