Prompt: What does change or progress look like at your organization?
Change for me starts small. It’s shifting one man’s stature and expression. He’s hunched over his phone, eyes narrowed, scrolling aimlessly; shoulders squared away from me.
I get a hard profile to talk to. All stubble, snapback and tired eyes.
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“Good.” He mumbles still not looking up from his phone.
“My name is Gabriel. I work for New York Communities for Change, a local community organization that fights for affordable housing, good jobs and other issues like that.”
He looks up from his screen.
“We’re here in East New York to demand a real investment in good jobs with living wages. What do you think of the job situation in East New York?”
He shrugs. Eyes though, are scanning me and the petition I’m holding.
“Do you feel like there are a lot of job opportunities?”
“I mean…” And then it happens. He shifts his hips and shoulders so that they are squared to me.
This is the first small change.
These days I am doing field work in East New York and Brownsville to invite folks to our worker’s committee meetings. I visit Workforce 1 centers, SNAP offices, parks, housing projects, bus stops and other locations to meet local residents and talk to the them about the aims of the worker’s committee. The worker’s committee connects folks with job opportunities as well as fights for government investment in permanent job programs with living wages in East New York and Brownsville.
The first change might seem small – just a shift in posture – but hopefully that is the start of a real conversation. Maybe he will sign my petition. Maybe we will meet one on one. Maybe that will be the start of a real organizing relationship. Maybe he will come to our first meeting. Maybe he will invite his friends. Maybe he will become a leader in the worker’s committee.
Engaging one individual and bringing them into our community of activists is a profound change. Chris Chrass wrote, “Capitalism and other systems of oppression are designed to make almost everyone feel inadequate, isolated and powerless.” These systems of oppression thrive off of people feeling separated from their internal power and communal power in numbers. In this way, even bringing just one person into NYCC’s community can be a profound change.
A single worker voicing a complaint will not be able to change an institution or years of under-investment in East New York and Brownsville. However, once workers, unemployed and underemployed folks are able to come together and agree on specific demands, a number of strategies can take place to promote change. Common NYCC tactics include publishing reports, creating press conferences, rallies, marches, strikes and protests. A working relationship with the press is crucial to building public support and antagonizing bad employers or corrupt politicians.
For instance, when the #fightfor15 started in 2012, people laughed at the prospect of more than doubling the minimum wage from $7.25 to the demanded for $15. Today, over 22 million people across the country have won raises thanks to the collective power and tireless fighting of the workers and organizers behind the campaign.