This list was created for my "Choose Your Own Adventure: Ideas for Organizers!" slideshow
...more stories will be added soon!
Click here for the list of stories, along with questions for ponderment ;-)
Shack Dwellers International
SDI is an incredible network of people who live in informal settlements (shanty towns/slums) and who have developed ten tools to grow their own empowerment, prevent evictions and build safe housing. The principles and modus operandi are quite applicable in other settings and issue areas!! I visited SDI groups in Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Kenya. Discussion/analysis topics include:
- A model for decision making and grassroots power building from the bottom up, from local to global scales
- Community exchanges as training tools
- Collective decision making and accountability
- How the poorest people of the world can petition city councils and win
Permaculture Schools in Malawi
Malawian land eating habits and personal empowerment has been virtually destroyed by the 30-year reign of a dictator. Two former Peace Corps volunteers stayed in Malawi after their terms and sparked a permaculture revolution in order to retrain people in living/eating healthy. Through a program in the Ministry of Education, a small group of people is now bringing permaculture to elementary schools and their surrounding neighborhoods. Discussion topics include:
- Role of Americans in other countries
- New age technologies meeting traditional knowledge
- Cool organizing idea for leveraging experience between neighbors and schools, and building a country-wide permaculture movement
Milimani Bulldozing: Attempts at organizing the organizers at the World Social Forum
During the same six days of the World Social Forum, I witnessed an illegal bulldozing of an informal settlement behind my backpackers hostel. Meanwhile, land, illegal evictions, corruption and property rights were very present topic areas at the WSF. I had a very interesting experience trying to rally support at the WSF for the desperate now-homeless people, bringing me deep into many nuances of:
· Balance between supporting people in need during a crisis situation, addressing the root causes and being too busy with other issues
· Roles of people with privilege
· Entitlement versus empowerment in a crisis setting (give a fish/teach a fish)
· Land/housing rights issues
The “Listening Tour” with the Zapatista’s Other Campaign, Mexico
Since 1994, the Zapatistas have been an inspiring example of localized and indigenous-based economies and social systems, based in Chiapas in southeastern Mexico. Two years ago they launched a “listening tour” and traveled to every corner of Mexico holding events in which indigenous people were invited to voice their concerns and dreams. The Zapatistas built grassroots solidarity through weaving together these stories. I was lucky enough to meet them at their event them near the border of Arizona. Discussion topics could include:
· Listening tour as model
· Focalizers and speaker-role (Marcos) as shadows of the community voice (complete with masks)
· Indigenous rights and support organizations
Retrofitting urban density and shanty towns into eco-villages, South Africa
I spent time with three different communities in South Africa’s townships, each with an interesting model for empowering their community members and bringing food and/or ecological housing into their dense tin-shack settlements.
Snippets of South African Social Movements
Apartheid South Africa ended only 13 years ago—South Africans understand the power of social movements. I got a sense of some of these movements and the many layers of their techniques, from protests to intellectual debate to organizing around land, politics, labor or education. Snippets include: Social Movements Indaba (“United”), the Anti-Eviction Campaign and their work protecting Zillarain informal settlement, Khanya College (NGO serving social movements) and their Winter School on Popular Education, Community House/ILRIG, the Mzamba community trying to reclaim their apartheid stolen land and having lunch with Mac Maharaj, former ANC leader of the underground resistance.
Discussion topics could include:
· What is a social movement?
· Formal versus informal groups and organizing strategies
· Popular education
· Mass organizing and power dynamics
Fun with Permaculture and Native Food, Tucson, Arizona
In Tucson, Arizona, I met one of my personal heroes: Brad Lancaster. Brad is a sweet, humble educator who ripples inspiration and consciousness in myriad ways. His house is a living transformation of desert to permaculture eden, and serves as a connector place for activists around the city. With a group called “Desert Harvesters”, Brad and neighbors host an annual mesquite pancake breakfast, introducing people to a delicious, healthy and abundant local food.
Bulungula Hostel, South Africa
Bulungula Village is on the southern tip of South Africa, about 8 hours of rough travel to the nearest town. A few years ago, two white South Africans, in partnership with the village, opened a backpackers hostel that now brings international visitors to this once-isolated area. The hostel owners are very conscious of their influences and many of the villagers are quite happy to have sources of new ideas and income… the hostel uses composting toilets, solar energy, energy efficient stoves/ovens, and is bringing these ideas to the village. This story opens up many of the questions of “development.”
Addressing Housing and Homelessness issues from dozens of directions, South Africa
Along with Deb Delman of the Pangaea Project, I spent three weeks studying housing and homelessness issues and solutions across South Africa. We met with government officials and learned about their (ineffective) programs, visited a handful of social service agencies, met with the Big Issue (local homeless-run newspaper), heard about innovative cheap housing from eco-developers, connected with an inspiring homeless-youth empowerment program, took to the streets with the Anti-Eviction Campaign protest against water privatization, heard stories from groups of women fighting for their 10x10 shacks, and visited with some innovators building an eco-village within a shanty-town.
Some context for these next few stories. In Zimbabwe, the current dictator, Mugabe, is systematically destroying life, land, families, and community power. The country is virtually cut off from the international economy and aid organizations, which means it has the challenge/opportunity of maintaining their own systems and building local sustainability. But, since no free speech or public gatherings are allowed, groups need to be creative in their methods of education and empowerment.
Kufunda Village, Zimbabwe
This learning center serves as a living demonstration of permaculture gardening, energy saving technologies, holistic health, community education and more. About 30 people live in the demonstration center, and they work directly with five rural villages over 3-5 years or more in order to bridge/merge knowledge from the new methods of living at Kufunda to traditional ways that have often been forgotten during the colonial years.
Discussion topics include:
- blending “new age” techniques with traditional knowledge
- a model for retrofitting communities, one at a time (similar to Transition Towns in England)
- the role of white/western influence in Africa… entitlement, empowerment and balancing the resources
Uhuru Network, Zimbabwe
The Uhuru Network is made up of four collectives, each with a focus on a specific type of popular education: Knowledge, Permaculture, Arts and Independent Media. They work out of a house in a politicized high density ghetto, serving as a hub of creative grassroots energy. Topics include:
· very creative methods of “edutainment” in each collective!
· Network model / collective model of organizing
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), Bulawayo Agenda, Radio Dialogue
More creative organizing under a dictatorship:
- NCA is possibly the most powerful organizing force outside of the reigning government. They are currently leading the effort to create a People’s Constitution.
- Bulawayo Agenda is a forum for community leadership development.
- Radio Dialogue is a community radio station that is not allowed to broadcast on the air—they have found many other creative methods for underground independent media!