STATEMENT ON THE POOR PEOPLE'S CAMPAIGN
THE BASEMENT AND THE ATTIC: A NATIONAL CALL FOR MORAL REVIVAL
If I was a house, the room of my leadership — the type of leader I now aim to be and could not perceive then — was blocked off, barricaded, and dormant. Power was inherently bad. Anyone who sought power was either bad or on the flip side divinely good to the point of martyrdom. Only the divinely good could hold the reigns of power. I was neither bad nor divinely good so I didn’t consider myself a leader, and I was proud about not being one. I knew my place. That was my perceived power.
Co-created power to an ex-musical theater performer was not possible. I was trained for 8 years in conservatories that constantly reminded me, “take the note.” "Do not challenge the director. They are the only ones that can see the entire puzzle." "Know your place. Say your lines. Sing your notes. Be present on stage. Do your job." In other words, be only your room in the house of the show. It was antithetical for this actress to consider herself a co-architect of an entire building. I was merely a room with a very special design. I needed a leader to hone my craft, to hold me accountable, so I could tell my part of the story. As I look back now, no wonder why I left the theater. How long can you hide and barricade a piece of yourself? How long can you manage feeling like you need others to give you an opportunity, including the opportunity to be broken down personally piece by piece?
May 2018, was a turning point for me. It introduced me to a new community, with a new set of values, who found ways to light up different rooms and floors within my house. The process was relational. The community work enabled me to walk out of rooms filled with broken dishes, resentments, and dreams into living rooms filled with soft places to contemplate, think, and heal. All of a sudden I began to notice a entire house I never saw before. By setting my personal experience into a broader context — by setting my personal story into relation to larger economic, political, and structural systems — I was able to create new meaning and a new home (Finn, 2016). This is the power of organizing and popular education. By increasing my capacity to look at events with a multitude of perspectives, by keeping me in relation to my community, I slowly developed the agency to act. The broken plates of dreams deferred, the countless stolen opportunities of my own realization, were all of a sudden not personal failures, they were political failures. I began to notice the conditions within which I and my class was living, and I began to gain the desire and will to build something new.
Leaders of the PPC:NCMR met me where I was at — a frustrated singer/songwriter, debt swamped preschool music teacher — and through popular education led me somewhere new — a cultural organizer changing the conditions within which my class lives by shifting the inner and outer narratives that surround us (Horton, 1998). This work, this new way of being, is completely opposite from how I thought things operated. All of a sudden I realized that I had a choice. I didn’t have to stay in one room, I could move throughout the entire house and discover new floors. I now had a community to walk through the halls with, a community that would help me go into the basement where I hid all of my trauma, and the attic where I told my childhood hope to go. I no longer had to live in an individualist competitive way and claim dominion over my isolation, instead I could fling open all the doors and let all the broken bits meet each other.
There is one thing The Divine King and the dispossessed have in common, isolation (Graeber, 2011). This is what makes how we develop and perceive of leadership to be such powerful and trepidatious acts and practices. We have to be careful so we do not replicate the systems of power we are seeking to alter (Burghardt, 2014). We can not become leaders in isolation and we can not allow the archetype of the all-knowing-king to inform our theory of leadership. The PPC:NCMR actively fights this ideology. We are a movement of many leaders and many narratives. We are not only shifting the narrative we are shifting the narrators.
Burghardt, S. (2014). Macro Practice In Social Work For The 21st century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Finn, J.L. (2016). Just Practice: A Social Justice Approach to Social Work. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Graeber, D. (2011) Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing
Horton, M., Kohl, Judith, & Kohl, Herbert R. (1998). The long haul : An autobiography. New York: Teachers College Press.