By Whitney Johnson
What does it mean to build communities of hope? What does it mean to be an activist? How can we connect across traditionally separating boundaries to build relationships and trust? I asked Caitlin how her work with the Healthy Living Collaborative of SW WA connects to these questions at the heart of this year’s Activists Mobilizing for Power (AMP) conference, and how the ideas and concepts raised in the conference related to the practical tasks needed in building power and hope within our communities.
Healthy Gen: So what motivated you to attend Activists Mobilizing for Power 2017?
CH: I was mainly motivated because when a colleague brought it up, I looked at the agenda and it looked very interesting and very social justice-oriented. It seemed like a cool topic area and I’ve heard really great things about Western State Center.
Healthy Gen: The topic of this year’s Activists Mobilizing for Power conference was ‘building communities of hope’. What does that mean to you?
CH: I think communities of hope, to me, means communities that feel empowered to create a vision for themselves and to feel able to meet the huge things they’re up against. There was a lot of talk at the conference about climate change; there were a lot of environmental justice folks there, and I think about that in terms of communities of hope. I think you need that hope when you’re looking at some of those really core, seemingly insurmountable issues. That’s what I think communities of hope is.
Healthy Gen: And maybe related to that concept of hope and needing hope to meet the challenges in front of us, what workshops stood out to you of those you were able to attend? Or were there workshops that you attended that you are still reflecting on?
CH: The way it was set up was a morning session and then a workshop, so you had one workshop each day. The first day, I attended ‘Managing to Change the World’, which was really about more tangible methods of managing people and how to be a good manager. It made me think about how we’ve been functioning and how we could use some of these tools to be more thoughtful about how we assign tasks. [We could be] more efficient by being more thoughtful about the way we move projects forward.
On the last day, there was a panel of indigenous leaders talking about engagement in indigenous communities. They talked about helicoptering and how partners show up when they need something from them. They were talking about how to take an opportunity, when you are engaging with the tribe, to leave empowering tools. They were saying, if you need to come in and do some sort of research or to collect data, why don’t you train the tribe members how to do that? [You could] leave a more empowered, stronger community as a result of whatever work you’ve done with that partner—the partner meaning the tribe, in this case.
I thought about that in terms of our community work. I think, sometimes, that happens in communities when it’s convenient or somebody needs something from someone, they’ll come in, seek information, and then leave and never follow up and never tell [the community] what they did with that information. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and thinking about how to sustain those lines of communication and continue the conversation.
Healthy Gen: Being part of a regional, community-based, cross-sector coalition —what do you think that coalitions and health systems can learn from “activists mobilizing for power”? [Either literally – activists mobilizing for power or the conference itself].
CH: In environments where you are with a bunch of community organizers, there is a lot more energy and joy and anger. It’s a lot more emotional. I think that coalitions could learn from these community organizers how important it is to be doing the work of untangling the structural inequities that a lot of the community organizations are working on. I had a lot of conversations about white ally-ship and racial equity and I feel that’s not always the top conversation in more formal organizations. I think they could learn a lot from taking a step back, doing dinamicas [group/team building exercises, ice-breaker type activities], etc.
There was another thing about the conference. It was really trauma informed. The workshops didn’t start until ten and then you got a two-hour break for lunch. They also had acupuncture offered on site. They weren’t trying to have you cram your schedule with all these different workshops where [you have to] run around trying to get the most information. It was really different in that way. I’ve never attended a conference before where it was all workshops. You got a chance to really focus and do a deep dive on issues and also get to know the other folks in the room. That was really cool. I think more formal organizations could learn from that too—taking the time to dive deep and listen to other experiences in the room. It’s really important.
Healthy Gen: That’s great. On that point, what does it mean to you to mobilize for power if one is not an activist or one does not think of one’s self as an activist or community organizer in the formal sense?
CH: I think everyone is an activist. Even people who don’t do anything still impact the world. The actions you take throughout your day impact everything. I know activist means someone fighting for a cause, but it feels to me like you can’t be neutral on a moving train. We’re all in it.
Even if you’re voting, you’re making a decision about your leaders. If you don’t vote, you’re making a radical decision to not engage in democracy, so that’s also kind of like being an activist. Whether you want to have an agenda or not, you have an agenda. I think everyone should think of themselves as an activist and think about that in the way they conduct their lives and what they’re being activists for.
Healthy Gen: Any last thoughts or takeaways from the experience? Were there other opportunities that you had to network or other interesting conversations that you’ve had since then that you think were valuable?
CH: I feel like in Seattle, a lot of people are doing a lot of awesome things. There are so many cool groups in Seattle. There are environmental justice groups—[for example, Got Green]—they were all there representing. There were different organizations that were awesome. Social Justice Fund Northwest was there. A big topic of theirs was on wealth inequality, because it’s such a big issue in that region. I mean, it’s a big issue everywhere, but in Seattle it’s so intense. I guess I was surprised also that there was so much on climate change because it doesn’t come up in my work often and it was refreshing for me because it’s on my mind everyday. It was nice to be around folks who are directly working on that and also working on linking capitalism and racism and sexism with climate change. Linking those bodies of work is cool.
Healthy Gen: Interesting. You mentioned that the management center had a book or guide. Do you remember the name of that?
CH: It was actually called Managing to Change the World. They named their breakout the same title as the book. But they also are holding a conference up in Seattle. They’re a national organization. I don’t know where they’re based, but they’re holding a training in Seattle. I highly recommend it. It was really helpful.
This is all great information. I’m looking forward to next year’s AMP! Thank you Caitlin!
Caitlin Hill is now the Program Manager at the Oregon Coalition of Local Health Officials. Check out their work here: https://oregonclho.org
Whitney supports Healthy Gen and our partners’ investments in research, analysis, program and community infrastructure development efforts. Her super powers include research, writing, analysis, project & grant management, and program development. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the Yale School of Public Health.