I just came home from the Craigslist Foundation’s Nonprofit Boot Camp
. Unlike the (younger) women in my carpool, I thought it was good but not awesome, which is the word they used. I actually was a bit disappointed. Maybe I led myself expect too much – influenced by words like “empower” and “inspire” on the Boot Camp website. Yes, it was a good resource. Yes, I learned a bit more. But, no, I don’t really feel more inspired. I heard a lot of “build coalitions” today – but nothing about the how. And I think that’s where the crux of the problem is. As Frank J. Omowale Satterwhite
put it: The difference between the 1960s and now is that during the 1960s, there were 5 gatherings with 10,000 people; today there are 10,000 gatherings with 5 people. We are spread too thin; we ignore the interconnections. And we are encouraged to do that. Emmett Carson
, one of the keynote speakers, suggested that we need to do the thing we do best over and over again and not try to do too many things. But if we find just a little niche, we cannot affect social change on the big scale we need right now. Of course, we are more likely to have a successful nonprofit if we focus on one issue. For example, I was advised to focus on singles by choice to build advocacy amongst singles rather than trying to organize all singles. That is probably a wise approach but it’s only chipping away at one tiny issue. The danger, though, is that while I wait for the inspiration to find that One Big Issue that unites us all, nothing will change. Maybe it really is a matter of chipping away at one issue. Yet, social change occurs when many groups and people come together to move society in one direction: the movement to abolish slavery included very diverse set of people; so did the movement to get women the right to vote. The Wall Street Bail Out was initially defeated in the House because conservative Republicans built a coalition with liberal Democrats. Their reasons were different but their goal was the same.
Another thing a key-note speaker stressed (I can’t remember if it was Carson) was not to run out and start our own nonprofit without looking around if someone is already doing what we want to do. There seem to be a lot of organizations that essentially do the same thing with a slightly different slant (the Center for Inquiry and the American Humanist Association come to mind; or even more similar are the Skeptics Society and CFI). How much more powerful would we be if we’d stop splintering and unite? There’s that coalition building idea again…
So, where does this leave me? I would like to empower singles by choice to come out and let it be known that being single is a valid lifestyle choice that doesn’t say anything about us other than we’re single. That is a topic very close to my heart for very personal reasons. But it is certainly not an overarching issue. Maybe that is okay as long as I don’t focus so much on overcoming internalized singlism that I miss coalition building opportunities. Change starts somewhere. One of the most important things we need to work on is rebuilding community because the need for connections is being subverted into consumerism. Advertisers suggest to us that the need for happiness and fulfillment can be filled by product X. And a community can be the basis for a strong movement that takes the power back from the consumer-side to the citizen-side of our brain. Aside from consumerism, the idea of a nuclear family has contributed to our decrease in connections, to the deterioration of community. By emphasizing other ways of living – including choosing to be single – we can counteract that trend and promote valuing all relationships.
Maybe I got more out of this Boot Camp than I thought. If nothing else, it helped me clarify what I want to advocate for and why. I feel like I need to roll up my sleeves and get started!