Coming Into Focus

Categories: Organizing Fellowship

As I reflect on the first half of JCUA’s Organizing Fellowship, the phrase that comes to mind is “coming into focus.” When I began the fellowship in August, I had a vague notion of my Jewish identity and relationship to organizing that I had been developing over the past few years in college and my personal life. I knew what values I believed in and that I wanted to work towards creating a world where those values are shared, but the in-between part was fuzzy. I go to and host events, make signs for protests, donate money, and stay educated. These are all useful things, but I was having trouble seeing how my actions relate to the outcomes I want. Throughout the past few months, I feel as though the inner workings of organizing, the path from point A to point B, have slowly started to become clearer. As I learn individual components of organizing through this fellowship, I start to see how my actions can make an impact, and what actions are the most effective.

My first “aha” moment in the fellowship was during the workshop presented by Marla Bramble on the tenets of organizing. Once I began to view organizing as a method of changing the balance of power when nothing else works, I was able to see my actions through that lens and really gauge their efficacy. It especially took some time for me to fully wrap my head around the concept of self-interest. I was skeptical of the concept when first introduced, because I was viewing self-interest as selfish reasons driving our actions. Self-interest became infinitely more clear when Hannah defined it as somewhere in between selflessness and selfishness. The concept is slowly making more sense to me as I identify my and others self interests. I now understand that it is what propels us to organize and understanding the self-interest of those we are working with is vital to creating change.

My first one-on-one was nerve-wracking, and after two more I am starting to understand the purpose of these meetings. When we first learned about them, I was confused about the difference between just meeting with someone and having a real “one on one”. Was it the content, the setting, or the people meeting? This confusion turned out to be helpful in developing my understanding, because now I realize that a one on one is determined by all of those things and more. Thus far, I have experienced a “good” one-on-one (productive, illustrative, friendly) and a “bad” one-on-one (one-sided, off-topic). I feel like they have each helped me develop that understanding and given me tools to use in the future to make sure I have more “good” one-on-ones.

Actions were the one thing that I thought I understood starting this fellowship, and ironically they are the component of the fellowship around which my understanding has shifted the most. In college, I attended and hosted various events and was under the impression that if an event impacted one person, it was valuable. While I still believe that, I came into the fellowship thinking that actions were the same as events. However I have shifted my perspective on that. I am now aware that the purpose of actions is to impact as many people as possible, whether positively or negatively through agitation and disruption. The actions I have participated in have felt overall productive and meaningful, which is valuable in activist spaces when everyone’s time is already limited.

Overall a lot of the components of this fellowship have become clearer to me over the past few months, and a lot of concepts I was confused on have really come into focus. I look forward to taking the information I have learned into the second half of the fellowship and seeing how I can develop further as an organizer. In 2019, I am excited to further my understanding of organizing in the city of Chicago. I will be getting involved in a specific campaign that I find significant, and putting my foundational knowledge from the fellowship to use. I will also be taking what I have learned beyond JCUA into my own personal life and politics. As the concepts of this fellowship become clearer, I am re-adjusting my perspective and path, and feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow with JCUA.