Shaping Engagement, from the Bottom Up

18 Apr

Communities and advocacy groups across the nation are re-conceptualizing the way in which they engage in the political process. For many groups, it’s no longer just about joining the political conversation. It’s about creating it.

Los Angeles-based group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) has a long history of working with long-term and low-income residents in neighborhoods that are gentrifying in South Los Angeles. SAJE and other community allies have launched the People’s Planning School to arm residents with the knowledge that they need to take an active role in planning their community. As SAJE notes, government officials are revealing their plans for how the area around the University of Southern California should look in years to come. The People’s Planning School is an effort to have local residents craft their own community vision – one that could inform the planning done by government officials. The sessions are bilingual and review the history of planning and development in their neighborhood as well as future efforts by the city and developers in the area.

Just a few miles east, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), located in the City of Commerce, is an advocate for communities that have long suffered the disproportionate negative effects of industrial pollution. EYCEJ holds community workshops to prepare residents in the area to engage in the decision making processes that directly impact the health and quality of life in the area. The group holds a series of “Green Zones” workshops, which offer popular education lessons on the concepts such as incompatible land uses, and establishing “buffers” between sensitive land uses and sources of pollution.

For organizations looking to heighten the visibility of their campaigns, smartMeme, a San Francisco-based organization, provides tools and support to help shape compelling narratives. The organization has worked with  the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Right to the City Alliance on campaigns and trainings in order to develop and strengthen messaging. They also contributed to Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for the Next Revolution. The guide uses print and online platforms that compile a matrix of “best practices and ideas in creative campaigning.”

Organizations throughout California are embracing new approaches to framing the political debate. Rather than just having a voice at the table, these organizations are crafting their own messages and leading an alternative discourse.

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