Lessons from USA

When developing our Lessons for Change, we had the opportunity to visit, work with and learn from activists in Boston, New Jersey and the Five Boroughs of New York; The Bronx, Harlem, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan during a truly transformative period in the history of the USA with far reaching global implications.

Donald J. Trump replaced Barack Obama as the 45th President of the United States – The Simpsons fiction became reality. Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March emerged as the latest manifestations of a long line of mass movements, marching and mobilising for a better society.

The USA we visited was a country where the Native American Sioux people formed a blockade in Dakota to protect their land and people from an oil company’s plans to run thousands of miles of pipeline through it – and the US Army were deployed to protect the oil company. It was a place where non-white skin got you shot by police as a matter of routine, where every day another family was ripped apart by gun wielding ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents, where domestic workers were kept as slaves by super wealthy people and where the guy who would become the next President built a base for global power on the back of racism and sexism.

The mass movements of discontent and anger on the streets were cyclical occurrences and the legacy of Occupy and the Anti-War movement which followed 9/11 and the Wall Street crash still hung heavy in the air. These massive mobilisations clearly demonstrated a people out of sync with those who rule their affairs and looking at America through the TV screen from Belfast it was hard to see the potential for positive change.

But we saw something different. On the streets, in classrooms, in places of worship and in communities, the drive for real change was on. It remains to be seen if the good guys win and the changes taking place will be more positive than negative. We are optimistic because of the optimism of the people we met, organising from below across the country, making changes much deeper than the flash pan politics which dominate the headlines and American electoral cycles.

On Lessons for Change you can connect to some of the amazing people and organisations we encountered.

You can link to Irene Jor of the National Domestic Workers Alliance to understand how a hidden workforce with no rights in law organised to change the law itself, redirecting massive financial resources from exploiters to the exploited.

You can listen to interviews with Pedro from Boston on how they built power in Massachusetts by standing up to Casino bosses, getting Obama elected in the process.

You can digest informed reflections on why the Obama administration deported more immigrants than any which preceded it and how the battle for the Democratic Party between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton somehow made the word ‘socialism’ appealing to millions of Americans.

You can connect to schools of thought for community organising developed by people like Saul Alinksy and Marshall Ganz and put into practice every day from Harvard to Harlem by activists like Frank, Mahmoud, Lew and many more.

You can learn from Andreas and Steve about the Dreamers and the legacy of organised undocumented immigrants and their US born Children, fighting to secure the residency of millions of people deemed illegal under the law yet instrumental to running every part of the country.

Through in-depth case studies you can learn more about the power of faith-based organising in the vein of Martin Luther King Jr. Connect to Metro IAF to get a taste of how organised people of different faiths and ethnicities are uniting to effectively challenge big power and money and build homes, schools, playparks and safe and prosperous communities across the US.

You can connect to academics and writers like Michael, architects like Martin and musicians like Madeline and Biggy to see how they put their talents and skills to use changing the world around them from the bottom up. If anyone will make America great, it is these guys and the many more like them.

This website is of course limited by our capacity and the bias inherent in our interpretation of the people and environments we experienced. We make no apology for that. This is what we seen and heard and felt. You may think differently, and if you don’t you’re probably missing the point. There are no absolute truths but contained in this site is a goldmine of lessons which we hope anyone struggling to build power for equality, rights and dignity finds helpful. This site should be viewed as stepping stone to link you to the people and organisations we met to learn more directly from them.

Our learning was only made possible by the openness and honesty of those many inspirational activists who shared their stories while operating in dangerous and challenging environments, some who appear on this site and some who do not. This site is a thank you to all of you who gave us a place to stay, opened up your homes, families, hearts and communities to tell us what you know so that we can capture it and pass it on. This site is only possible because of you and we hope it is in some small way testament to the way you change the world every day.