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Cultural Organizing for Community Transformation
11 Aug 2012
Published To

On Tuesday, July 24, 2012, the Arts & Democracy Project hosted a national conference call on Cultural Organizing.  Here are some highlights: 

Caron Atlas (Arts & Democracy Project): What value does cultural organizing bring to the work we're doing? Why is culture special in the organizing process? 

Tufara Muhammad (Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Project/Highlander Center): I think the inclusion of culture and the work of cultural organizers is imperative for people to be able to bring their whole selves to this work. And I believe that cultural organizing is a more holistic and sustainable way to do community transformation.

Myrna Martinez Nateras (Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship/AFSC Pan Valley Institute): We started doing cultural organizing because we learned from the communities that we work with - the immigrant, the refugee communities, the indigenous communities - that we could not separate organizing from the cultural work that they use because it is sometimes through culture that these communities organize, or that they engage civically in their own communities.  (We learned) that culture could be a point of departure to support these communities into engaging outside of their own communities, to the broader city or society where they live now. So for us, it's very important and it is a key organizing strategy that we cannot separate from other organizing strategies. 

Michelle Miller (Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor Fellow): For SEIU in particular, it takes what could be a series of concepts and ideas and tactics and brings them to life and makes clear to others the complex interior lives of our members. It creates a way for people to identify with one another. It creates opportunities for members who may not otherwise work together, to work together and get to know each other, and value each others culture, which makes a stronger union.

Carlton Turner (Alternate ROOTS): I think that although art and culture are related, that culture is a broader categorgy than just art. And I think what makes this work so engaging and important and what makes the culture aspect so important is that it touches people where they live. It's the food you eat, the way you move, it's the way that you speak, it is the types of things that you like to do in your downtime. It's culture, it's all of those things that make life. It's where humanity meets life. Where we live is where culture is, and there's so much of that difference in culture, from different places. The main thing is that when we use strategies to meet people where they are, no matter where they are, what their education level is, what their ability is, then we're able to really unify and bring strengh to a movement, and to an idea, and to an issue. That really doesn't exist if you're just dealing with an issue-based approach, so that's what's important to me and I think that's what makes the work effective. I think (an issue-based approach) also lends to an intentional divestment of culture, in our organizing practices. Trying to hit people in a place, to kind of take away what they feel is most personal and meaningful in their lives. So I think cultural organizing helps to put some of that back.



Comments (1)
Don Adams Sun, 19 Aug 2012 12:09am

It's SO good to see you all talking with each other! I'd like to underline and make explicit something I read implicitly in what each of you has said. By welcoming people in as whole people, and by refusing to limit what they can bring in -- for example, by focusing on some particular issue, which privileges some perspectives, expertise and ways of working over others -- we create an arena in which everyone can speak and be heard in terms each of us sets for ourselves. It's culture we want to change, meaning also that it's where we must start, if everyone is to be included, with all their power intact. More power to each and all of you!