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Wellstone House of Organizing and Activism and ISAIAH partner to coordinate a series of grassroots organizing training workshops

<ll, Kessa Andrews ’19 has coordinated a series of grassroots organizing training workshops in conjunction with the Wellstone House of Organizing and Activism (WHOA) as well as ISAIAH, a statewide faith-based nonprofit focused on racial and economic equity issues. The final training in the four-part series is scheduled for this Sunday afternoon.

Andrews, who is the house manager for WHOA, worked with ISAIAH over the summer on affordable housing issues in Northfield. She was inspired to create the series of trainings after attending a weeklong leadership training offered by ISAIAH, which she described as life-changing. “I really wanted to bring that to people at Carleton,” Andrews said. “During the summer, I started to reach out to leaders of various organizations on campus.” Several Carls Talk Back founders told her that they liked the idea, Andrews said.

Andrews worked with contacts at ISAIAH as well as residents of WHOA to develop plans for the workshop and make it a reality. The result was a four-part series of two-hour trainings that are taking place on Sunday afternoons in September and October. The trainings are led by organizers from ISAIAH as well as Carleton and St. Olaf students who are involved in organizing on campus.

The trainings have taken a big-picture approach focused on giving students the skills necessary to organize successfully. “I wanted it to be able to work for any group that wants to organize around an issue,” said Andrews. David Roizin ’20, a WHOA resident who helped lead the October 7 training, also sees the workshop as an opportunity for different organizing and activism groups on campus to form connections with one another. “Coalition-building and having an intersectional understanding of what each club is doing is definitely a priority of this as well,” he said.

Andrews echoed this sentiment. “I want to help continue the efforts of Carls Talk Back of really getting a wide array of people involved in one movement and organizing together and I think that’s kind of what we’re trying to do with WHOA too,” she said. “I really see divides sometimes in terms of who’s involved in what, and who’s talking with each other and working with each other, and so I’m really excited to help develop a coalition kind of model.”

Residents of WHOA also hope that the trainings will help establish the interest house as a valuable resource for students who are interested in gaining organizing skills. “We feel that the energy is there—people want to see change,” Roizin said. “But just helping them along on that journey to achieving those things is a place we have to do a lot of work. I think these organizing trainings were a step forward in that direction.” Roizin said that he hoped the trainings would create a “formal infrastructure” for learning organizing skills that would better prepare student leaders to create sustainable on-campus movements.
“I’m really excited about WHOA being able to have the capacity and role to help leaders out who are doing organizing already, and then also getting more people involved,” Andrews said.

17 students attended the first training on September 23, while the most recent training on October 7 saw about 15 participants. According to Roizin, many of the attendees were first-year students. There were also members of Carls Talk Back and Carleton’s Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) group among the attendees, as well as many WHOA residents, said Andrews. Attendees had a variety of organizing interests, added Roizin, including environmental issues, human rights, political engagement, immigration issues and affordable housing.

The first training was led by Kathryn Lozado, ISAIAH’s Southern Minnesota organizer. The workshop focused on the role of power in organizing. One goal was to deconstruct negative notions of power by focusing instead on “this idea that power is actually an abundant thing that can be shared and that we can all use to work towards justice,” said Andrews.

The second training, led by Andrews, centered on the more personal aspects of organizing, asking students to reflect on their own stake in justice in order to gain a better understanding of their own vision and purpose.

Roizin led the third session along with Riley Irish ’19 and Alexis Valeriano, a St. Olaf student who also attended ISAIAH’s weeklong organizing workshop. The October 7 training focused on “the nuts and bolts of organizing,” according to Roizin. Participants learned about how to conduct meetings, lobby decision-makers and engage in effective reflection after group events.

Alexa Horwart, ISAIAH’s lead organizer for Greater Minnesota, will lead the October 14th training about the role of relationships in effective organizing.
Feedback from the trainings has been positive. “It’s totally a helpful introduction to someone like me who’s kind of new to it,” said Emma Greenlee ’21, a WHOA resident who has attended all of the trainings and hopes to become involved with organizing on campus this year. “I care about what’s going on in the world, I care about my communities that I’m a part of,” she said. “Living in WHOA House and doing these [trainings] has been a good way to start testing the waters and thinking about how I can contribute.”

Roizin, who has been part of Divest Carleton since his freshman year and is also involved with Environmental Carls Organized (ECO) and the CCCE, said that he has found the trainings immensely helpful even though he is not new to organizing. He appreciated the opportunity to hear the stories of students who are involved in on-campus organizing in a wide range of capacities. “The diversity of things that are going on just in this campus and that people were involved in really gave me a lot of perspective and broadened my horizons,” he said.

Roizin emphasized that organizing is open to everyone and does not have to be intimidating. “If you’re super experienced, if you just feel something’s not right in the world—those experiences are open to everyone, and there’s people who are willing and who are actively trying to reach out and make that a reality for you,” said Roizin.

The trainings were also an opportunity for Carleton students to gain exposure to ISAIAH’s work. Several attendees expressed interested in becoming involved with ISAIAH’s affordable housing and immigration-related initiatives in the Northfield area, according to Andrews.

ISAIAH works with a broad range of other issues statewide, including voter engagement, healthcare and labor rights, according to Andrews. The organization coordinates local, community-specific initiatives while also engaging with politics at a state level.

Although ISAIAH takes a faith-based approach to organizing, Andrews said that religion was not emphasized in the trainings. ISAIAH does “a lot of work around talking to people about their values and how that links to justice and how they vote,” according to Andrews. The organization works with several Christian congregations in the Northfield area and has also recently seen increased involvement from Muslim communities in the Twin Cities, she said.

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