Second Uniting America AmeriCorps Orientation

December 22, 2011
Izabela Grobelna AmeriCorps Fellow

Wow! I had completed not one, not two, but three ICIRR trainings for the Uniting America campaign. We had a chance to meet a large bulk of the talented ICIRR staff, who shared with us their strategies for organizing, recruiting, and reaching out, all very relevant lessons to the work we will be doing in our communities. On the first day, we had a lot of introductions and paperwork, which is all very important to properly enroll as Uniting America fellows, while on the second day we had back-to-back very intense trainings on power (repeat after me, “I have power!”), one-on-ones (oh, the new lingo!), volunteer recruitment, presentations on Uniting America campaign, event planning, and time management.

To share an example of the intensity of the trainings, here is the very first one from Tuesday, December 20th. Steven Smith, the Director of Organizing at ICIRR, led a training session on Power. Steven walked around holding a paper sign with the word “POWER” written in green marker, and asked every one of us the one thing we wanted to accomplish as Uniting America fellows. He responded to our genuine hopes and goals, “Well, you know what?! It doesn’t matter because I have the power.” He was obviously role-playing because before the exercise he shared a genuine story about ICIRR’s important accomplishments. Yet, despite that as a group, we were not sure how to respond or what to do. Yet, through the fearless leadership of Maher, we came together as a group, and ganged up on Steven with a grand finale of grabbing the “POWER” piece of paper from him. This act indeed symbolized us taking the “POWER” away from Steven. The moral of the story came in five points, and we were advised to meticulously write them all down:

1.    Power must be taken
2.    Can’t do it by yourself
3.    Have to be aggressive
4.    Talk is cheap
5.    You’re a jerk if you hold on to your power

I will be honest; I didn’t think that the solution was to physically grab the piece of paper from Steven. My first inclination was to use the art of rhetoric and convince Steven that power is greater in numbers, if he only joins our cause. Shortly, he crushed that idea. Therefore, what was left was to use force and force indeed worked. Later I was wondering to what extent this training will become relevant, if we are not going to do advocacy, but our goal is to build trust within communities. Can we really practice “Uniting America” by taking power from others, ganging up, being aggressive, discouraging conversation, and calling others with power “jerks”? I am playing devil’s advocate, but nonetheless, I plan to recognize the assets that each individual and community contribute to the forming dialogue. Now that I have thought about it, and I am sure that the training was meant to give us something to think about. I think Steven wanted us to recognize that no matter what we will come across others have more power than we do. However, despite that if we strongly believe in our cause we have to persevere and count on changing people’s minds because sometimes it is just not possible…

For the next year, I will work at the Chicago Cultural Alliance (CCA), a consortium of ethnic museums, cultural centers, and historical societies with members located across the whole Chicago. My goal is to organize cross-cultural unity events facilitating dialogues with CCA members for a greater cause of uniting local communities, uniting the city, and uniting America. I want to share with others my positive perspective. Through this opportunity, I hope to reactivate chains of human connections those that neighbors share with neighbors, meet people where they are at; sidewalks, park, schools, businesses, or community centers in physical spaces that neighbors share with neighbors to revive a new a sense of community not by declaring boundaries by emphasizing a shared connection.