Last day in Chicago

I can hardly believe it’s taken me so long to write this. I suppose it’s cos I didn’t want my trip to the US to be truly over. But until it’s finished I can’t write anything else so…

That last day in America I had almost no pages left in the notebook I’d been filling for 10 days. I didn’t think it would matter because it was Saturday, I had to leave for the airport at 4pm and I planned to wander the city and maybe see a museum. No more meetings left. But I went to Starbucks for breakfast – very dangerous because free wifi = twitter = notification of organizing training on offer that very afternoon about 2 blocks from my hotel! So I rushed off to the Field Museum to get a bit of leisure in quick. Here’s what I saw on the way.

The Field Museum is beautiful and the whole area around it (Museum Campus) is lovely to walk around once you’ve negotiated a way in from Lakeshore Drive. As I walked in I was grabbed by a funny feeling that lots of Brits get in America. I watched Night at the Museum with my daughter just days before I set off. Now here I was inside the film!

It’s an amazing museum – just so well kept and well signed, the exhibitions so comprehensive, the place vast and not far off empty in large tracts. On one side a massive exhibition on the history of humans in the Americas, on the other a vast number of stuffed animals, in between a bizarre but wonderful temporary exhibition called Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes. I don’t think anyone could walk a mile in these shockers:

But I was in a rush and grateful for the ordinary black boots that had done me such service on this walking tour of New York, Detroit and Chicago, so I headed back to the Grace Episcopal Church on South Dearborn, where Will and Kelvin from SOUL (Southside Organization for Unity and Liberty) were offering a training session on effective ‘one-on-ones’ for #occupychicago.

Will gave an overview of the goals of 1-1s within organizing – an intentional conversation to initiate a relationship, to understand the person’s self-interest and to give the person a chance to gain clarity. To illustrate the key concept of self-interest he described a spectrum between selfish (all about me) to selfless (all about others) where the middle ground is self-interest (about me in relation to others). Getting clarity on self-interest means asking the question ‘what makes me tick?’ and for this he used a simple stick figure.

The purpose of a 1-1 is to get at somebody else’s stick figure so we can answer ‘in what ways would I want to suggest s/he gets involved?’

Examples of questions:

  • What was it like for you growing up?
  • Tell me about your job
  • When were you most proud? What have been your biggest disappointments?
  • Times you’ve felt powerful? Times you’ve felt powerless?
  • What makes you really happy? What really pisses you off?
  • Prompts: What was that like? Why did you do that? What happened then?
  • Meander around, collect details, give people a real sense that you’re not just trying to use them for your interests

Mechanics

  • 30-45 minutes (no more – Will said he usually finds after that length of time people will be pleased to arrange to meet again)
  • By appointment
  • Don’t take notes until afterwards, but always write it up then (you’ll get better at remembering the details)
  • Meet at a place convenient for the other person – not over a meal

Will asked for a volunteer and did a 1-1 in front of us for about 40 minutes. This was a great luxury – too often these role-plays end up being too short to be real. By the end of it I felt I knew Mikah better than I know some of my closest acquaintances and I understood exactly what drives his passion for organizing exploited workers. Then it was time to listen to each other. I was paired with Collette who was there with her husband Jack, both of them “so disappointed in the inability of the political system to address the needs of ordinary Americans”. I’ll respect her privacy here of course but by the end I felt that I knew her well and liked her very much, but perhaps more importantly, that I could trust her to watch my back in any situation.

So then off to the airport – a short walk to the subway, a comfortable ride out to O’Hare, all for less than $5. And what an airport – these pics don’t really do justice to how it feels after you’ve scoffed a Deep Dish pizza!!!

I’ve been home now for 10 weeks – a good amount of time to reflect, although of course I had to get on with our own programme which never sits still for a minute. I prepared a short presentation Nov 11 Lessons from the US for the CO Programme Board, distilling some headings from more than 30 meetings in 12 days. The slides are just an aide memoire rather than any kind of analysis. I’d like to thank (again) all the people and organizations I met who provided me with so much inspiration and good will.

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