The last week of October 2015 was spent at the the historic Woodlands estate just outside suburbia in Brisbane. Its history is a rich tableaux of family, religion and education on the land of the First Nations Peoples of Australia. It’s walls and grounds hold the stories of private families and public institutions.
I joined a group colleagues from the Queensland Community Alliance who came together to develop skills as social change activists with power brokers on the public stage. Our participants included representatives from Trade Unions, Churches and Community organisations such as mine, Micah Projects Inc
The QCA works to establish a community organising alliance in south east Queensland to forge a better community. QCA aims to be an alliance of faith groups coming together with charities, unions, community organisations and ethnic associations to work together for the common good This alliance will be based around the personal relations we will build across organisations in our local area. We will identify and train people to become leaders in community organising, who will decide our priorities for action together, through a process of listening to stories of pressures that our members face and witness.
The 6 Day National Training is a program for people committed to understanding the craft of community organising – who want to play a key role in leading the activities of the Alliance inside their organisation and acting as a bridge between our member organisations.
The residential course builds a close community of leaders across participating civil society organisations that represent the diversity our communities in Sydney and Queensland. The 6 Day National Training is also open to those seeding new Alliances across Australia.
Leaders are equipped with the tools they need to be more strategic and effective and to build and strengthen their organisations in the process. The course focuses on power, organisations, relationships and leadership.
The core process of the program builds around our understanding of power and relationships. The prepatory work included writing a personal biography and some pretty in depth analysis of a slab of good old fashioned Greek tragedy, the Melian DialogueOther resources for this training include the work of Michael Gecan.
The origins of this work in the Alliance comes from the Industrial Areas Foundation
Founded in 1940, the Industrial Areas Foundation is the largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations in the USA.
The IAF partners with religious congregations and civic organizations at the local level to build broad-based organizing projects, which create new capacity in a community for leadership development, citizen-led action and relationships across the lines that often divide our communities.
The IAF created the modern model of faith- and broad-based organizing and is widely recognized as having the strongest track record in the the USA for citizen leadership development and for helping congregations and other civic organizations act on their missions to achieve lasting change in the world.
Tools that we explored for our work in social change
1. Relational Conversations are conversations that have intentional direction to build relationships for action in the public domain. There is a framework in these conversations that builds on sharing common commitment to action for social change and a civil community. The relational conversation develops a skill in deep listening.
2 Public actions are opportunities to invite people into a new model of leadership and political engagement. Some public actions are free flowing such as rallies. Others have a structure to achieve a reaction from decision makers with whom we engage. This process comes from a relational culture of organising.
So, what did I take away from six intensive days of engagement with this process? The main learning comes from the Alinsky model of the distinction between the private and the public sphere. Click here for a good critique of this model.As this is the model adopted by members of the Alliance here in Queensland we now face the challenge of adapting it to our local situation as a tool of social change and effective political engagement.
I found the program somewhat challenging from a cultural perspective. It has a very “American” cheer leader feel to it i have described it as a cross between going to an Amway meeting and watching TV evangelists.The public events of the alliance are proscribed and scripted to an extent previously unknown in the Australian political theatre. There is a lot of work needed to give the Alliance a home grown feel Downunder.
Living with a group of people even for such a short time can build relationships that we want to nurture and continue.This is the strength of the Alliance which creates a new space for collaboration and political outcomes