Read insights on community organizing from Genevieve Hager, a CUFA summer intern from Xavier University.

Viewing and doing the impossible.

My grandfather once told my mother, “if it’s impossible, it will just take a little longer to accomplish.”

I hold this quote close to my heart not only because it was my grandfather who said it, but also because it has allowed me to do many things I never imagined myself doing.

This summer I received the privilege to be a Summer Service Intern and to work with Communities United for Action (CUFA), a multi-issue, grassroots group that believes in the power of people to change communities positively. My job was primarily door-knocking. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I showed up in May, but I was excited to see what the summer would hold.  I was blessed with twenty new friends, a new love for social justice, and a work experience that has entirely changed my future.

While door-knocking is not the dream job of many, (if anyone at all), it is a job that I grew to love. Every day I knocked upon the door of someone who was experiencing racism, classism, prejudice, discrimination, homelessness or poverty, and they were willing to share with me how those injustices were impacting their lives.

The knowledge that our culture has grown to accept the oppression of certain groups within our society is not something that can be erased from my memory. This piece of knowledge has stuck with me, and made me contemplate why I was given the privilege when there are others suffering.

When I learned this, I thought, along with may of the other interns, “what can we do now?” We ended many of our conversations with a negative conclusion, with no real solid solutions, and little hope for the future. As I learned through working with CUFA, community organizing is the way to enact structural changes within our society. The changes you see through this work are very different from ones you would see through direct services. This work leads to building a more sustainable future for ourselves, and right now, I believe that is what we need most.

Another lesson I had the unfortunate experience to learn is the statement that “alone, we are powerless…” The places in our society that power is really important and those who hold it can make a difference, one person will not make an impact. It is easy for young college students to boast and say, “I’m going to change the world”, as I once did.  However, there is often little college students can truly do, except continuously imagine a better future.

Now, let me finish that statement above, “alone, we are powerless, but together, we can change the world.” It is not enough to act alone; we must work together to change this world for the better. When I reflect back on this summer I can see now that every intern thought on their first day that the job they would be doing was impossible. All of us felt as though we weren’t qualified enough to do the work we had been chosen to do. We all felt as though we were being tossed into the ocean, me especially. Community organizing? What’s that? Door knocking? How am I suppose to do that? What am I suppose to say? How can I not make this awkward? Time was my only solution. I just had to do it until I figured it out and we gradually settled into routines that helped us grow each week and do even better work.

I never thought that I would know how to or be good at door-knocking. It seemed impossible, but it just took time.

I never thought I would love community organizing as much as I do. I never thought that it would impact me so greatly. But is has, and I am grateful.

It may seem impossible that within our lifetimes we will see any great changes within our society. But if I’ve learned anything over the summer it’s that changes through community organizing take a while. Some campaigns take years, but it is not impossible.

I’ll leave you with a quote I stumbled upon this summer. While I’ve said that we are powerless alone, don’t ever doubt your ability to be the initiator of change. Don’t ever think that just because you are only one person it won’t be any good. Every change starts with just one person, and every little bit counts.

“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that … then I realized, I am somebody!” – Lily Tomlin