This is what we mean by “change-makers”

By Alexis Conavay, OFA Organizing Project Manager

As a trainer at Organizing for Action, I get to see OFA’s mission of creating a more accessible and participatory democracy in practice, every single day.

My proudest moments happen long after our trainings end. They happen when I see our newly trained volunteers take those first brave steps towards getting more involved in their own communities. For example, in OFA’s Community Engagement Fellowship, I see new organizers taking risks — putting themselves out there in front of hundreds of friends, family, and neighbors — all in an effort to improve the health and well-being of those in their own community. This is no small task, and for me, that’s the whole point of organizing: finding your power and using your voice to make a positive impact.

And I want to tell you about one particular group of OFA fellows in South Carolina who did just that. (Shout out to SC!)

Last summer, South Carolina’s governor vetoed funds that would have replaced the outdated and dangerous school buses still in operation. These buses were produced in 1995–1996 (that’s over 20 years of driving) and had a history of catching on fire and breaking down. You don’t have to have a kid in that school district to know that that is unacceptable. So this group of OFA Fellows — motivated and equipped with a whole new set of organizing skills — decided to do something about it. They created a community education project to bring this issue to the forefront of their neighbors’ minds and to build enough public pressure for their representatives to find a solution during the next legislative session.

They put their OFA training to work. Here’s what they did:

  1. Identified a local issue that would make a big difference in the community,
  2. Started having conversations with friends and family to spread the word and gain momentum,
  3. Applied public pressure on the SC Statehouse (see here, here, and here), and
  4. Never gave up.

And just last week, they won. A team of just eight highly motivated people organized around an issue that they cared about, and it worked (IT WORKED!). The House voted to override, and the Senate unanimously voted in the favor of South Carolina schoolchildren. The funds have been released, and the state Department of Education can now order nearly 200 new buses.

“The fellowship played a major role in us organizing around this issue because, to be quite honest, I’m not sure any of us would’ve taken action, outside of writing a personal letter to our state representative and senator. And some of us were even unaware of the situation. So we were faced with a lot of public education on the issue. We learned a lot of great tools in planning our community action meeting, how to approach our speakers and general best practices.” — Amber A., OFA Fellow

When I saw this story pop up, and when it started getting buzz around our office, you have to know just how damn proud I was. OFA’s Fellowship Program is designed to train the next generation of progressive change-makers, and THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE MEAN. You don’t have to be famous, or rich, or powerful to make a difference in this country. All you need are the tools, the support, and the passion to carry it through — just like South Carolina did.

Way to go, team!