Inspiring social change through community organizing | Dara Frimmer | TEDxUCLA



so if you'd asked me what causes I cared about when I was in high school I would have told you Greenpeace save the whales and love the earth now did I really care about Greenpeace hmm probably not enough to make a difference it's not that I wasn't an empathetic kid I was but environmental issues weren't connected to my core interests spotted owls and oil spills didn't keep me awake at night and frankly they weren't what got me up in the morning now if you'd asked me to to tell you a story about what life was like for me at 16 you would have heard about the stress of balancing homework about trying to stay connected to friends playing sports and obligations to family and you would have heard and known that those were my core issues my core interests and so not surprisingly those were the things I was willing to spend my time and my energy working on now the reason I tell you this story today is because it's been 20 years since I graduated from high school and I still need to remind myself that my desire to pursue any issue of justice is deeply and intricately connected to my self-interest I can talk about a lot of issues and trust me I do but there are only a few that I'm willing to give my time and my energy to work on and if you want to know which ones you have to know my story one of the biggest challenges we face as agents of social change is that we forget to learn people's stories as we attempt to enlist them in our cause and that's a mistake because what we care about is deeply connected to who we are our life experiences our pain and our disappointment as well as our greatest joy and if we can just remember to get at those kinds of stories and share those of our own we are far more likely to create a network of committed people who are ready to bring about real social change we live in an age of surveys five simple questions will tell you ever everything you need to know about Who I am and what I care about and this is true for businesses for universities and in fact even for synagogues I can provide you with a better product a faster education maybe even a more satisfying spiritual experience the problem is that surveys don't work for social change here's an example from Temple Isaiah where I work our congregants a few years ago began talking about health care and the Affordable Care Act and they wondered where people in our communities struggling with access or were they suffering under the debt of unpaid medical bills and how could we help act on their behalf so of course somebody said let's send out a survey that way we'll know instead we focused on sharing stories we invited 10 to 15 people to come to a local home and to share an experience that they had had connected to insurance or to health care and as a result those of us who sat around the table that night learned together about the struggle to care for aging parents as the same time as adult children with a variety of health care needs we heard about the fear of changing jobs because that place of unemployment would mean a loss of coverage we did hear about bankruptcy and unpaid medical debt and we also heard about the lack of mental health coverage in Los Angeles surveys we'll never be able to produce the feelings and the emotions and the sense of connection that people receive when you sit together and listen to people telling their stories right surveys are not stories stories remind us that what we think are deeply personal private issues are in fact shared public concerns and as a good house meeting hosts if you can remember to spark people's imagination before they leave you can actually begin to transform their lives imagine you say to them if we began to work on any one of these shared issues together instead of you fighting alone there would be others now standing by your side instead of one voice there would be many stories sharing stories out loud give us a chance to begin to see ourselves differently as well as other people and they can even begin to change how we see the world now about a year ago I had the good fortune of being in a lobbying meeting with one of our California representatives I was there with a pro-israel pro-peace group attempting to convince this person to work harder to push for a two-state solution now we shared a lot of statistics and we made a strong argument for international security and we listed all of the other representatives who were already on board with our plan we thought we were being pretty persuasive but as it turns out nothing was happening and it wasn't until one of the members of our group chose to share a personal story of heartbreak and sadness and anger connected to this issue that that representative went from that polite head nodding to leaning in for a better listen something in that story was a trigger for him and as a result he then shared a story about heartbreak and about sadness and about anger and you can sense the entire tone of the room began to change and a partnership was beginning to form towards the end of the meeting the representative asked us to stay in touch to continue to use our voices to not be strangers to that office and the reason is because those kinds of stories lead to connections that create a sense of accountability on both sides and that is the accountability you need if you want to turn people out for your events it's the reason why if you call me up and you say I need you to show up for me to stand up to speak out for this event this cause that means something to me I am far more likely to say yes if I know your story now I know I've been talking about stories but I just want to take one minute to talk about email the one of my favorite tools of procrastination in anticipation of a very big social justice event is the dedication of time and energy to the mass email I can spend hours constructing the words adding colors and highlights and then with one simple click I can send it off to the masses and await their response of course this doesn't work because unless my event is handing out cash or puppies email is rarely the greatest tool of turnout right imagine instead of email if I spent 30 minutes talking to every single person on my distribution list and not just a casual conversation a real conversation about who we are and what we care about and now imagine if I went back and face-to-face asked that person will you come out for me will you turn up will you use your voice here's an example from Temple Isaiah recently actually two weeks ago we gathered a group of baby boomers together at our temple and we asked them to share stories about what it was like to be aging in Los Angeles and they shared some really powerful images of what it felt like to be Aging in Place here the lack of public transportation the fear of isolation the rising cost of housing and the inability of their children to move back to Los Angeles to be closer to them we listened really closely as I told those stories and towards the end of the meeting we made them an offer we said listen a week from now we're going to be at a special board meeting at the Metro where our community organizers are going to be presenting on affordable housing and laying down new public transportation and the places that are most important to us this is in your interest we heard your stories so come with us and see what's possible when a group of thoughtful committed people get together and work for social change we share stories and we reveal something powerful and important about what we really care about and if we can remember those stories then we can offer people a real opportunity to act on their self-interest and slowly they're going to begin to see their worlds change now if you want to use your story for social change you're going to want to incorporate something that I've learned to call calculated vulnerability this means what do you need to share about yourself who you are and what you care about so that the people listening really understand you and your interests and more importantly will your story invite them to share a story as well so here's an example if I wanted to get you involved in the reform California campaign to address racial profiling in our state I could simply tell you listen I am heartbroken about the escalating rate of violence between african-american men and boys and law enforcement join me I could do that or I could tell you a story and this is true about the fact that my husband and I both white are currently in the process of being certified as foster parents in Los Angeles which means there's a very high likelihood that someday we will be part of a trans racial family my interest in being part of a movement that addresses systemic issues of race and violence is because I don't know how much protection I can offer my child if our society continues to function in the way that it does will you join me calculated vulnerability you don't need to know my entire life story you don't even need to know why we're adopting but you do need to understand why this campaign is important to me personally and how it's connected to my core interests and because this is about an exchange of story then I need to make sure to ask you to share a story as well so tell me what has been your experience with race and violence and don't just tell me what you care about tell me a story that helps me understand why you care about it because it's those kinds of stories that build the relationships that give us the power to do the work we want to do in the world now I've just been talking about these stories but I want to tell you as comfortable as I am doing this this kind of work is completely countercultural right sharing stories expressing vulnerability I think this is not how our society operates in fact it's not even how synagogues operate although they probably should when we do one-to-one trainings a temple Isaiah we warn people as they're about to go out and begin interacting in our community listen you're about to go out you're really excited you're gonna go up to one of the people in our community and say hey let's get together let's have coffee let's talk about who we are and what we care about and they're gonna think you're selling them something right they're gonna say you're looking for a donation again aren't you or you want me to join a committee or here's my favorite response tell you what we don't need to meet just send me an email I'll let you know what I think right we are so uncomfortable sharing our stories out loud unless it's our therapist or our best friend talking about who we are and what we care about in public feels scary feels uncertain feels unnatural which is too bad because that means we've lost a valuable tool in building community but we can bring it back if you want to be someone who transforms people's lives if you want to be someone that makes this city this state this nation and this world a more just an equitable place then you need to slow down and you need to start with story because story is going to be your building block start with telling your own story and then go out and start collecting others through one-to-one conversations or through house meetings and find a way to remember those stories because that is going to be the key to your political turnout you have to hold all those stories together and if you can try not to rely on email or Facebook or Survey Monkey start with conversations and start with story look we are all standing in a tragic gap between the world as it is and the world as it could be and you can cross that gap alone screaming at the top of your lungs or you can invite other people to join with you if you start with story I can promise you you won't be walking alone thank you you




