Fostering and engaging with face-to-face communities and activism
December 21, 2017 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I want to get involved in local issues in a way that will have me talking and interacting with people in person. What can I do to foster a sense of community rooted in the local and physical? I'm in Oakland, but I'd be happy to hear more generally applicable ideas, too.

I got kind of disillusioned at political meetings with lots of talk about "how can we win over voters?" I came away feeling like I didn't just want to discuss Washington Post headlines, and instead wanted to take direct action on something local people need, however small, that I could help with right now.

It might be that there is nothing I can do directly, but I have to think there's something beyond showing up to protests and calling reps. Face-to-face community is very important to me, and I have to think there's a way to make a difference in the neighborhood and the city, and reinforce a sense of the local (as opposed to just a place where I and some other people happen to live). There's got to be more to it than just smiling when I see a neighbor I recognize.

Yeah, there's some political idealism here: I do think we're too insular, and I do want to get off the effin' internet. I feel weird spending too much time reading headlines about which senator did what, while there's a homeless encampment a few hundred yards away (I read about the growing homeless population in my city, but the extent of my engagement is to feel, like, really sorry for them when I walk by). I want to shift my priorities. I want to be very honest with myself and draw the line between idealism ("the new counterculture will reject the corporate internet!") and reality, but I think there are changes I can make that will bring my actions more in line with my ideals.

I imagine some churches are a good way to build a community that engages in public outreach. I'm not exactly religious, but we might check out our local Unitarian church.

What else can we look at, or is there a better way of thinking about this?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Human Relations (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In the activist communities I have worked with, the generalized term is "direct action". In your area there are ways you can get help directly to those who need it, which is one among many ways of offering help. A few local groups that I would suggest (which hew to my values, maybe not to yours) are

- East Bay Food Not Bombs - feeding people regularly, locally (website may be out of date)
- Prison Literature Project - sending reading material to people who are incarcerated (Berkeley based, see if there are people nearby)
- The Mind Body Awareness Project - working with at-risk youth with life skills and mindfulness, right in Oakland

Other similarly helpful things can be volunteering at a food shelf, seeing if there is local civic work that needs doing (committee work is unsexy but it can really help keep things working) or thinking about your local interests (pets, bike//ped rights, birds, literacy) and seeing if there are ways to help. For me, for example, I am a local Justice of the Peace, I can perform weddings, and I sit on a few boards of my fellow citizens and help mediate tax disputes. I have met a lot of people and feel a little more grounded in my own community. I am going to join the conservation commission because I care about the outdoors. It's not a lot of work but it's regular and I cross paths with more people and can just show up and do work. It really helps when the creeping dread sets in, to feel like you have a thing to be doing.
posted by jessamyn at 7:02 AM on December 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: See if you have any kind of neighborhood-specific group that gets together to do any kind of locally-based neighborhood...stuff, like a neighborhood watch. For instance, we have a neighborhood safety council that organizes disaster preparedness and makes sure that in the event of a disaster, someone checks in on everyone on the block. A lot of it involves just getting to know your neighbors and has a nice side effect of exposing everyone to people they may or may not agree with politically; it’s a nice way for everyone to have some common ground. I’ve lived in Oakland and have a feeling that small groups like that are not unusual. (I also remember the neighborhood wingnuts who wanted to get the helicopter to Children’s Hospital shut down because the noise bothered them, so be prepared for people with some really baffling goals.)
posted by corey flood at 7:16 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Aside from going to your lowest-civil-level council meetings (like I technically live in Los Angeles but Northridge has North, East, and West neighborhood Councils, you may have to dig around to figure out what your options are), check your Assemblymember's website for organizations they are involved with and events you can participate in (call their office or go to their next event and ask for guidance too from their staff, for orgs that need your help). Go online and Google as if you were looking for assistance with food/services and see what orgs are near you. Go to a school board meeting even if you don't have kids/kids in school. Go to your local library and look on their bulletin boards. Google your most dear causes and your zip code.

I guarantee there's at least one DSA meetup in your area in the next 30 days, if you lean at all in that direction. Find the FB groups for your local BLM and SURJ
groups. Go to one meeting of ten potential entities you look up and pick one to pursue that suits you best.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2017

Best answer: I feel similarly. After a Medicare for All protest, I got involved in my local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and they actually do a lot more than just trying to win over politicians on certain policies. In my chapter (in a small, "progressive" city) there are a number of committees each focused on something specific like community building, healthcare, and affordable housing among others. Our chapter has actually done a lot of "direct action" type things -- fixing brakelights for free in our community and surrounding communities, doing a health insurance enrollment outreach to neighborhoods and communities estimated to have low enrollment, and making food for a local warming shelter. I would encourage you to check out your local chapter as well. I have been really impressed overall with the committedness and humanitarianism of my local chapter and also among the other members I have met and worked with.
posted by sevenofspades at 9:11 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think I had a similar feeling and have gotten involved (along with my church) in community organizing. I was involved in local politics many years ago (unsuccessfully attempting to add "sexual orientation" to the Fort Collins, CO human rights ordinance in 1988). After that, I kept my focus on trying to change things for the better inside the corporate world. Since 1988, I've learned a lot about power, how to gain it, and how to change things -- and the community organizing training I've done makes sense to me. I wish I'd had the benefit of that training back in Fort Collins.

If you think that might be the thing for you, there is a group in Oakland, OCO, which I think stands for Oakland Community Organizing but I don't know for sure. If this group is like the one we have in Portland, Oregon, you join through your organization (like a church). There is a list of the organizations that belong to OCO on their website.
posted by elmay at 11:10 AM on December 21, 2017

Best answer: Oakland is chock-a-block full of in-person social groups that aren't pointedly political but certainly have political aspects. Have you gone to a Queers Makin' Beers event yet? If not, it'd be a great place to meet like minded people aiming to build community solidarity and branch out even further.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:04 PM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi! Like sevenofspades says, you should join DSA. East Bay DSA has an active Medicare For All canvassing campaign -- the next event is January 13th. They also officially endorsed the DSBay Brake Light Initiative, which sets up free clinics to replace brake lights for members of the community.

In DSA SF, we have a general meeting every month, and a variety of active committees working on specific issues. We're currently gathering signatures to get a measure on the ballot that would appoint legal counsel to anyone facing eviction.

Hope to see you soon!
posted by ludwig_van at 7:01 PM on December 22, 2017

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