From June 29-July 2, a diverse community of organizers came together for NOA's Gathering VI at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland. Over 100 organizers came from all over the country, from different backgrounds and organizing traditions, in the NOA tradition of sharing and learning, strategizing and building community.
NOA Chair Idida Perez greeted the participants: "We are at a real crossroads where policy choices will shape the future for decades to comeWe celebrate a profession that lifts up and honors the work of community and labor organizations seeking real change. Have a good time. Build relationships. Change the world. Make a home for organizers."
Gatherings are not just a good place to meet each other and have some good times, as important as those things are. Gatherings fuel our energy and our creative thinking.
While this was a smaller Gathering (around 115 registered participants), it was in one person's words "deeper". Other people attending were conference panelists, youth filmmakers, and a chorus. It was the height of the travel costs this year and most people came from the east of the Mississippi.
Opening panels discussed Workers Rights, Global Justice, Education, Housing, Voting Rights, etc. The busy agenda included many workshops. Participants took active part in sessions dealing with unions, labor-community collaboration, rural environmental struggles, economic justice, "Building Power from the Bottom Up," multicultural perspectives, fundraising, transnational organizing and migrants, theories, the Social Forum process, anti-racism, creative tactics, global organizing, sustaining leadership, financial planning, the organizers' family tree.
A video opened the conference reflecting the 40 years since the historic year 1968. It looked at organizing in the stormy sixties and each decade until the present.
One of the things that happens at Gatherings is people move out of their organizing comfort zones. We watched relationships built outside of our immediate work areas. Union organizers and GLBT organizers swapped stories. Young filmmakers interviewed movement veterans. Distances melted away as organizers from the Northeast and Florida and Illinois and New Mexico explored their common experiences. We welcomed the DC Labor Chorus for our Talent Show and were absolutely blown away by their performance. Other talent show performances revealed the richness of artistic talent that organizers don't often share.
An interactive, discussion-based workshop explored what the Employee Free Choice Act is, why it is important, and how it can help build labor and community power and capacity. It was viewed as what will be an early test if the Senator Obama was elected.
Other workshops had titles like Building Power From the Bottom Up: What Would a National Coalition of the Eager Look Like?, Organizing Environmental & Social Justice Projects in Oppressed Rural Communities, Our Theories of Organizing: What are the assumptions behind our actions?, and Educating and Organizing for Economic Justice: Theories, Tips, & Tensions. Films "Greensboro: Closer to the Truth" and "Morristown: in the air and sun" were shown.
We thank Lisa Hughes of the National Labor College and the college staff for their support and kindness. Marjorie Fine provided advice on a one-to-one basis about fundraising and the world of organizing. Al Cassanelli of Delmarva Investments provided counseling to individuals about their financial planning. Windy Cooler-Stith organized button making activities that engaged the adults and the children present. Anna Lee hosted the film Greensboro: Closer to the Truth. The film "Morristown: in the air and sun" was also shown.
Conference participants were from seventy community and labor organizations including both AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions.
NOA board members poured energy into this event. Tammy Johnson chaired the committee planning the Gathering. Sarah McKenzie coordinated the workshop committee. Adriann Barboa oversaw the childcare. Former Deputy Director Roberto Martinez did an extraordinary job coordinating the conference tasks in recruitment, registrations, facilities and a hundred other pieces. Idida Perez chaired opening sessions. Michael Jacoby Brown assisted with workshops and registration. Cathy Howell assisted with logistics.
It was a small conference but had so many presenters and speakers and volunteers that we cannot name some without neglecting others.
Scholarships awarded for NOA's Gathering: $18,563.00 given to 48 registrants. Half of those were people of color and a majority were women. Scholarship assistance was provided by the Needmor Fund, the Berger Marx Fund, a Tides Foundation designated gift,
The AFL-CIO Organizing Institute printed the full color program book for the Gathering.
Social Policy magazine wrote about our first Gathering in 1994 at Evergreen State College in Washington State: "The meeting became a venue for organizers of various social causes to reaffirm their commitment to the communities in which they served." Bringing back the national Gathering gave us a sense of possibilities.
If you would like to see the conference program with all names and sessions listed, we can send you a copy.
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