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Organizing Workshop: fighting against food insecurity and fighting for Food Justice

August 9, 2021

Last Wednesday, Access of West Michigan, an organization that coordinates all of the area food pantries and works to transform the pantry model from a Food Charity Model to a Food Justice model, asked me to provide some training for people who work in various food related capacities on the importance of doing organizing work.

We began with introductions and sharing about; 1) the organization you work for and its mission, and; 2) why each person does the work that they do/what motivates you to want to be part of transformational work?

People shared how they got into this work, why they do and even some of the pivotal moments in their life when they had an “awakening” of sorts. It was great to hear everyone’s story and several people stated that this was not what they expected in a training on organizing.

I explained that the reason we shared our stories is because that is a critical component of the relational organizing model. In the relational organizing model, which have been developed by the group Southerners on New Ground. the purpose of sharing stories is to be able to understand those we organize with better, to be vulnerable, to build trust and to develop relationships. This is in contrast to the Alinsky model of organizing, which is Issue-based.discussion on how a relational organizing model works.

Next, we began to talk about what kind of Theory of Change to use within a relational organizing model. Most non-profits operate on a service provider or charity model, but in a relational organizing model it is imperative that we engage in systems change. One person even shared that ultimately, it should be the objective of all our organizations to change systems so that these organizations no longer are needed.

We then did a little reality check, where I write the following information on the large newsprint we were using – Jeff Bezos makes $8,961,384 per hour! I wanted to have everyone sit with this number for a moment and then talk about how it made them feel. I then wrote a second reality check – Hank & Doug Meijer’s wealth went from $10.2B at the beginning of the pandemic to $12.6B today.  The average worker at Meijer makes $11 an hour. We all sat with that number for awhile and then talked about it. Doing a reality check is a way to affirm the importance and the necessity of doing systems change organizing.

In the next part of our conversation, we talked about the fact that organizing for systemic change has two main objectives. First, we have to fight to dismantle systems of oppression, and secondly, we need to work on creating the kind of world we want to live in, particularly by practicing what feminists have called prefigurative politics. Pre-figurative politics means that in our personal lives and within our organizing circles, we need to work on modeling the kind of world we want to live in. This can mean making decisions through consensus, doing collective care, mutual aid work and de-centering whiteness, just to name a few.

Next we discussed key components of organizing

  1. Understanding those who are impacted by systemic oppression, knowing their stories – having them share their stories – to other people affected, to staff, to board members, to donors
  2. Developing leadership amongst those most affected – which includes paying them to be part of training, feed them, offer child care and transportation if necessary.
  3. Doing a Power Analysis with new leadership and anyone else – A Local Power Analysis – the link here is part 10, but all other 9 parts are hyperlinked in this article. This link is a visual depiction of the GR Power Analysis
  4. Ongoing education/information sharing about the unjust food system we currently have – this link provides lots of examples on the current food system
  5. Develop strategies and tactics, with convo around what strategies and tactics are. 
  6. Organizing those most affected to advocate for themselves – create union for farmworkers, food buying clubs, garden clubs, food preservation clubs, community kitchens, demands to be brought to  elected officials, demands for health departments or any other institute that exists in the community that has power and resources that are not currently being shared in a just fashion.
  7. Evaluate every action that you engage in, and learn from those actions, using a Freirean approach.
  8. Keep building capacity, fight against burnout, do community care, bring new people into the movement.

We then discussed some examples of application within the organizations the group worked in.

  1. Craft mission statements that are more reflective of the problem and driven by the solution
  2. Have those affected do a power analysis for the board members & donors
  3. Those that work with migrant worker population can provide resources for them to form a union. United Farm Workers and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Lastly, we talked about the importance of not operating in Silos. People who come into spaces that are offering food assistance are not just impacted by a lack of food. People are impacted by the system of Capitalism, the lack of employment or under-employment, White Supremacy, ablism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, lack of real health care, stress, depression and other mental health issues.

Knowing this is the case, what if organizations were offering resources/contacts for the community-based organizations that work on some of  these issues, such as:

Movimeinto Cosecha GR –

GR Rapid Response 

GR Area Tenant Union 

Justice for Black Lives

Defund the GRPD 


Together We Are Safe 

We ended the conversation about how each organizations could adopt some of these organizing principles and develop leadership from those who come into their spaces. People were very excited and suggested that instead of individual groups making statements, that they form a coalition to make a collective statement about doing systems change work, which could lead to movement building.

It was one of the best trainings I have been part of in recent years, both because it was inspiring to see how all of what we talked about really resonated with people and how they were excited about what future possibilities were in doing this work to practice food justice and food sovereignty. 

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