On February 10th, 2018, the Think Tank held its first General Meeting of the year.
This GM, lead by Lesha Farias, was more of a class on the most basic and important activist tool, the One-to-One, than a formal meeting.
A simple sentence to sum up the One-to-One is, how to start a conversation that betters your understanding of what makes a person tick politically, with the goal of finding new allies.
The first part of the class involved members finding a partner in someone they have not met, and asking one another questions provided on a pink paper.
The six questions were:
- Why are you here?
- What makes you furious?
- What breaks your heart?
- What do you want for your community?
- Who do you fight for?
- Six was a repeat of 1.
Each member was given one minute to provide their partner an answer. After providing their answer, their partner would then provide theirs. Every two minutes, Lesha would then call for a switch: the process of members finding partners, answering questions, and finding more partners and answers continued, until all questions were taken on by all members.
Reflecting on the February meeting a day later, I am still taken by the energy generated by the people in attendance, and feel rewarded for the optimism I somehow keep going.
All of it took me back a year ago.
I had lost that optimism sometime before I joined the Think Tank at the 2017 February meeting. Following the election and challenges in my private life, I was sure I would die without the companionship of other people. Hence, why I sought out the Think Tank.
In 2017, a lot of our General Meetings were focused on learning more about local government and its institutions, primarily through inviting members of social service agencies to speak about how their systems work.
But for me, the biggest part of 2017 was in the socializing that occured between and during meetings. After finding mentors and friends in the Tank, I started to realize that a few of the major criticisms I had about our municipal and federal government were not “radical” or insane at all.
An example of this deradicalizing and making clear common and sane sense I acquired from listening to my mentors, the elders of the Tank, and the texts they provided:
There are incredible costs members of the business and political class do not consider when they engage in “development” projects, like the Vision 2028 plan advertised throughout 2017, and what makes this horrifying is the business and political classes’ knowledge of this ignorance in their number-collecting.
These costs involve the health of the population within sections of Newark designated for “development”. Vulnerable people, such as the elderly, have already been moved or are planned to be moved from their homes, a result of an expiring Housing and Urban Development grant.
Already wealthy and powerful people, mostly white men, will buy these buildings for a steal from their buddies in city hall, also mostly white men, so that they may develop these homes for their own profit.
That is just one example lesson I learned as a result from meeting and talking with Think Tank members since I joined last year. It made me feel less insane, and in turn helped me become more vulnerable when talking politics with people.
This is, again, because of comfortably vulnerable people in the Think Tank who using their One-to-One on me. They kept themselves quiet and attentive as I ranted and screamed about what I was seeing around me, thereby teaching me how to be more vulnerable and curious after each question.
Following Lesha’s exercise, members did something similar to what I wrote above, but by speaking before the group: they shared what they learned about other people’s concerns for the community, and, more importantly, recognizing the similarities between what they wanted to change in the world. The group committed to practicing their One-To-Ones, and to bring more people into the Think Tank fold with it.
Perhaps I am only saying this because, as a student of local history, I am mostly ignorant of it. But I felt like I was seeing something big begin in Newark.
Although our group and allies outnumber the Good Old Boys club dictating our lives, we are still a small power in a city of thousands. On the other hand, I can say all of my brothers and sisters in the Tank are now more active than ever as part of a greatly humanistic project, and beginning this year, I think we will grow and achieve more than before as real civic activists.