By Shakita B. Jones, Network Weaver for Equal Voice Alabama
Since the nation’s recent national elections have propelled new threats to low-income grassroots community interests in areas ranging from civil rights and education to health insurance and labor organizing, communities all across the nation have been called to organize themselves in new and different ways.
In many communities, the best response to the new landscape changes we see all around us has been to double down on next-generation investments in new leadership development, building on more long-standing successful programs and practices.
Alabama offers a strong case in point with actionable built-in lessons for other states and communities, based on the impressive work of the Alabama Organizing Project, the host organization for Equal Voice Alabama.
For over 20 years, the Alabama Organizing Project (AOP) has been training the future leaders of Alabama to speak out and educate others for social justice. AOP is a unique collaborative of organizations that have been working to mobilize low-income families to advocate on their own behalf for policy and community change. AOP’s membership includes Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, the Alabama Coalition Against Hunger, the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.
AOP represents the largest network for social justice organizing in Alabama, and collectively we have more than 100 years of experience advocating for social change in Alabama. AOP is also the node for Alabama’s major networks to come together and cross-pollinate. Recently, the Alabama Network Coalition formed with four AOP organizations, along with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and VOICES for Alabama’s Children, in an effort to share information and bring diverse communities together for more resilient and impactful advocacy work.
Alabama certainly has its challenges, but we know that we are stronger when we come together. Collective action requires collaboration; we build our networks together by engaging families, developing leaders, and planning for policy impact.
In Alabama, we do that best through our Grassroots Leadership Development (GLD) Program. GLD is a leadership training program designed by AOP to help people become more effective leaders in their communities. Participants come from all across the state, representing diverse backgrounds, interests, and abilities.
As we gear up for our next GLD class, we have carefully considered our current political climate and have decided to use this moment as an opportunity to galvanize grassroots leaders and transform them from ordinary to extraordinary.
The 2017 GLD cycle will soon bring participants together for training designed to enhance existing skills, teach new ones, and facilitate constructive work for change in communities and our state. The core goal of the GLD program is to build long-term relationships within communities and influence local, state, and national policies through education and public policy advocacy.
Participants of the upcoming program will learn to challenge external and internalized oppression and communicate effectively with the media. We see this as an opportunity to prepare people to withstand fear-mongering generated by media blitzes from opponents of policy movement in the direction of justice and equality.
Graduates of our GLD program have gone on to become elected officials, such as the current Mayor Tony Haygood of historic Tuskegee, Alabama. Another successful graduate recently elected to public office is Synauri Boykin, who unseated a 28-year school board veteran in Wilcox County. Daisybelle Quinny, another notable graduate, won a school board seat in Sumter County after being inspired by the GLD program to run for public office. She had recently returned to Alabama after living out of state for over 40 years.
We hope to see more GLD graduates at all levels of government, but at this moment we are extremely pleased to see them as leaders at all levels of social justice organizations, as well as on the front lines, in bringing change to communities across the state.
Our ongoing strategy is simple: we will continue to train grassroots leaders and build coalitions and collaborations while working collectively at local, state, and national levels to provide opportunities for cross-class, ethnic, and gender education and mobilization in support of fairer policies. We will celebrate our successes but will not be diminished by our failures. In Alabama, we recognize that the road is long but we will continue to stand strong together.
For more information about the Alabama Organizing Project and its Grassroots Leadership Development Program, visit organizealabama.org.