Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Everybody has a Dream

Hi Everyone,
The story below, about economic empowerment through interpersonal cooperation, was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series some time back.

We were having a discussion tonight at the Catalina Cares DFA/PDA meeting about working on issues of local poverty. We had started with the idea of local Democrats creating a “hunger-free zone” along the Hwy 77 corridor, one small part at a time, when we realized that the usual food bank, care packages, school supplies and clothing, and family adoptions would be a necessary but insufficient response – that what we really wanted was to empower people to be heard as citizens, and as directors of their own lives to be able to provide for their families. What if we could eliminate/reduce/ameliorate the causes of their poverty? So we discussed working on issues to increase standard of living such as supporting small business (the primary employers), increasing the minimum wage, health care co-ops, and I began to think about Virginia Satir. I am after all a trained social worker. (Please read her brief piece now)

A small community, I am thinking, is no different than Virginia’s empowerment groups. Each person, and each part of the community, needs something that other members can provide and that empowers both parties. I am not sure yet how this translates to an actionable item, but there is an idea germinating in here somewhere. Maybe it has just come to YOU?

One piece is to always, preferentially, SHOP LOCAL. And maybe what we really need is a “Fair Wage Zone.” Then we could “Shop Local, Fair Wage.” And have a campaign to increase the number of Fair Wage shops we would gladly patronize. But then we MUST help small business deal with the cost of health insurance.

BY THE WAY, a framing issue, let us please stop talking about the high cost of health care – at least until we have solved the problem of the high cost of health INSURANCE. If we take the overhead and profit out of the insurance middle man, the actual cost of health care would drop significantly.

In any event, I will be speaking with the Catalina Resource Center and with the school to assess both the what and the why of need in our community, and I’ll let you know what I find out. I think I may just stop in and have a chat with a few small business people too. Maybe I’ll ask each one, as Virginia did, “What are your dreams?” who knows, they may be complimentary. Is anyone available to join me?

And, are you in, when it comes to the action plan?

In peace, gerry
PS – These are NOT the minutes, we discussed many other things as well. This is just what has been rattling around in me since the meeting.

Everybody Has a Dream Virginia Satir

Some years ago I took on an assignment in a southern county to work with people on public welfare. What I wanted to do was show that everybody has the capacity to be self-sufficient, and all we have to do is to activate them. I asked the county to pick a group of people who were on public welfare, people from different racial groups and different family constellations. I would then see them as a group for three hours every Friday. I also asked for a little petty cash to work with as I needed it.

The first thing I said after I shook hands with everybody was, "I would like to know what your dreams are." Everyone looked at me as if I were kind of wacky.

"Dreams? We don't have dreams." I said, "Well, when you were a kid what happened? Wasn't there something you wanted to do?"

One woman said to me, "I don't know what you can do with dreams. The rats are eating up my kids."

"Oh," I said.

"That's terrible. No, of course, you are very much involved with the rats and your kids. How can that be helped?"

"Well, I could use a new screen door because there are holes in my screen door."

I asked, "Is there anybody around here who knows how to fix a screen door?"

There was a man in the group, and he said, "A long time ago I used to do things like that, but now I have a terribly bad back, but I'll try."

I told him I had some money if he would go to the store, buy some screening, and go and fix the lady's screen door.

"Do you think you can do that?"

"Yes, I'll try."

The next week, when the group was seated, I said to the woman, "Well is your screen door fixed?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "Then we can start dreaming, can't we?" She sort of smiled at me. I said to the man who did the work,

"How do you feel?"

He said, "Well, you know, it's a very funny thing. I'm beginning to feel a lot better." That helped the group to begin to dream. These seemingly small successes allowed the group to see that dreams were not insane. These small steps began to get people to see and feel that something really could happen.

I began to ask other people about their dreams. One woman shared that she always wanted to be a secretary. I said, "Well, what stands in your way?" (That's always my next question).

She said, "I have six kids, and I don't have anyone to take care of them while I'm away."

"Let's find out," I said.

"Is there anybody in this group who would take care of six kids for a day or two a week while this woman gets some training here at the community college?"

One woman said, "I got kids, too, but I could do that."

"Let's do it," I said. A plan was created and the woman went to school.

Everyone found something. The man who put in the screen door became a handyman. The woman who took in the children became a licensed foster care person. In 12 weeks I had all these people off public welfare. I've not only done that once, I've done it many times. - Virginia Satir

 Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW
Co-chair, Gandhi/King Season for Nonviolence, S. AZ


At 5:46 PM, Blogger Tiny Montgomery said...

A beautiful and inspiring post. The power of optimism is often overlooked in this time of institutional and pervasive fear and anger. Obviously, Rev. Gerry and Dr. Howard Dean have not forgotten this critical aspect of any successful social movement.


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