Leaders convene at Clark to share challenges of social activism
On October 23-24, Clark University assistant research professor Margaret Post and Drew Astolfi ’91 co-hosted “Innovations and Adaptations in Community Organizing Training: A Learning Conversation.” The meeting was an opportunity for national leaders in community organizing to discuss leadership development training in social change organizations. Participants included Warren Heyman ’77, representing the labor union UNITE HERE, Paul Getsos, the founder of People’s Climate Movement, and leaders from Midwest Academy, Center for Popular Democracy, and Massachusetts Communities Action Network.
Astolfi works for Community Change, an organization promoting grassroots change in communities across the country. He found his passion after getting involved in social justice issues during his undergraduate years at Clark, where he had “a lot of freedom and encouragement to make things happen.”
“Clark, and Worcester, gives you the gift of hands-on experience and seeing the world how it really is,” he said. “You learn more at Clark doing it yourself as opposed to watching someone else do it in New York.”
Heyman said everything he’s done in his career, he learned at Clark. “It was a very heady time period where everything was up for grabs and we were taught to question everything – authority, assumption, life,” he said of his time on campus in the mid-1970s. “The University was open to, and fostered, this ideology.”
While at Clark, he worked as a community organizer in Worcester’s Main South neighborhood (among his tasks: working with others to improve street lights). Today, he is unionizing hotel workers and emphasizing the importance of being skilled and disciplined to effect change.
Both alumni were eager to return to Clark as part of this first-of-its-kind meeting to connect with members of some of the top social justice organizations in the country.
The meeting focused on the content, values, methods, and shared challenges of developing powerful leaders, especially in communities of color and low-income communities. Projected outcomes include:
- Sharing of best practices and new ideas in leadership training
- Fostering collegial relationships among trainers working in disparate networks and organizational settings
- Developing a map of training providers that will help to direct field partners to the resources that are most appropriate for their individual needs
- Capturing insights and perspectives on leadership development that will inform strategies for organizational capacity-building, reinventing organizing, and governing power.
Post and Astolfi wanted to create a forum for diverse ideas and perspectives. “We do not often have an opportunity to come together across contexts to reflect on approaches to leadership development that strengthen democracy,” says Post. “We are committed to research in action – the notion that the exchange of ideas through dialogue and collective learning can lead to greater knowledge and stronger civic engagement.”
Each participant represented a different network of community organizations eager to think in new and creative ways about the history of activism and its future. “Having distinguished Clark alumni as part of the meeting reflects Clark’s long-standing tradition of developing social consciousness and skills to change the world,” Post said.