Urban Sustainability Certificate Program: Community Organizing

Ed. Note: In partnership with Sustainable JC, Lyndon Neal has agreed to report back on his experiences in the Urban Sustainability Certificate class. However, since Lyndon was out of town for this week, we’re thanking Robin Balles for her reporting on this week’s session.

Monday’s class was about community organizing. It was led by Frank McMillan, the lead organizer over at NJ Together, whose mission statement basically says it all:

New Jersey Together challenges ordinary people in northern New Jersey to identify problems facing their neighborhoods & city, connects individuals & organizations to multiply their power, and mobilizes people to bring about creative & effective change.

Frank was dynamic as a presenter. I think that was a part of the point. I noticed his energy right away. He asked about us – he wanted to know about what we cared about and why we were in the class. As the night went on, it was easy to see that Frank’s warmth and interest in us was exactly what we were learning about: how to motivate people based on what they are interested in.

In the first part of the class, we talked about the organization of power. In order to make any changes or have any power yourself, it’s important to know how power works and where it exists. We started the session by naming people with power. While we were naming people, Frank was dropping those names into one of three different circles – one for public sector (more like government), another for private and corporate, and then another for civic and volunteers.

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It was interesting to break it down like that – to learn how Jersey City, or any place really, works in terms of allocation of power. It was also interesting to talk about how corporate entities can sometimes have a lot of the power because they have the money. We talked about how deals are sometimes struck behind closed doors before opportunities are even presented to the civic sector, meaning of course that there can be a bit of a disadvantage for the civic sector.

How can we empower ourselves, and our community members then, to have a seat at that table?

One of the answers was just to know who holds the power. That’s a good place to start. If you don’t know how it works, you can’t make any changes to it, and you can’t insert yourself at the table within the circles of power.

Another important thing we talked about how to organize people, as many people as possible, who share a common goal. It’s critical to be persistent. We talked about much this consistency can matter. Don’t just have one big showing and then disappear. The consistency is really important to keep the momentum going.

The final part of the session was about helping us to find the people who will want to contribute. “You’re not trying to get minions to serve your own purpose,” Frank told us. “You’re trying to get others who share your values and want to make changes. At that point you rally together.” And it makes sense, right? People are going to act more passionately if they truly feel the same way as opposed to if they’re just carrying out someone else’s dreams or goals.

Great class tonight. Onward.

Thanks again to Robin Balles for her reporting. Photos submitted by Deb Italiano.

Read more about SJC’s Certificate Program and Lyndon’s journey in the course:

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Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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