The Art of Organizing: Giving Power to the People
by Alicia Benjamin-Samuels, NPJC Leadership Institute graduate
Before I enrolled in the Leadership Institute at the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, I did not have the confidence to stand before people and make the following brief speech:
Did you know that across the country prisons often shackle pregnant inmates in labor or chain them to a bed? When a woman is in labor, it helps the process if she can move around, walk or squat. What real danger does a pregnant woman, screaming in pain, cause to anyone? Every woman deserves the right to give birth the way nature intended. Not with her legs shackled together like some wild animal. This practice of shackling and putting chains on pregnant inmates in labor is UNJUST and we need to fight to make it ILLEGAL.
This speech, which takes about one minute to deliver, was my homework for the public speaking portion of the workshop. Actually, I forgot some of the words as I was giving the speech. I looked at the floor and couldn’t remember what I was supposed to say next. But the encouragement that I received during my brief lapse of memory motivated me to gain my composure and finish. I truly hope I’ll be able to one day say these words to people who can make a difference in the prison system. My anger and frustration with the way all prisoners are oftentimes mistreated was one of my motivations for attending the Institute. I’m also looking forward to working with such groups as the Nashville Homeless Power Project. My friend Matt Leber, who persistently encouraged me to participate in the Leadership Institute training, John Zirker, and the other NHPP organizers, have been tirelessly working to empower Nashville’s homeless community and erase homelessness in Nashville. I hope I live to see the day when all homeless people find and keep safe affordable housing.
When I see homeless people in Nashville, I’m reminded of the homeless family that I saw in New York City shortly after I had moved there. I saw a mother and father with three young children sleeping under dirty blankets at the World Trade Center subway station. I was appalled that whole families were so unprotected and vulnerable in such a harsh environment.
Institute facilitators taught me that the role of community organizers is to challenge people to act on behalf of their common interests. Organizers identify leaders and enhance those leaders’ skills and commitment to their cause. In other words, organizers give people the power to help themselves. Imagine that entire family in New York City visiting their City Council representative and requesting that he or she vote yes for a resolution to build affordable housing clusters for homeless families. Imagine a group of single mothers lobbying their state representative to vote yes on a bill to increase the minimum wage rate in the state.
Organizers can give folks like the homeless, single working mothers, pregnant female inmates, and many others the education, advice, and encouragement to stand up and fight for their rights. This is the work that I’m hoping to accomplish and the Nashville Peace and Justice Center Leadership Institute has given me the tools to send me on my way.
La lucha continua.
(The struggle continues.)