The WiLD Project has been launched to fundamentally do things differently—not pressing the reset button repeating what’s always been done and expecting different results. This is a project rooted in the core theory, if we make an intentional and ongoing investment in our state’s greatest resource—our people—this is our best opportunity to influence meaningful change. A path for giving voice to the people and communities across Wisconsin who are struggling most and have been left out of the decision-making process.
In the first year, we exceeded our goal training over 300 grassroots leaders on the basics of community organizing. Although just getting started, the impact is already being felt as teams of newly trained leaders return to their organizations and communities to apply their learning to the problems directly affecting their lives. Not alone, but with the coaching support of the WiLD Core Team member who recruited them.
As we move into 2017, we will continue to seek clarity about people’s deepest concerns, remaining flexible while making collective decisions and building a statewide community that has the potential to act powerfully together. This intense focus on leadership development is not the answer alone, but the hope is that it can be part of a larger, more effective effort to mobilize the values of Wisconsin’s past with the best of Wisconsin’s present to create an inclusive movement—representing the many not just the few. Leadership development will be at the core, connecting the dots in our statewide community and grappling with how individual organizations’ goals can be connected to larger goals in which the whole becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts.
In Wisconsin, we urgently need to recruit, train and develop stronger grassroots leadership. The potential of constituencies strategically oriented toward “change,” whether defined by issue, neighborhood, or values, could be more fully realized by encouraging development of their own leadership capacity. As a state we are presently faced with daunting challenges—economic and social justice, protecting the environment, violence on our streets and adequate funding of our education system. Organizing at the local, regional and state level addresses these urgent needs in ways that strengthen rather than diminish our democratic values, practices and institutions.
Isolated we too often remain disconnected in our silos, fragmented without influence. Connected, united in common purpose with adequate training, knowledge and support we become a powerful voice to be heard by the policy makers of our communities.
Our political system for the past several decades has also created a dynamic in which citizens have become consumers of politics, passively accepting the choices offered to them, as opposed to active agents of change. As a result, there are constituencies who lack the agency (autonomy, motivation, and competence) to act as democratic citizens – making claims in the public arena and advocating for their interests in public life. To revive our democracy, we have to revitalize this concept of citizenship by allowing nonprofit leaders and ordinary citizens to have access to transformative spaces through which they can develop their own individual and collective agency. This pilot project has emerged in an effort to address the critical need for leadership development that focuses on grassroots constituency building.
We are at a crossroads. Based on a series of over 200 one-on-one meetings completed with leaders representing diverse Wisconsin communities, organizations, neighborhood groups and youth, an important theme emerged. Without putting an emphasis on building local organizing capacity throughout the state, we face the inevitable – another set of hollow strategies without the foundation of people to make them happen. The question is how we bridge that gap?