Close to three years ago, I stumbled into the organizing world for what was originally supposed to be a getaway in West Virginia for a conference called ‘Leveraging Privilege for Social Change’. I was expecting a week away from email, time commitments and speakers. What I left with was a whole new outlook on what privilege meant and an understanding of the importance of peer-organizing.
I realized that ‘leveraging privilege for social change’ is much more broadly applicable and reaches beyond the typical domains of wealth and class that often come to mind. We all have communities of which we are a part and we all have privileges that only we have permission to speak about. Our privilege may lie in our relationships, our time, our energy or it may be our skills, abilities or resources, regardless we often need a little help to put them to use. We need a peer network to support us, to help us realize that not only do we have something to give, but that it is possible to make a difference.
I recently met with Kyle Thiermann who embodies just this. Kyle is a professional surfer from Santa Cruz and he decided to mobilize his community — disengaged surfers. After a trip to Chile, Kyle learned that a proposed coal power plant, funded by the Bank of America, was going to ruin the surf breaks and local culture. He began to mobilize his community, to shoot videos and to advocate in telling people to move their money from the Bank of America to local banks. With his enthusiasm, the campaign grew; this was Kyle’s community, this was his privilege. As a direct result of his organizing, he has been able to document that over $110 million dollars of lending power that has been moved from the bank. This is the power of organizing.
It has been amazing to see firsthand the similarities between the organizing that Kyle has done and the organizing done when more classic understandings of privilege are at play. Upon returning from West Virginia, I became involved with Resource Generation, an organization that helps people leverage their financial privilege for social change. Resource Generation works with young people with wealth to help them give more, give smarter and to encourage them to move their investments towards mission and social-related investing. The principals and in this case, even the results such as moving money from big banks to local banks, remained the same.
The results and methods of such organizing are the same because the inherent power of this organizing can be reduced to a simple idea — friends. Just like everyone else, I listen to my friends because they understand me be it the multitude on Facebook or my few old college roommates. I have their ear and they have mine. It is this permission to speak that peer networks and peer organizing relies on — and it works. The power of creating these networks specific to your own group of friends is up to you. So ask yourself… “What is my privilege? What resources or skills do I have that can be leveraged for social change and how can I enable my friends to realize and act in the same way?”
It is by answering these questions, together, with our friends, that we can make a difference and, fortunately, our friends are probably close by.
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