Welcoming Belgians and Germans to Community Organizing

small groups discussion ACORN Organizing Model in Brussels

Brussels     There were more than twenty people in the room, mostly from Brussels area community-based development and service organizations, along with three last minute additions from Germany and one 11th hour insert from an NGO that Adrien Roux of the Alliance/ACORN in France and I had met several days ago.  They were there for an “introduction” to community organizing as it was advertised.  In reality, rather than an introduction, it was a full-scale head first dive into the ACORN model, doorknocking, and how we build organizations.

Adrien had some interesting tricks up his sleeve.  One I had seen before, as I was reminded later, but it was even more challenging than usual.  Rather than just have people give their names and where they worked, each individual would walk up, give their name and occupation, but also repeat the names of everyone who came before them.   To say the least my ear is not attuned to French, so I jumped up in fourth or fifth place so I could at least limit my embarrassment, though some showboats at the very end were still able to repeat all twenty names, amazingly enough.  A good tool to introduce people and embed the names more deeply.

small groups

My part of the agenda then was to layout the mechanics of building an organization using the ACORN Model, which proceeded on schedule for about ninety minutes.  There were the usual questions and clarifications particularly about asking for dues and joining even before the organization had a first large meeting or taken action.  Many wanted to understand more clearly the organizer’s role compared to the leaders and presumably their own experiences.  Pretty standard stuff although one difference seemed to be that in Belgium most of the organizations were state funded pretty much whole hog.

Adrien then did a couple of clever things.  Pretty straightforwardly, he asked people to team up with another random person in the group and discuss what they thought was most difficult to resolve in what they had just heard about the organizing process.  After letting them roll for about 15 or 20 minutes he stepped in and went from group to group without saying a word but holding up his hands in a triangle, although it could have been any physical motion, and having described the tool in the earlier session ground rules, without a word people became quiet.  This is an old anarchist and Occupy tool, but well suited here.  He then had each group of two combine with another group of two, so that each group could try to resolve the problem that the other group had identified was troubling them.  Amazingly, after another 20 minutes when he asked each group how they had managed of the five only one had been unable to sort the situation out.  Some nice work there!

Adrien Roux of Alliance/ACORN making a point in community organizing training

There were great meetings in and around the training in trying to understand the potential opportunities and challenges of organizing in Germany on one hand and in another meeting trying to understand youth organizing around Belgium.

Learning something every day is a great thing!  For all of us!


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.