CSTI: Western States Center

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

August 8, 2011

CSTI: Western States Center advocacy training.

CSTI: Western States Center advocacy training. Sitting under a tree waiting for the afternoon session to start.

I am lying on my back, on a pebbled, concrete bench. I am in the shade, under the tree. It’s near 80 in the sun and 70 in the shade. A cool breeze keeps me comfortable. I open my eyes, and through my sunglasses, I see brilliant blue flickering through the moving green leaves. This is the epitome of summer. This beautiful summer day makes memories.

I had the opportunity, for the second time, to participate in the Western States Center’s CSTI (Community Strategic Training Initiative, the name is being changed to AMP). Western States Center trains social justice groups to help make effective change in their communities. It seems groups attend that, on average, have budgets less than $500,000. They have noble goals, diverse communities, and small staffs. They face the same kind of challenges other non-profits do: board engagement, how to fundraise, what’s my message, how to engage members and volunteers? The bit I find most fun about this conference is the level of engagement among the attendees. It’s like going to a college class but you only get the A students. Everyone wants to be there. They are committed to their respective causes, and they want to learn more to spread the good intent and bring upon the social justice revolution. Here, at CSTI, I am among people who share, passionately, the vision, the ideal, of making this world a better place.

Reed College, Portland, OR

I never thought I would enjoy or see purpose in networking. Over the last few years, though, my Portland has gotten a lot smaller in part due to my involvement within groups like Western States Center. When I attend CSTI, there are always people I know or know of or have seen at other events. And, given who the training attracts, I’m always meeting new people that I want to connect with because of our shared interests.

This year, at the fundraising workshop, our ice breaker question was, “What will you be doing after the revolution?” Ari Rapkin, a co-director at my organization, the Community Alliance of Tenants, came up with this and our facilitator loved it so much she shared. What does that imply? After the Revolution? For me, it means that all the things we independently and collectively work for have been achieved. After the revolution we won’t be fighting for equality in health-care because everyone will have equal access to great care. After the revolution we won’t need tenant advocacy because there won’t be discrimination in housing and all repairs are met. After the revolution we will realign our priorities so that we all value life as most important, and not just rich, white, property owning male life. After the revolution we won’t need to discuss gender neutral bathrooms because we will finally accept people for who they are: people like us hoping for intimate connections to make our world less bleak. After the revolution we won’t be fighting for food security because eating local and organically will be the status quo. So, after the revolution we will be free to achieve our own self actualization and realize our independent dreams. We won’t have to fight for social justice causes because they all will be won.

My memory of this year’s CSTI is of dreaming. My memory of that beautiful Sunday, where I sat under the tree dreaming of food, art, philosophy, and where I will be at 70. I sat dreaming of being a docent at the Art Museum, while living in a high rise condo across the street, frequenting farmers’ markets and enjoying the fruit life brings. That is my social justice memory.

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