Virginia Organizing talks about the process of building relations with the community.
Why would the neighborhood eventually trust me? Why would the gates open?
Joe: Community organizers, especially in the U.S., are much like parachuters. They go where they are sent. Even though they prepare about the field in advance, they cannot be certain about where they will exactly land. In the beginning of my career, I started to organize in communities in the coalfields in eastern Kentucky. I was a mere youngster in their eyes, someone who could not understand the complexity of their problems. A key to organizing is to gain the trust and the respect of the community. Good organizing will happen only if you trust and respect them. You really need to love their company, with all its challenges. And you accept that building trust is a process.
Why did they eventually trust you?
Joe: Because their thoughts and feelings were important to me. Because first and foremost, I actively listened to them. But sooner or later they also became curious about me. At this point, active listening is not enough. We had to find common ground. I started to think over what are those stories of my life, what are those layers of my personality that people in these communities could relate to. I found two key ones: I like playing baseball and my grandfathers were immigrant coal miners. Our identity and personality have a lot of layers. Community organizing is also the art of relationship building. We emphasize different aspects of our own self to different people, aspects which they can relate to. If I want to gain the trust of an academician, we will probably sooner or later talk about my publications. This seems obvious, but it is not at all when you are in a totally different and unfamiliar environment, where even the vocabulary of the people is different.
What can be helpful in building relations?
Joe: You need to prepare in advance for the meetings with the community. Think over who you are. Are there any overlaps between the community members and yourself? Draw your own stick person and think over who you are in the eyes of the people living there. What are those things which create a bridge between you and them. You really need to know yourself. Why are you passionate about this profession? What is your personal story? Why does injustice make you upset? Be clear about your two-minute and your five-minute story. The narrative about our own life is a constantly changing, personal construction. Some memories occasionally come to the front, others gain a new interpretation. Learn from trying to observe yourself through the eye of the community. Reinterpret your narrative of your life in terms of community organizing.
Read it in Hungarian.
Read it in Hungarian.