The Toolbox You Really Need
I’ve been thinking a lot about toolboxes lately. Our local home improvement stores are busy with customers and their DIY home repairs. We are gardening more, painting more, reorganizing and unclogging.
But we need more than screwdrivers and sanders. We need a toolbox for activists to fix what’s going wrong in our country today. I think of it as the toolbox for social change.
This toolbox trains people in their communities and networks:
How to do positive collective visioning. There are many resources and groups that teach you how to do it individually. But we need to know how to do it collectively.
To use your spirit and heart. This is not the same as performing a ritual, though rituals have their place and comfort. Rather it is taking the time to tell stories, experience openings, hear reflections, practice self-care. Bringing in our spirit and heart to the process is not just a meditation or a prayer. It is the thread that sews us together.
To take the steps to heal the divisions among us and bring us together. To be effective, organizations and individual activists need to experiment, learn, reconnect with allies and establish new partnerships. This kind of interaction builds trust and enables those who would otherwise compete with each other to do the “hard work” of moving through differences in a safe and supportive environment. Movement-building requires generating a sense of shared identity and creating a collective vision which emerges only through face-to-face encounters.
Now, let’s be realistic. You can carry your toolbox back to your organization, but you often can’t immediately put this into action because there is so much else going on. That is why with all our trainings, we provide the follow up and coaching organizations need.
I am reminded of two VISTA volunteers who attended one of our leadership trainings. They told me, “We can’t take this stuff back and use it right now with our volunteers—they are too angry and polarized.” We showed them they needed to do just that, and coached them on their next sessions with volunteers, getting them to tell stories first, and moving through the steps of visioning into action.
This includes building power and leadership that allows people to participate in both national, state, and local elections. For example, Get-Out-the-Vote and Voter Registration programs become part of the long-term work of the organizations we train. In effect, GOTV and Voter Registration is part of the toolbox that groups use to do their work, regardless of their focus.
We need young leaders today who are trained to understand the components and power of the toolbox, who won’t be pushed by the group to jump ahead and react. Thoughtful action avoids polarization. It is how we can connect more deeply and broadly across a wide spectrum of issues and concerns, building vibrant social movements that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Let’s teach people how to slow down before we can go fast, to use what’s in the activist toolbox: collective vision, spirit and heart, healing divisions. By slowing down initially, we can be more successful, sooner.