It’s always a call to action, not a call to rest.
For years, organizing meant fighting against nearly every system and never seeing change and it left me exhausted. That was until I found an organization in my community. I had recently left an organization where I would work up to 40 hours a week and have nothing to show for my efforts, and the idea of joining yet another group sounded impossible. Luckily, this group was different.
The Minnetonka Coalition for Equitable Education (MCEE) was founded by some of my friends from school, all people new to organizing with fresh ideas. I was reluctant to get involved, but once I did I realized MCEE was completely different than any organization I’d been in before. The loose structure allowed ideas to flow freely, the community nature gave me a support system, and the flexibility allowed for me to take time for self care. Around this same time, I had applied to Climate Generation’s YEA! (Youth Environmental Activists) Campaigns program, hoping to reinspire my passion for change. The two beginnings couldn’t have coincided better.
Through my work with MCEE and YEA! I have rediscovered my love for organizing and learned how to avoid burnout.
One thing you need to know about me is that I’m disabled. Some days I physically cannot get work done and in the wrong groups that can lead to rapid burnout. The organizing structure of MCEE not only allowed for the group to function in a whole new way, but it gave me the freedom I needed.
A typical MCEE meeting will be composed of a few things, first we will often read through anonymous criticism of the organization from our own members and discuss where we can improve. I find this practice very constructive because it allows for issues to be addressed before they are allowed to fracture the organization. The next thing we will do is share updates on all the ongoing projects and share ideas. In MCEE, if you have an idea for how we can further our goals for equitable education all you need to do is share it and hope people want to join your team. This allows for creativity and for many projects to happen at once. It also helps prevent burnout as everyone gets to work on a passion project. Finally we assign action items, which allows everyone to decide what they would like to do based on their capacity.
Not only is MCEE’s structure refreshing, working in my community has allowed me to see change happen. At the state and national level, change is slow and often doesn’t happen at all. At the local level on the other hand, change happens right in front of you. We have been working with our school board and they have committed to many of our demands already. Yet this goes beyond policy. At a recent community event, I watched as a high schooler in the community was moved into action: after watching and discussing a movie she was shocked by the ways in which the social and political systems are failing us. Every day as we get out in our community we are changing minds and making a real difference.
I was given a second opportunity to learn how to practice self care and organizing through the Youth Environmental Activists Campaigns program. I joined this program and in it I furthered the work I was doing with MCEE. There is a strong connection between environmental justice and equitable education. As oppressed communities learn their history, receive the same education, and gain access to the same resources this will lessen the disparities in all areas of our society, including the environment.
Due to this connection, I was able to work with YEA! Campaigns and Climate Generation. This program, although having a more formal structure, still allowed me to work as a disabled organizer. All outside work was to be done on our own time, and deadlines were flexible. Even if I missed an important call due to a flare up, I was respected as a hard worker. It is clear this program is about personal growth, learning, and empowerment rather than only producing results that bolster YEA!’s image.
Through this program and the mentorship I learned the value of self care and reflection in my organizing. There were often weeks when I felt like I was doing nothing, and that I was failing the movement. Yet, throughout my time in the program, I would meet about my campaign that week and in my updates I would realize how much work I had done. Even on the weeks where I didn’t do anything, I was able to reflect back on what else had happened that week and lessen my expectations for myself. I didn’t feel useless when I recounted my week. I eventually found myself doing this reflection on my own whenever I became too much of a self critic. I found myself becoming more forgiving of myself and I believe this happened due to the mentorship I received.
Overall, I am grateful that I was able to rekindle my love for organizing and get involved once again.
Eleanor Dolan is a queer disabled youth organizer focusing on change making in her community through Climate Generation’s YEA! Campaigns program. They focus on the intersections of social justice and climate organizing. They are currently working on mutual aid projects as well as justice issues within their school district. As a disabled person, the climate crisis is impacting them directly fueling their passion for change.