By Dave Reed, Executive Director
We like to describe Western Colorado Congress as a sort of organizational multi-tool. Our members are trained to work on a variety of issues – we can do anything! The community organizing model is supremely versatile.
But just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you can do everything. Given limited resources – and given the new political landscape – how can WCC be as strategic as possible in the issues and campaigns it takes on?
This is an exciting time to be on the front lines of change. There is danger, but also great opportunity. People are engaged like they haven’t been for a very long time, and they’re looking for ways to get involved. Many old assumptions about the people’s relationship to government now seem to be in play.
Meanwhile, there’s renewed interest in good old-fashioned grassroots community organizing. National funders are suddenly excited to support groups like WCC – provided they’ve got clear strategies for building power and engaging their communities.
This spring and summer, we have an unprecedented opportunity to go out into our communities and learn from them how to increase WCC’s impact. We’ve received partial funding from the Manaus Fund (and we’re seeking more) to carry out an in-depth “organizing assessment” of our core counties, and then to feed the information we gather into an organization-wide strategic plan.
We’ve contracted with Teresa Purcell, a consultant based in Washington state, to lead us in this effort. A community and political organizer with three decades of experience, Teresa specializes in helping mostly rural, state-based organizations like ours with just this sort of strategic process.
But to be clear, we’ve hired Teresa to design and manage the process, and to provide the training. We – WCC staff and especially the members – must be the ones to carry it out. If you’ve ever been involved in any of WCC’s campaigns, you’ll know that staff provide the organizing support, but it’s the members who are out in front leading the effort.
WCC is owned by its members, so the members decide what it works on and how to carry out the mission. But they – you – we! – need data to make such decisions.
So here’s the plan.
From April to June, we’ll fan out and conduct a series of structured one-on-one interviews with people who can speak for key sectors of our communities – young people, professionals, farmers and ranchers, people of color, faith communities, low-income people, and so on. Some of these people will be WCC members, but most will not be. Some of them will be traditional allies, some will be folks we don’t typically hang out with, and a few will be those who actively oppose us on some issues.
We’ll be identifying concerns that are broadly shared and strongly felt, and that fall within our mission of challenging social, economic and environmental injustice. We’ll also be seeking to map the invisible power structures across a wide swath of Western Colorado – because if we want to make real, lasting change, we need to understand where the power levers are and how to shift them.
In addition to interviews, we’ll hold small-group sessions in each of our main communities to facilitate conversations about the issues WCC could and should be working on, and the role WCC and its affiliates should play in each community. And finally, we’ll solicit the views of as many people as possible – members as well as “members we haven’t met” – via an online survey.
It’s going to be the kind of surge of community outreach that we’ve wanted to do for a long time, but have never had the staff time to do. We believe it will bring our current members into deeper contact with their communities and with a new generation. That alone should make WCC more welcoming and attractive to new members.
More to the point, this surge will provide us with much better information for prioritizing the issues and campaigns that WCC works on going forward. That knowledge is power – what we do with it will be up to us, but we definitely want to know if there are things WCC can be doing differently to attract more members and funding.
The results will be presented at WCC’s annual conference (tentatively set for Aug. 26). Then, for the remainder of the year, Teresa will lead us in developing a long-term strategic plan to guide WCC in growing membership, increasing funding, building political power, expanding staff and possibly geographic scope – in other words, a plan to retool WCC into the powerful force that the people of the Western Slope need it to be!
Again, this is a time when more is going to be required of us, but also when we potentially have more people-power and resources to draw on. It behooves us, as an organization, to reach out beyond our usual circles and listen to our future members, and hear their concerns and tell them about what WCC has to offer.
Want to do “field work” for WCC? We’re looking for members in each of our communities to help WCC identify the issues and campaigns it should be working on.
We’re going to launch the process in the first week of April with a series of local presentations by Teresa Purcell, who’s leading the effort. Later in April, Teresa and WCC staff will lead trainings for those who are interested in conducting interviews with key community members.
There will also be other ways to help out, from developing the online survey to organizing a local focus group. We invite you to get involved at whatever level feels right for you.
Interested? Contact your community organizer or the office