Movements and Shakers

Originally posted on Pursue: Action for a Just World.

In his recent piece on the Huffington Post, Max Klau of City Year (and former AJWS group leader) writes that “causes of justice and equality have always been advanced through the collective efforts of vast numbers of civic leaders working together for change.” He highlights one person in particular: Bayard Rustin, the man behind the hundreds of thousands of people who made it to the National Mall for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Without the crowd—and the organizers that got them there—the speech would not have had nearly as great an impact as it did, nor would the struggle for civil rights have been nearly as successful.

The relationship between leaders and participants in social justice movements can be tenuous. History remembers iconic figureheads, while behind the scenes, connections are quietly forged that bring change to fruition. On the other hand, the challenges of working within a large group of people can seem insurmountable. How can movements embody the kind of respectful and participatory decision-making and collective action that they hope to bring about in society?

Pursue is not a single issue-focused project. Yes, we are serious about our food justice work (and taking action to Reverse Hunger), but we are not policy or advocacy experts, and individual Pursuers work on a whole range of social justice issues in their volunteer and professional lives. What we strive to do, however, is to build a network of young Jewish change-makers that understand the power and potential of working together to achieve justice. We offer skills workshops so that people can become leaders not for the sake of attracting followers, but to become adept at facilitating change-making efforts among a wider group of people. Even our City Team embraces a non-hierarchical collaborative work mode.

And we take it upon ourselves to learn from the best: organizers, mobilizers, and advocates who harness the collective energy of communities to make real change. On February 28th, we’ll be learning from the change-makers of Occupy Wall Street, a movement that has truly dedicated itself to consensus-based action across gender, class, race, and political affiliations—and has captured the world’s attention in the process. Join us as these “civic leaders” facilitate for us an opportunity to meet and network with other like-minded change-makers. The classic Margaret Mead quote rings true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Suzanne Lipkin is Pursue’s Program Officer for Operations at AJWS.