Notes from the Collective

Shining a light on the collective struggles that unite us, 2021

Our neighborhoods are sites of historic displacement-- the people on the land now called Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (GES) have long experienced significant harm from past and present modes of economic development. This economic development relies on the profit-motives that by design must disrupts housing stability, health and well-being of communities of color, and presents an immediate threat to stability for 9 out of 10 families in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea today.  Historical racism, institutionalized discriminatory and predatory investment practices, and environmental pollution are all significant factors that contribute to health disparities and environmental injustices that negatively impact the quality of life, health, and well-being of the majority of the families in the neighborhood today. Modern day gentrification-- the continuation of colonization, land grabbing, redlining, economic exclusion, predatory lending and expropriation-- thrives today through the rapid public and private reinvestments across the neighborhoods. Through this historic devaluation cycle of exploitation and extraction, incentives for redevelopment, privatization of public assets, and the extreme inflation of the speculative market allows public and private large-scale investments to generate massive profits for a few investors while increasingly pushing long time Black and Brown families from their own communities. 

“By separating health disparities from racism, we fail to recognize disparities as inequities—that is avoidable injustices.”       -Rachel Hardeman, PhD, MPH and J’Mag Karbeah, Health Services Research

"We Decide The Future" was put together by neighborhood leaders, community organizers, partners, allies and researchers during 2019-2021, and serves as a tool for the collective organization of communities who are facing similar development pressures. We did this because the tools we need are collective, and the solutions that go to the root of the problems come directly from within the neighborhood, directly from the people most-impacted by these problems. We know the spirit and great truth to the commonly repeated collective wisdom: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

“Give light, and people will find the way.” ― Ella Baker

HOPE AS A DISCIPLINE

Our organizing praxis starts with the wisdom that “everything worthwhile is done with other people” and we first look to our neighbors to build on this collective discipline.  As a collective (and coalition) of organized neighbors, our learning bridges a collective analysis, allowing us to see complex systems and to understand how this system of policies impacts our lived realities, and to identify possible points of intervention through collective action that  brings about the possibility of reaching and achieving desired change. We know that to successfully sustain this vision, we must first dedicate much of our work to understanding and living the idea of hope as a discipline. Hope is something that can be practiced as a personal and collective habit. If we believe that together we are much more than we are as individuals, and that our interdependence, cooperation and mutual-aid have long been our greatest gifts for survival and prosperity, and there is no reason to doubt the idea that we are the collective leaders of our own transformation and change. In this collective-sustaining vision and discipline, we commit to practicing hope every day to guide our collective action, allowing us to build new realities that make room for, and building the collective structures that allow us to take care of one another.

“Hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger  (...)  Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism (...) Understanding that is really helpful in my practice around organizing (...) I believe that there’s always a potential for transformation and for change (...) The idea of hope being a discipline is making sure we were of the world and in the world (and) it (is) really, really important for us to live in the world and be of the world. The hope (we are) talking about (is) this grounded hope that (is) practiced every day, that people actually (practice) all the time (...) Because in the world which we live in, it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness, that everything is all bad all the time, that there is nothing going to change ever. (...) I understand why people feel that way. I just choose differently. I choose to think a different way and I choose to act in a different way. I choose to trust people until they prove themselves untrustworthy.”

- Mariame Kaba

We believe there are more people who want justice, real justice, than there are those who are actively working against it. This collective, organized practice has enabled GES Coalition to demand and command change by building relational power and using that power as a tool for collective benefit. Through practice and principles central to community organizing, community governance and community stewardship, our collective vision, norms and “power-sharing” model supports organized neighbors to make collective and relational transformations between members of the community (through Group Centers) in order to build collective power, make organized and collective demands for the community good, and win. As enough pressure coalesces from an organized group of dedicated neighbors that share values and goals, collective action makes it possible to materialize significant community benefits. These benefits are often achieved through collectively building programs and projects that are determined, defined, developed and stewarded by organized communities. 

 “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” — Gwendolyn Brooks

We align our collective model of leadership to the traditions of “participatory democracy” and we use this to reject gendered, racialized and economic hierarchies. Instead we recognize that our power comes from below-- that is to say the power comes from the people-- or more specific, power comes from organized communities. We retain a healthy and credible skepticism of top-down leadership in all shapes and forms, and we believe that social change needs to come from the grassroots, or we will never see these social changes become a reality. We honor that this model of leadership is a collective responsibility, and is a celebration of diverse experiences and opinions that further inspire neighbors to take action to advance the collective vision of housing first and housing for all. We believe that if we dream and organize together as neighbors, then our collective force can make significant change. We make the appeal for grassroots involvement of neighbors in our communities, while utilizing and building on collective tools that allow organized groups of neighbors to make their own decisions through collective self-determination. We also know that those harmed in the community must be the ones to decide what action should be taken to organize against the systemic violence creating thay harm in the community.

Through this philosophy of collective leadership, we are also guided by the work of Civil-Rights organizer Ella Baker, who insisted that "strong people don't need strong leaders." We agree with her criticism  of top-down leadership structures and single charismatic movement leaders, who as individual leaders can easily uphold hierarchies, become burned out, be targeted for violence and incarceration, and be co-opted or corrupted. Instead, our power relies on the collective relationship between neighbors, allowing our power to be shared horizontally and distributed cooperatively among all of us, and making our work less likely to be abandoned, co-opted or destroyed.

“Strong people don't need strong leaders.” ― Ella Baker

We organize in the context of our neighborhood struggles, knowing that all struggles are connected. We humbly look to all struggles that have come before us and that exist today.  We recognize the collective power inherent to our struggle, and we look to the teachings of the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Chol-- the Indigenous farmers and land-workers of the Lacandon Jungle in Chiapas, Mexico who form the community base of Zapatista autonomous territory, and who bring to their struggle 8000 years of knowledge and wisdom connected to their relationship with the Land. Through their analysis of power, we locate our struggle right in our own neighborhood, while connecting our struggle from below to all those worldwide who struggle for collective self-determination. 

Through this understanding, we organize to ignite the collective wisdom of our neighbors--between us-- through this grand collective tradition to reject the abuse of power and build a better world for all of us. We fight to imagine and create a better world, starting with the relationships at home and the relationships between neighbors. Our organizing is formed through these collective goals set for the good of all our neighbors, while at the same time we build collective governance and community accountability so that our collective work should never be taken advantage of for personal gain. (“Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves”). We will never give up daring to imagine something that has yet to exist-- then collectively organizing to build new structures that allow us to do the work, live and celebrate our collective spirit and community effort  together. It is this power of hope as a discipline-- that we are renewed and energized again and again through our relationships with our community-- and energized from the fruits of our collective labor when we see that another world really is possible-- a world with many possibilities, and a world where many worlds fit.