By the end of the day, I was still thinking about this interaction. I couldn’t believe that people struggled with things like having enough food to eat. From then on, I have continued to be shocked by the struggles that some people go through. I thought, well then, I’ll try to change it (I was rather optimistic). What better way to make a change than organizing. I didn’t know that such a thing existed when I started college, but I had decided that I wanted to be a community organizer.
So how does a girl from rural upstate New York end up in the California Bay Area working with housing rights?
When Tenants Together contacted me and I had a chance to talk to the Tenants Together team, I could not imagine working with anyone else. Having seen the struggles people experience in the Bronx, it seemed right to round out my education by seeing how the struggles varied across the country.
Tenants Together put me to work right away.
|TT interns practice the rap together before doorknocking. Kelly at left.|
On my first day I was making phone calls, asking people to call their local representatives, and learning the ins and outs of NationBuilder (a platform used by Tenants Together to store and organize data). This turned out to be better than an extensive orientation, than spending lots of time training at the front end. Training as I worked, learning as I went along worked better for me, and more applicable to what I was doing. What I was learning were often life lessons, anything from Spanish pronunciation to driving with a slightly distracted director. More than anything else, easily the most important of my lessons were those I learned while out door knocking.
This summer has been full of wonderful experiences, memories I will cherish and continue to learn from as I grow, but my favorite of these was the day of “the big meeting”. I have taken to calling it this in my head, but in reality, it was simply Tenants Together July monthly meeting in Concord (East Contra Costa County). It happens every month, but for the month of July, I was tasked with outreach, calling and talking to people to increase turnout at the meeting. The goal was to double the turnout from the previous month’s meeting, which was 7 people. My boss Guillermo and I had been talking, calling, and door knocking, targeting certain areas for issues they had been experiencing.
The day of the big meeting
|One of the little residents of a Concord, CA apartment building with a severe bedbug infestation.|
I realized I was building relationships with these people. We had jokes, asked about changes in each other’s lives, suggested solutions from our own experiences. I was of course a representative of Tenants Together, useful for housing rights questions, but I was also becoming a friend. From everything I have learned, and more importantly everything I have seen in my studies, it is the relationships between people that provide a support system. This is so important in creating power, and building up power in numbers is the real way that people can affect change. Following this logic then, relationships are power. I am no where near in a position to call myself an organizer, however that was the first time when I started to believe that I could be one. Now, so as not to leave you curious, I should mention that compared to the 7 people who had attended the previous month’s meeting, this meeting boasted a population of around 35 people, not counting the gaggle of very excited children running about in the hallway outside.
That day, July 22nd was a learning experience in so many ways. Things like successfully navigating a part of town I had never been in before to discovering how much having food and rides can affect turnout at a meeting were noted. Even how the distribution of pens can affect the atmosphere in a room. My whole summer has been full of such moments.
A positive, comfortable and fun environment to work in, putting a lot of emphasis on my education
I do not know if I will ever be able to thank Tenants Together enough for what they have done for me. They have shown me what it is to make change and opened my eyes to some serious issues in the world. Who knows, maybe this is my calling, maybe not, but I can say with absolute certainty that I have been changed by this experience. I like to believe for good.