The Obstacles to University Organizing
University organizing, as with greater community organizing, brings with it many struggles in creating trusting relationships that are sustained year after year, as older organizers graduate and/or move on, and new organizers need to be recruited, their trust gained, and their relationships and alliances solidified. This can be especially difficult for transcommunal activists, as Childs warns of “the dangers of transcommunal success” (72) that effective bridge builders “may appear as traitor or at least as suspect” (72) because of their diversely rooted ‘emplacements’ that form the foundation for their bridge building. As bridge builders, we are in a space between, coming from a grounded organization, philosophy, and worldview, but filling a void of communication and constructive interaction that will eventually give our movements the cohesive strength of a global community network. These obstacles do not inhibit transcommunal organizing, as I see it, but rather provide further impetus to persist in cross-cultural communication, mutual learning experiences, and transformative interactions on the personal and community level.
Through my experience, I had found that the greatest obstacle to keeping the People’s Community Movement at Kresge alive was sustaining the relationships created as older organizers graduated and new organizers needed to be recruited. Upon my graduation from U.C., Santa Cruz with a major in Sociology and a minor in transcommunal organizing, the People’s Community movement was not able to sustain a large base, and while the previous organizers did continue with their work in the outside organizations they joined, the bridges that were built between the local Kresge community and those organizations all but deteriorated in the formal sense. This is a pitfall, as I see it, with many university-based organizations that fail to create a strong foundational structure from which new organizers can easily engage in the work to be done. As I returned to the Education for Sustainable Living Program, this time as an alumnus organizer rather than an Action Research Team student, I recognized the importance of initializing a structure within the Collaboration Network that was flexible enough to be inclusive to many people, organizers, and community groups, but with enough support to maintain the bridges we would build over time. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, we needed to sustain the bridges with bridge builders that possessed their own understanding of transcommunality and its important guiding principles. Hence, a foundation was built.
The Collaboration Network Evolved
In building a foundation for collaboration within ESLP, our organization focused on organizational roles first, from which the two of us grounded in ‘the Collaboration Network’ as the Co-Chairs (myself and fellow organizer Cara Sundell) developed the tools and the strategies that would keep us in contact with the most organizers and in the most effective methods possible. We began our approach in developing what Childs calls “face to face contacts” around campus and in the greater community, through successive meetings of the Inter-Org community and repeated attendance at weekly or bi-weekly meetings of campus organizations contacted through The Inter-Org Contact List, such as my continued work with the Student-Worker Coalition for Justice. The goal of these continued interactions, which were successful in some instances more than others depending on the reception we received, was to build “interpersonal relations” among ourselves and the diverse organizers who we were attempting to connect with, support in their actions, and learn from, a relationship “within which the participants build an increasing sense of trust and predictability with each other…”(63). As mentioned earlier, the bridge builders and the communication we initiate and sustain through face-to-face, personal contact do create the support beams upon which greater bridges are built, and further tools are developed and used to expand the potential network we create. Moreover, while Ms. Sundell and I were charged with coordinating these liasonships, in no way were we able to personally reach all the groups with whom we attempted to connect, which were potentially all student and community organizations that were organizing around social justice and/or the environment who could expand our understanding of ‘sustainability.’ Hence, the tools and strategies of collaboration that we developed flowed from initial face-to-face contact, to electronic bridges of communication through e-mail and an online Newsletter to sustain the contact, and eventually to “open agenda” and collaboratively organized events that culminated our efforts in transcommunal organizing with transformative and mutually enriching actions.