The WiLD Project launched to support people in organizing for change in their communities. This project is about fundamentally doing things differently—not pressing the reset button repeating what’s always been done and expecting different results. This is a project rooted in the theory: if we make an 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 four years, over 1,700 grassroots leaders have attended our ongoing leadership development workshops to learn the basics of community organizing. The impact is already being felt, as teams of newly trained leaders apply their learning to the problems directly affecting their lives, with the coaching support of the WiLD Core Team member who recruited them.
We will continue to seek clarity about people’s deepest concerns, building a statewide community that has the potential to act powerfully together. 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 its parts.
In Wisconsin, we urgently need to recruit, train, and develop stronger grassroots leadership. The potential of people working toward “change” could be more fully realized by encouraging development of their own leadership capacity. As a state, we are 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 levels 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 has 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. To revive our democracy, we have to revitalize this concept of citizenship by allowing people to have access to transformative spaces through which they can develop their own individual and collective agency. This 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?