Monday, December 8th, 1997
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EVENT
Welcome and Introduction to the Education Center of Community Organizing (ECCO) and the Computers For Social Change (CFSC) Network by Terry Mizrahi
Terry talked about the Education Center for Community Organizing (ECCO) that has operated under the auspices of Hunter College School of Social Work. ECCO was a co-founder of the Computers For Social Change (CFSC) network in 1986 (highlighted below).
Kallen Tsikalas presented a brief description of the OTEX Project: The Computers For Social Change (CFSC) Network wants to facilitate cooperation among organizations in order to enhance the technology and telecommunications capacity of grassroots groups that are working for progressive social change in New York City. The goal of the Organizers' Technology Exchange (OTEX) is to expand and strengthen the use of technology among community organizers with the help of computer professional activists, and to learn more about how the experiences of organizers can shape the development of information, computer and telecommunications technology. Awarding these 3 computers and developing Support Teams to work with them is the first step in the process of meeting the technology needs of organizers and their organizations. Additional needed resources are being solicited.
In the brief description of the history of the CFSC Network, Kallen told the participants that CFSC originated in 1986 when a group of human service and computer professionals came together with community leaders and organizers from a variety of organizations in the New York Metropolitan area. Even back then, the goal of the CFSC was to connect organizing groups from "electronic information poor" communities to technology resources. Ever since, the collaboration hoped to influence the direction and relevance of computer technologies in order to improve social and economic conditions of NYC communities. As its next project, the CFSC Network has brought together experts of technology and neighborhood leaders who are the experts about the needs and resources of their communities.
The Presentation of the "MAC Awards to three organizations" by Kallen Tsikalas and Tekla Devai The CFSC Network extended an invitation to community based organizations and computer professionals to participate in the Organizers' Technology Exchange. Specifically, CFSC reached out to the organizations affiliated with the Organizers' Support Center, a group of organizations working to improve the conditions in their neighborhoods. They also contacted grantees of the North Star Fund and New York Foundation. At least 12 applications were submitted all of which were worthy of support. A description of all those who applied was prepared.
The three "winners" were chosen because of the interest, need, and type of organizing in which they were engaged.
The groups include:
The Chinese Staff & Workers Association (CSWA) works with the Chinese community in Manhattan's Chinatown and Brooklyn's Sunset Park where 100,000 low-income Chinese working women, men, and children live and work often under abusive conditions. Among their activities are: the Youth Group project of CSWA reaches out to and organizers working teens, the Women's Empowerment Project: develops leadership among women working in the restaurant, construction, domestic work, and garment trades, the Garment Workers' Health and Safety Project organizes injured garment workers to combat the rise in the numbers of crippling occupational health problems, the Chinese Construction Workers' Association seeks more stable, higher paying jobs in the notoriously racist and exclusionary construction industry.
CSWA sought a computer and the connection to the Internet to cut down the paperwork of the agency and possibly reduce the cost and the pressure on the telephone cost.
COMMUNITY VOICES HEARD
CVH is a membership-run and led organization of low-income people, mostly women on welfare, fighting together to improve their lives. CVH began over three and a half years ago as a grassroots project of HANNYS, a statewide advocacy organization. They spun off about a year and a half ago. Though they have been working on welfare reform, they are more than a welfare rights group; they are a multi-issue organization. CVH members get community organizing training and leadership development trainings. They organize around the issues that affect their lives. The members are involved in public education and collective action around the many issues of poverty, including welfare, welfare reform, work-fare, unemployment, public job creation and voter/political education. CVH believes that the people who are most affected by these issues should have a place at the table along with legislators, policymakers, and advocates. CVH organizes for economic and social justice and building for power for low-income New Yorkers.
CVH's main projects are: mounting a citywide campaign demanding public job creation (or accountability of welfare-work federal funds) for people on welfare and other unemployed New Yorkers; setting up a workers resource center in Central Harlem, focusing on the rights of those in the WEP program, those moving from welfare into the labor market and other low-wage workers. Through this center CVH will provide some services to members with the sole purpose of supporting their organizing efforts. the CVH/NELP workers rights legal clinic for WEP workers is one of the services CVH has already started to provide. In the coming year CVH will develop a Women's group to deal with the many obstacles that keep low-income women from organizing.
CVH wants a computer to save the organization time. Often too much time is spent waiting for others to finish their work on the already available computers. Another computer would make CVH more productive. It would also make them more computer savvy, and allow for more extended use for learning and training. But most of all, the computer would help build the organization's projects by making the membership and leadership efforts more effective.
WEST HARLEM ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION, INC. (WHE ACT)
The West Harlem Environment ACTion, Inc is a CBO whose mission is to advocate for the improvement and protection of the Northern Manhattan environment and quality of life. WE ACT's projects are designed not only to beautify and maintain a cleaner, greener community but also to educate, inform, and train community residents on all aspects of environmental justice, community service, and job skills. They offer training programs in lead abatement, asbestos removal, OSHA standards, etc.
They believe that the computer would definitely give a boost to the organizing capabilities of the organization. It would provide them with the ability to produce in-house documents that could be taken directly to a professional printing house without having to convert to a Mac platform from a PC platform which often ends up with the loss of quality in the conversion process. The Macintosh would allow the staff, the interns, and the community members the opportunity to learn a different platform and operating system, and the ability to benefit from the Mac's superior multimedia capabilities.
Discussion of the Organizers' Needs and Resources in a Small Group Format During the next part of the meeting, the participants formed smaller groups that allowed them to talk about their issues in a more personal setting.
Obtaining equipment has probably the greatest importance and was most the difficult thing to do for grassroots organizations that operated on a shoe-string budget. One tenant organizer talked about how he had not been able to find any funding for his organization to get a fax machine, let alone an up-to-date computer with Internet access.
Most members of the group who were technology literate believed strongly that organizations did not have to have the latest technology; rather they should concentrate on deciding what they need, and the experts should be able to utilize and perhaps upgrade their present system. The NYC libraries were identified as a great "free" resource. "Gifts-In-Kind" of the United Way has equipment available. Technology was viewed by some as a "leveler" in that almost anybody could have access to the same resources, same people, information on legislation and policy, etc. Obtaining site licenses for software programs was identified as an issue as many organizations were using them without authorization.
Furthering the OTEX Project - Wrap-up and Next Steps Kallen talked about how the CFSC Network planned to deliver the MAC machines during the first two weeks of January. This would also be the opportunity for the initial meetings of the CFSC support teams with the staff of the three organizations for the purpose of developing on-going relationships with them. In these partnerships, the CFSC support teams and the selected organizations would work together to find ways in which technology can REALLY enhance organizing and advocacy work. The support would also include help with troubleshooting technical problems and suggesting technology solutions. The Network's OTEX project would meet again in the Spring to report on their progress and hopefully to have additional resources to share.