Organizers Coming Together

St. Etienne       Most people convened in Lyon, the second largest metropolitan area in France, either flying into its airport or rolling into the train station from all points.  Some shuttled from the Lyon station to the Bas station near St. Etienne and waited for a pickup from the cars driving in from Grenoble, Lyon, Frankfurt, and Paris bringing various delegations to the annual meeting of ACORN International organizers held in Europe or the United Kingdom in recent years since the organization expanded here.

The plans had bounced back and forth.  Originally, it seemed we were welcome at a conference center outside of Paris, but the schedule didn’t work.  Lyon seemed natural as the second choice, since we had met in Somerset in southwest England the previous year.  Our organizers with the Alliance Citoyenne felt confident about the location, since many had roots in the region.  Furthermore, Lyon was a primary area for our expansion.  We had begun organizing an independent union of homecare workers, cleaners, and security workers during the year called UNITI.  The fall would find us launching community organizing drives there as well in low-and-moderate income neighborhoods.  It made sense.

Logistics became more difficult as we added up the numbers.  Estimates kept soaring for the number of organizers on staff who would be able to attend, as we tried to also include some of team from Tunisia, one of our newer projects, and the head organizer of our affiliate in Cameroon as well.  Visa problems in both countries put the kibosh on their attendance for inexplicable reasons.  For a while we had had a huge delegation planning to attend from Ireland, but the cost of the tickets deflated those numbers.  Nonetheless, the numbers of organizers settled at around thirty-five, an explosion over the previous year as our organizations continued to expand, outstripping any house thought to be a possible venue.

We arrived at a large farmhouse in the country that was open to groups such as ours.  Some, mostly those from the US, Canada, and the UK drew the lucky straws to stay in various rooms in the house.  The French and the Germans ended up on a rise above the property camping in tents of many sizes and colors.  After a hot day in Lyon, the countryside was cooler.  The moon was full and stars were out.  People kept arriving throughout the evening.  They sat, had a beer, introduced themselves and visited.  Around 9pm, rice and ratouille, were made by the local team, and organizers wolfed it down.

I was reminded of year end and midyear meetings in state and national parks in Arkansas and Louisiana like Fountainbleau across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans or Camp Aldersgate in Arkansas in our early years in the 1970s.  There were good spirits and good vibes portending an excellent meeting in coming days.

 

Please enjoy Wasted Youth from Jenny Lewis.

Thanks to KABF.

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Putting Communities and Environmentalists Together

Lyon     We showed up at the Alternative Bar close to what we thought was showtime to meet a half dozen of the organizers of what was billed as a showing of the documentary and a “debate” on various questions it might provoke.  They said there were more people on the way, and so we chatted and waited.  Seven PM came, and eight PM went, and although the film didn’t begin, to our amazement, the crowd swelled.  When we finally began on this leisurely schedule, the house was packed.  We counted fifty that had somehow squeezed in, and it could have been another twenty if there had been room.  There was a large picture window, and person after person came up, read the sign out front, peeked in, and then abandoned all hope and went on their way.

By 930PM, we cut The Organizer off somewhere around 2007, and the questions began.  Many in this largely young crowd were environmentalists.  They had specialized in direct action.  Before the film one of the organizers told me about a national action in Paris where they had joined 2000 others earlier in the year to protest at governmental and corporate headquarters in the center of the city.  Increasingly, they had recognized that they lacked a sustainable base that was widely representative of the broader population.  Certainly, this is a challenge for many climate and environmental movements, so it was encouraging to hear that they were trying to build bridges to our affiliates the Alliance Citoyenne, ReAct, and our emerging independent union in Lyon, UNITI.

The bar was a money maker, I was told.  They were in a busy part of town, rent was a bit over 1000 euros, the staff was all volunteer, and they sold beer and wine.  It was a meeting place for their issues and others.  Sometimes they hosted events like this one and showed movies.  One of the organizers said the bar was part of a wider movement in parts of Spain and France.  Very interesting!  Sadly, they reported, it did not do well enough to allow them to pay a staff person, but they hoped for the future.

The debate was not a debate, but a question-and-answer about how one starts small and grows.  The notion of “community” is not widely accepted in the same way in France, so part of the questions sought to parse how the concept translated, and whether it was geographical or much broader as we understood it to be.  I had been briefed that there were already some tentative conversations about possible partnerships between our organizations and their efforts.  We encouraged those discussions.  There’s great potential for such a partnership, and, as the documentary indicated, climate and environmental concerns are everywhere for our communities now.

 

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