Building on New Foundations > Standing Up, Reaching Out

Chicago

Camille Odeh

Print this interview

Director, Southwest Youth Collaborative

Building alliances is a very deep issue when you’re working with communities, and especially working directly with constituents. How much attention goes into capacity building for the community? The alliance building mainly takes place among activists.

It will take a strategic change to begin empowering our communities as a whole. In reality, it doesn’t really happen. In the US, nonprofits mainly provide direct services. They are working with the poor and disenfranchised, but the building of consciousness doesn’t really happen in those communities. Nonprofits become a sort of buffer, rather than helping to increase the level of organizing for social change.

We feel very close with other communities when we work together. For example, the Black community is very antiwar, they have a very clear understanding of the issues, more of a common understanding of racism. The attitude is, “we’ve been terrorized all of our lives”; there’s a recognition of racism, of profiling.

But how much is really happening on the ground? There is a tremendous lack of democracy in America. The power is not given to voters. Do community voices play a role in decisions? Or is it all corporate control?

We’re seeing a further militarization of the economy, of social policy. There is less and less work with communities. It’s very difficult for places like this one to exist – keeping the place together, the tasks of fundraising and administration.

Groups that have more of a social justice orientation don’t have the space to do that work. Funding is critical: there’s no political space to do the work of generating new leadership. In the Latino community, the progressive Black leadership – they’ve all been pushed out.