Hello One Pittsburgh!
My name is Carrie and I’m the newest addition to the One Pittsburgh team. I am studying Community Organizing at the University of Pittsburgh and I want to learn about and help answer the question: How do everyday people organize themselves to make change?
As an intern at One Pittsburgh, I’ll be with you when you “follow the money, confront the power and make the change” and will be updating this blog with my observations. I hope we can learn and reflect together on the work One Pittsburgh is doing and how we are organizing and making change in the City.
Today I want to talk about how we communicate when we’re organizing
In America today there is no shortage of communication. Between Facebook, newspapers, TV, and twitter it feels like we’re talking all the time. But we’re not always organizing.
Real social change depends on communication that organizes and helps to lessen injustice by shifting power to people who don’t have it.
Coming together: how we talk to our friend.
We know that to make real social change we need to use our collective strength. That means figuring out how to talk to one another. How do we listen and share our experience to come up with a common understanding of the problems we face? How do we get on the same page and make a good plan?
From what I can see, the most important thing about talking to our friends is grounding ourselves in shared values, so that we disagree without being disagreeable, find common ground, and build coalitions to tackle bigger problems.
I see this in our work on education reform. We all know that public education is reaching a crisis point in Pittsburgh – in fact we’ve been told that if nothing changes, our schools will be bankrupt by 2015. But not everyone in our community shares the same view of what needs to be done. Some outside “experts” are saying that public schools and teachers are just failures, and we should turn the whole system over to for-profit educators who can make things efficient and make students perform.
But for many people, that way of responding just doesn’t fit in with important values – like valuing democratic control and accountability, or wanting to listen to what parents, teachers and kids have to say about what’s messed up.
When we recognize that we need to talk to one another to figure out what’s going on and how to respond, we’re starting to do organizing communication. Our education coalition reached for a few time-honored tools: the community survey, focused community conversations with stakeholders, interviews with incoming and incumbent School Board Members, and story collection from regular people impacted by the problem.
Using these tools, we arrived at an understanding of what is wrong with our schools that is very different from what those outside experts tell us. We found we wanted less testing, not more. We found we wanted to stop the attack on teachers. We discovered how the current Administration is creating the crisis by cutting funds to our schools. And we discovered our core values in education: democratic control, respect for teachers, parents and kids, and appropriate funding levels.
We distilled all of this knowledge into a community report that you can read here.
Why We Chant: Communication in Action
When we’re organizing, we spend a lot of time talking to create our coalition. But we also need to talk to the public and to those who stand in our way. So we get out of the meeting room and into the streets. Chanting is a basic way to speak truth to power. But why do people in social movements chant?
It turns out that chanting is a way of communicating that doesn’t just send a message – it can really help to build power. Here are a few reasons why.
Anyone can participate.
Chanting distills our message into something consolidated and cohesive and it makes us literally speak with one voice .
It makes noise, and we are louder together than we are alone.
The best chants come from somewhere and connect us to past movements and struggles.
I was part of the Great Public Schools action on October 16th outside the Pittsburgh Public Schools administrative building and we did a lot of chanting there. We used noise and a clearly chanted demand to get a meeting with Superintendent Linda Lane so that we could present our community report on the effects of corporate education reform. Superintendent Lane took our report, but she also told us that she wasn’t very open to our ideas. So we chanted after the meeting to communicate our displeasure and to let her know we’d be back. That event was only one part of the conversation we are having with Dr. Lane, Governor Corbett, and others who we believe are undermining public education.
I want to leave you with one great example of an activist communicating truth to the public. This is a poem that Ms. Pam Lee wrote about her community’s mistreatment by healthcare giant UPMC. You can see her read it here. She could have chosen a different way to express her views, but setting her thoughts to verse works for many of the same reasons that chanting works. Give it a try!