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Face of ECON - Dave Beckwith

Posted by (econ) on 10.09.2015
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What do you do?

I am retired, but since the end of 2013 I have been freelancing. The Great Lakes Institute is a cover for my consulting, coaching and training - the last of which is how I got to Europe.

What is your connection to ECON?

I am an informal advisor and an old friend. I became involved through Paul Cromwell, who is the founder of ECON. We worked together closely for a while when I was with the the Center for Community Change and he was organizing in Florida. When he went “for a year” to Europe we stayed in touch, and then he decided to stay. In 2010 I went on my first trip over there to do some training upon his invitation.

 

Why did you choose community organising?

I believe that it was in a very early age that I got convinced to the method community organising is built on, this mix of harsh realism and dreamy idealism. My father was a Baptist minister and some 50 years ago he took me to a training to act as non-violent security for a march - I have extremely strong memory of that time and the moment of standing in a crowd and seeing that such big communal events are both spiritual but also have to be planned and coordinated. Other big lesson I learned from my father is that work and life’s work have to go together. Another might be just a quality I inherited after him: it is a notion that you have to believe in something and do something about it. I believe that social justice and the change within have to go together, and the only way to get it out is through community organising.

How would you explain what community organising is to a child?

Community organising is people getting together to decide what they want and to take care of each other. It starts happening when we recognize we depend on each other.

How did you start organizing?

I got my first job with community organizing in 1971, it was neighbourhood organising with PACE and then after one year of being a trainee I became an Executive Director. After that I spent three years working with a group of immigrants and then I started a training center for community organisers. New England Training Center for Community Organizers was made up of 18 groups in 9 states. They were, similarily to ECON, all independent groups.

What motivates you?

It vibrates between a motivation of anger and a motivation of ambition. The first one comes from an impulse and a thought that I can't believe no-one is doing anything. The second, the positive motivation is a thrill at the sight of the attractiveness of people doing something about their situation. It makes you want to be with them.

What is the victory you are proud of the most?

I would say it's a single category: people. I have been most honoured by being able to accompany people to grow and help them through consulting and coaching. It's amazing to see the shift from being a victim of one's story to being an author and the hero of one's story. Those people could tell me “I don't know what to do” and the single question I had to ask in return was “What do you think you should do?” and then all those answers they needed were already there. It's amazing to see a group of 10 mums growing into a national organisation bringing about tremendous change, quantifiable into billions of dollars.

What makes a good organizer?

You have to be a great listener. You also have to be shamelessly intrusive, willing to invite people to take risk, to insult somebody. What is indispensable is being both ambitious and humble. You have to be willing to be cruel, for example by saying: “well, you told me you want to change something, and now you are not doing anything”. This shameless cruelty is one thing, another is shameless encouragement - saying: “I see something in you and I believe you can make a difference”. Another key quality is a super strong ego, thanks to which no one has to say give the credit to you.

What would be your advice to a young organizer?

Go make some mistakes - go, try, be a doer. Try to attach to people you think have something to teach. Don't wait until you are ready. And then, when you start being active, it's wonderful to have a friend, a mentor or a colleague to whom you can moan and with whom you can reflect. For people coming from an academic background it's often hard to unlearn answers to many difficult questions, such as “who are you when you are in a group?” In that process you learn about pushing power away from yourself.

 

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