The basis of community organizing is relationships. Some of us came out the womb with a sign in hand, ready to attend our first protest. For most people though, the pressures of everyday life supersede the importance of structural change. This is especially true for the people most affected by the issues that we fight for. When life means the constant threat of homelessness, days without access to stable food, and fear of retaliation from landlords, changing the structures of our society becomes secondary to ensuring the safety of themselves and their loved ones. This is completely understandable, but it is also completely by design. Our system thrives off of ensuring that only those with privilege have access to spaces within activist movements, within the walls of our government buildings, and in our media. These spaces can only truly be transformed by bringing the voices of those most affected to the forefront.

This can only be accomplished through relationship building. By bridging the divide between those well-meaning privileged folks in our community and those most affected by the issues, we can use privilege to lift up the voices of those most affected.

That is what our weekly organizing initiative seeks to accomplish. For the past three months, I have been building up a Good Neighbor team at a weekly motel in Reno. This team consists of privileged folks from the community working side by side with folks living in this weekly motel to build the leadership of folks most affected, work with them to tell their stories to the community, and ensure that they have access to the meetings where their fate will be decided.

This Good Neighbor team has held two potlucks at the weekly motels where members of the community sat down with folks living in the weekly motels to build relationships with them, share some food, and learn what is most needed in our community.

In addition to potlucks, our Good Neighbor team is working with residents of the weekly motel to prepare them to speak to code enforcement and City Council about poor conditions in the weekly motels, to help them craft their stories to share with communities of faith and community organizations to get more people involved, and to build relationships to determine what issues are most affecting low-income residents and what solutions would be most effective. The goal is to help privileged members of the community use their privilege to lift up those without privilege and to ensure that those who are not directly affected by the issue are the ones leading conversations.

Our next step is to work with students at the University of Nevada, Reno to develop a Good Neighbor team to work with the weekly motels directly surrounding the University and which are threatened by University expansion efforts. We believe that students have a strong voice in ensuring that efforts to create a university town benefit everyone in this community.  

It is only through deep relationships that we can bring the voices of folks mired in the muck of poverty to the table. These relationships are essential to building a Washoe County that we can all be proud of.

In the future, we want our Good Neighbor teams to be working to write blog posts from the perspective of residents of weekly motels, so you can hear a little bit less of my voice.  As we build leadership of folks in the weekly motels, we hope to ensure our voices become smaller and theirs become larger.

If you are interested in helping to build these deep relationships and helping to lift up the voices of those most affected by poverty, please contact aria@actionn.org.

Leave a Reply