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DMF Board Member Goetz Wolff

 

DMF "Learning from Each Other" Conference

How a Small, Progressive Foundation Makes a Big Impact

by: Goetz Wolff, Board Member

March 21, 2005 was a day filled with inspiration, hope and energy as almost 80 folks gathered at San Pedro's Cabrillo Marina Conference Center to discuss the dynamic work they were doing.

This Conference demonstrated how the DMF is strengthening progressive work in Southern California.

First, we support small organizations whose agendas are shaped by an awareness that their own projects are pieces in a larger "project" to transform the whole political-social-economy. We expect these organizations to focus on specific goals, but not just solutions for their own constituencies. In addition, by their actions, they are developing future leaders for social justice.

Second, the DMF has concluded that we do not want our relationship to the grantees to be simply one of awarding financial support. We see our grantees as vibrant, creative, activist organizations that can be more closely linked among each other in a network that shares, learns, and provides mutual support. It is in this context that the conference was shaped.


Hearing From Each Other
DMF grantees took the lead at this year's conference. In contrast to our previous events when the grantees heard from great speakers analyzing critical issues of political repression, globalization, elections and organizing, this time we emphasized hearing from each other.

Our current successes and challenges set the theme for the day, and we focused on getting to know each other better. We brought together our terrific grantees, as well as representatives of other organizations who want to know more about the work of the Diane Middleton Foundation.

Diane welcomed folks pointing out not only the things that were wrong with our economic and political systems but also "something that was very right in America – all of you who prove with the work you do every day that you can make a difference and you can fight City Hall!"

Board Member Goetz Wolff efficiently chaired the self-introductions from the 80 or so attendees so that we would get to know who was in attendance. As we went around the room, each group highlighted their efforts and challenges, as well as self-introducing each participant. We were rushed because we wanted to hear more about everyone—but this created the context of the conference: it was about ALL of us.

The energy in the room was palpable following the self-introductions. During the brief break before the grantee presentations, folks set out to meet people from other organizations with whom they might have something in common, or could learn more about.


Hearing From Our Grantees
Five exemplary grantee organizations shared with us how they fulfill the DMF goals of organizing for power to achieve economic and social justice:

Ventura Arts for Action – Using art and culture to educate youth about progressive issues. In addition to highlighting the importance of using the arts as a voice to bring young people to together and to advance organizing, VAA presented a brief video of their cultural work illustrating their cross-ethnic efforts in the community.

Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice – Big picture organizing – Coalition building – the Staples Center agreement. The Coalition reviewed the challenges and disrespect that community members encountered when faced by the steamroller of "development" projects: lost homes, lack of green spaces, jobs, even a place to park one's car. The message was loud and clear. Communities need to build their own leadership and develop alliances with critical stakeholders who can amplify the voice of the community—unions, sympathetic city council, faith groups, and other community organizations. The agreements obtained by the coalition with the developers stand as a model of organizing for power.

Student Farmworker Alliance – Bringing economic justice to the Immokalee workers in Florida – The successful "Boot the Bell" campaign against Taco Bell. Here was a case of isolated workers whose real wages were declining for their tomato harvests. The SFA developed a national corporate campaign, because they realized that the workers could not get the agricultural businesses to accede to their demands. Instead, by appealing to students on campuses (including UCLA), they succeeded in "booting" Taco Bell off their choice campus sites. Result: Taco Bell agreed to pay more for their tomatoes, with the assurance that the increases would go into the workers' pockets!

Coalition for Educational Justice - Moving the LAUSD and UTLA with no staff on a shoestring budget. We all wanted to hear how an organization with less than a $15K budget, and without paid staff, could so effectively mobilize students, parents and teachers on issues such as "high stakes testing," institutional racism, and militarization of the campuses. We heard from two high school student leaders who, by their own poise and sophistication, demonstrated why CEJ can organize itself without staff. CEJ trusts its members, and then insures that meetings (for example) are scheduled around the work and family demands of its members. CEJ has turned power relationships upside down and thus they are able to tap into the yearning of young people—and community members—to have a voice with impact.

Korean Immigrant Workers' Association – Organizing and leadership training for multi-cultural immigrants. KIWA's leadership school brought together workers from the Korean grocery stores to develop their skills, and has been expanded to having the trained leaders training additional workers. In a related project, KIWA is providing workers with the skills to prepare, publish and distribute newsletters in Spanish and Korean to fellow workers as an outreach tool.

Board Member Tim Sandoval introduced students from Cal State Los Angeles who worked with the Theatre Workers' Project to present a play, "The Patriot Act." Special thanks to Nick Laskowski for inviting the cultural group Centro Cultural de Mexico who shared delightful jorocho music with us.

As if we weren't already getting to know about each other's organizations following the morning introductions and our lunchtime networking, Board Member Justine Arian organized us into focused small group discussions about strategy and tactics that mixed up conference attendees from diverse organizations and DMF Board Members.

These conversations provided rich exchanges among the full range of participants, ranging from exceptionally bright highschoolers to well-experienced community and union activists. Even though we gathered together during breaks and after lunch, the setting provided for dynamic involvement and substantive report-backs to the conference as a whole.

A separate article in our website newsletter (to be posted soon...check back!) contains comments culled from the dozens of evaluations we received after the Conference. Our Board truly appreciates the time and effort that everyone took to not only spend the day with us but also give us valuable feedback that will make our upcoming July 12th Conference even more dynamic!

We all owe special thanks to Justine Arian, Tim Sandoval and Goetz Wolff – the Board Members who planned the Conference with input from the grantees.

- Goetz Wolff

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