National People's Action, or NPA is a national organization made up of many community based groups. NPA is dedicated to creating an organized response at the grassroots level to many of the issues facing regular Americans. These are people who don't have the deep pockets, or the connections to make things (specifically legal and policy changes) happen quickly.
PUSH Buffalo as many may know is a member organization of NPA.
On November 15-17th 2012, NPA held their annual Organizer's Conference. It was held in the "New York City of the Midwest", or Chicago Illinois. Chicago for those who don't know has a long, and rich history with organizing. Whether union, or community based this city has long been a central battleground for regular people banding together to collectively stand up for their rights.
NPA has this conference once a year, but this was my first time attending. I figured it would be like other NPA conferences, and national actions that I have attended in the past. I was about half right. As usual we were treated to take part in a "action" as organizers like to say outside of Senator Dick Durbin's Chicago office. Hundreds of people outside of his office peacefully banding together to get his attention, and some willing participants (who were willing and had been trained before hand) made it inside the lobby and were arrested. The action garnered local/national press, and grabbed the Senator's attention. There is nothing new here, but the action was set up like a depression era soup line with period looking shanties, and everything else included.
Two highlights of the conference that stand out in my mind are the different issues that groups across the country are working on, and a panel discussion that featured Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
They say that all politics is local, and this statement was never more true at this conference. VOCAL NY down in New York City is working on "Stop and Frisk", and on Medical Marijuana legislation, Take Action Minnesota has just beat a proposed voter ID restriction bill in that state, many groups in the Midwest, and out West are battling ant-immigration issues. Groups in Detroit Michigan are contending with of course housing issues. Keith Ellison's visit by far surprised me. Many say that compared to his colleagues in Washington he is pretty radical. I thought to myself "yeah right", but to my surprise he had some pretty interesting insights. He said "Washington can be like crack" or in other words as he broke it down later - a politician who stays in Washington DC around power, or influence long enough disconnected from the people who don't have the resources to fight on a large scale will become addicted to the power and the influence of Washington DC. He went on to give advice to organizers as how to keep their elected officials close to the common man on the street.
I am sometimes usually skeptical about events like this one, but from the opening session until the end I learned new information, connected with organizers doing similar things in other cities, and I came home empowered to continue doing my work.
You can also read this post on the goodneighborhood.com
Posted on Wed, January 2, 2013
by Lonnie Barlow filed under