Over much of the past year I have had a real education in the power of community organizing around an idea or a vision. It started with my campaign running for president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association. I had only recently joined in January 2015. I joined because I didn’t understand the opposition that the JPNA had towards many of the issues I cared about deeply – urban development and revitalization. Not to say the JPNA is against those things, but it was my personal and professional opinion that the things they were against would make revitalization more difficult.
I joined not anticipating that I would run for office, but really just to understand the thinking – what makes the members tick? I hoped to volunteer on technology related items – revamping the website, putting them on social media, making transparency and common things like the meeting minutes available. At the same time I met a number of other neighbors, new to the association, that had a lot of the same feelings I did.
When the past president announced her retirement there was an opening. Initially it looked like no one wanted the job. It looked like an opportunity to fill a void in leadership. Ultimately, that turned out not to be the case, as my opponent, Bob Bank, ran against me, and ultimately won.
The campaign on social media for the “future” of JPNA attracted a lot of interest and attention. Working with an allied slate, we developed what ultimately became the basis for a new group, but ultimately was a great campaign slogan. We were going to “move Jefferson Park forward.” I used this a lot in my writing, as I began to outline my position and reason for my candidacy. Forward meant progress and a new way of thinking. It meant shedding aspects of the past that was slowing us down. It meant a path.
That view was rejected by the Association and in loss, I met many, many wonderful people in which the “forward” message really resonated. Many of these residents had similar thoughts but not a welcome vehicle to advocate for the changes they want.
Initially, I had offered that I would help build a new organization with an eye only towards an initial public meeting to gauge support. If no one showed up and the support was not there, we’d know that the group did not have traction. In building the new group, I worked with my slate members from the election, Dennis Davis and Marie MacDonald, along with several other neighbors I had met at JPNA that offered their assistance and/or ideas. This group, about 10 of us, ended up gelling into the directors of the new organization, which we named Jefferson Park Forward.
We built a website and a Facebook group, worked Twitter and began publishing our message to every social and existing local media outlet available. We developed a preliminary mission and a vision, largely using language from the JPNA campaign but developing the ideas further. I became the spokesperson and lead the outreach.
At the public meeting, held November 17, 2015, we had an attendance of almost 70 people, including the Alderman, State Representative, head of the Chamber of Commerce and members of other neighborhood associations, including JPNA. I introduced Jefferson Park Forward and explained our mission and vision – why we were here. I led a group discussion asking what we want JPF to be, what we want JPF to do in the community and solicited volunteers.
The enthusiasm we generated has carried over and spilled outside the neighborhood boundaries and we have cultivated interest in our work, At the same time, I’ve begun working with the Directors to lay out a plan to build up JPF from concept to a registered non-profit group so that we can begin the work I began outlining in my campaign for JPNA president…to move Jefferson Park forward.
Community organizing is inspiring work. It means working with your neighbors and local businesses. And your local elected officials. It means being honest and transparent about what you’re doing. It means honoring and respecting the people who believe in you and who have in turn dedicated themselves to a cause that they believe in, to an organization that is theirs as much as it is yours. It means stepping up when there is work to be done and, also, stepping back when you’re on a team all pushing for the same thing.