I’ve always been an organizer who works primarily from communities I am a part of. A consummate peer organizer, of my age groups from youth to now mid 30-somethings, to identity groups such as mixed-race children and families, to affinity groups like my baseball card collecting friends. The passion and the dedication that comes from organizing in ones own context has been a lifeblood for me.
I know there are professional organizers who are free agents. Sometimes I sense this in other professions, even the ministry which I am in. Now I don’t mean free agent in a derogatory way, but I do sense that there is a line somewhere out there that when crossed, means the organizer will retire, quit, move on, or something. This can be healthy, appropriate and good, but it also has a obscure side which I believe is rooted in a looser accountability, more distant relationships, tones of superiority, or something – NOT all of which are negative, but without an intentional consciousness about them, can be experienced as such.
I’ve spent 2 full days now with leaders from Mi Cometa, the Guayaquil, Ecuadorian community organization that organizes for the welfare of the an impoverished neighborhood. I don’t know them so well, but I’m learning a lot about their mission and programs, and meeting some of their 60+ staff. Many of them started with Mi Cometa as children in their various educational and empowerment programs over 15 years ago. Their current General Secretary was one of these such young people, and that to me is truly amazing.
The ownership, the power of voice and of right relationship, the
accountability, is remarkably different with leaders who come from the
community. These have been principles I’ve been trying to live more
fully in my life, often with a lot of difficulty given my geographic
movement and now Harvard education. Still there are ways for people
like me I believe, and sometimes it just starts with a commitment to
place. There is indeed a wholeness, a holiness, a spirituality if you
will, to place. I never learned this growing up in the rural-burban
bedroom community of Lake Oswego outside Portland OR, but I grasped the
idea during my college days and beyond. I remember moving back to
Portland OR after a year in Denver organizing, and even with temporary
minimum wage jobs, made a commitment to live there for 5 years. What a
difference it made for my sense of meaning in community leadership.
I believe that everyone is a leader, yet it is true that there is a
great diversity of the types of leaders we have. Here in this place,
the coastal port town of Guayaquil, I may be a leader, in part due to
my association with the UU Service Committee who is funding Mi Cometa
for a Water is a Human Right campaign, but I am a behind the scenes,
listening, co-learning, co-teaching, following-fill-in-the-gaps/
behind-the-scenes leader, and that feels right to me. It is easy to
feel the power of being American, and to take advantage of that
privilege. It is hard to feel the power, and sustain a deep, authentic
respect for the organizing here, that seeks to understand the context,
and recognizes the knowledge and autonomy of the community and
leadership here. It is hard because it is easier to view the world
only through my lens of experience, and it is hard because meaningful
listening cross-culturally is difficult for me.
Yet my Unitarian Universalist faith and community strengthens me,
educates and encourages me and this way of life as a minister, and as