Comments
  1. i came from the fields of STEM and lately i've been shaping my real true interest, which really fit to my personality. while in school, i was thinking like a student but now i'm thinking like a dreamer. just like martin luther king jr., "I have a dream!" ,yeah i also have a dream for a better social change.
    my concerns of these social problems are those microproblems, these are the root of social problems which most of the people just don't focus on. i want to study humanity and social sciences so i can be better thinker for the betterment of the community or probably a society. and before i die, i want to be successful. my problem is i really not healthy now, i am sick and poor. but i'm doing the solution, i communicate my problems to my mother and so later on she allocates a time for me to go for a check up. i think it's too late, i can't save myself and the society😭. but before i die i want my wholesome wisdom words of a better social change to be saved, stored, shared, written, and spread.

  2. There's a downside to getting people and community activities. And if you get the idiots going they will create problems instead of solving problems. It's really important that you're very picky who we are allowed to lead for example Obama was present on the iPod it for him to that I thought he was decent. Turns out when you're in a victim setting you are a terrible leader you will always always create negative communities. So how do we prevent the negative immunity leaders. We look for victims. If they show any sign of being a victim do not follow something like that. We are all been a victim of something but carrying that victim mentality is dangerous and poison to a community. a victim that finds a way out of being a victim who is a leader who understands that you're not a victim unless you allow it are the ones that we want Leading.
    No more victim leaders

  3. Thank you for sharing this TedX. It's great that such a kind loving human being is out there working to help others in her community find peace and social justice. Ignore the haters they are hurting in ways they themselves don't understand. Instead resonate at a higher pitch coming from your authentic caring for the world and keep moving forward one conversation and act of compassion at a time. We are not here to win arguments or convince anyone we are right and they are wrong so I don't engage in arguments online. I look for positive people and information that helps heal. Tikkun Olam!

  4. A woman who supports a terrorist state like Israel have nothing to give to America or the World. This is Hypocrisy at its best.

  5. For a written guide to "telling your story" See my book, Building Powerful Community Organizations, pp. 32 to 48

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