Tom Simms Interview Transcript

Oct. 23, 2000
Tom Simms
Executive Director
Community Education Development Association
509 Selkirk Ave.
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R2W 2M6
204-582-5800
Fax Ė 204-582-2801
Email Ė ceda@mb.sympatico.ca
 

Dave Beckwith:
The questions I'm asking are kind of open ended questions that range from what do you do, why do you do it, what sustains you. You can start wherever you want.

Tom Simms:
Well, I've been doing this for 20 years, organizing. I got into it pretty haphazardly actually! My background is in social work so I'd been doing a lot of work, you know in the child welfare area and had gone to get my degree and one of the sections of the classes was introduction to social work. There was this home made video of this one guy who was very dynamic. I said, I want to go see that guy. And he was at that time executive director of this organization. So I kind of went over and spent a half day with the social work thing but I always felt kind of uncomfortable with the kind of social work role. I really liked as I started working with this person and this organization, I like the role that was being played and so it was kind of out of that that I then did a year field placement here. When I graduated they hired me and so Iíve really kept in touch over the years with this individual. Actually that would be a great interview if you could ever get it. Greg Selinger, who is now the finance minister in the provincial government of Manitoba, he's the second most powerful person in the province of Manitoba right now. But he's an excellent organizer, and we could if you're interested, I could try and put a call through. Heís got a whole entourage now, but he just got elected like last year and he's really been my mentor over the years, I did my master's degree and there is no community development program at the school, so it took an organizer to really make it work. So I wrote up all these green courses and I basically focused everything on community development and he was my advisor here, too. So, over the years.

What school is this?

That would be the University of Manitoba. So over the years we've kept a pretty close relationship and kind of feed off each other in terms of strategizing and knowledge around community development, community organizing, so that's how I kind of got into it, kind of haphazard that way.

And the organization is?

It's the Community Education Development Association, so the acronym is CEDA. We're funded by the United Way, so we're a nonprofit organization. We have our own board of directors. Initially we were like working in inner city schools, so we would do half time kind of a community school role and half time major organizing role and about 5 years ago the funding got cut for that so we're just doing full time community organizing and community development which I much prefer. So that's kind of the content. Where I got involved. I think what I really knew the importance about community organizing is the justice element of it. Looking at issues of redistribution verses redistribution and power. I can remember growing up, always like sort of hanging out and fighting the good fight with the underdogs. I really appreciate the opportunity to do that with organizing. The second element of it is I think the growth that you see in individuals who are part of the collective action. It is fantastic, probably later on we can meet one of the leaders whoís now the assistant director who I met 15 years ago, she's kind of come a long way. I guess that's the other thing that I've appreciated you know, staying around for 20 years, it's really over that kind of time and decades that you do see things and you do see concrete issues things like that over a shorter period of time, you see sort of overall over a longer period of time. I think that's one of the things weíve done really well as an organization, we have a lot of respect, there's a whole generation of leaders that have a kind of standing in their communities, that are kind of involved in organizing. Over in Mamawi, thereís Josie Hill. Selinger is the one who kind of brought her in, she was living on social assistance, a couple thousand a year. Now she is for the past 15 years the leader in what is an aboriginal urban organization. She's you know, playing that role of developing leaders. But that's a really key, that's the legacy of organizing, there's the physical things that you can do, but the community, the people, the leadership, that's the enduring thing. I guess the other thing for me is, I remember Greg and I talking about this a lot is I like a good fight. Like he was saying, there are different motivations, you can either use that sense of wanting to fight and maybe a sense of anger constructively, I really see organizing as a really constructive way of moving on that sense. There has got to be a passion in order to do this thing, if you're a technocrat you're never going to make it. So I mean, to me that's the passion, and I guess I link them together, I think sometimes you need to struggle in order to see the power shifting or the redistribution shifting and I think that organizing provides a constructive venue to focus that kind of passion and energy and I feel that that's one of the key things that keeps me going.  I think that drives me more and more, but more and more people see conflict as not a constructive way. There's more of this kind of movement to, well there's avoidance of it, and there's kind of a whoa, labeling of this kind of approach. But you know, to me if there isn't some real visceral reaction going on then you're really not hitting on a substantial issue. The token issues, these kind of cerebral issues, I don't know how much youíre really redistributing power, redistributing resources, if you don't have the folks who have the power over that kind of stuff. And I see that that's something we've got to work with more and more in our organization, developing the skills of people to work constructively. Because it can be very destructive if people are having to conquer the framework of how you want to handle it. I see more and more particularly, you know, the Americans seem to me even more polarized, but more and more in Canada, we're seeing like the goal posts have really shifted, that the issues that we would have been fighting for 10 years ago are viewed as lunatic fringe kind of issues. The things that we took for granted 10 years ago are things that are disappearing now, and there's this homogenization kind of thing happening. The big corporate message and the big corporate institutions in terms of socializing people with the media and everything else has really shifted values in a lot of Canada to a negative point. It's even more now than ever we need to have folks saying you know, this is unacceptable. I guess the other thing is we need to pick and choose what you can take on and what you canít. The global and beyond it, that you need to have a longer term strategy around and I think everything ultimately works together, strategically.

So to pick up the strands here, in terms of how you got started, you went to social work school because you wanted to make a difference or you went to social work school because you didn't want to go to something else?

Well, I came out of high school and I came into this after a sort of false start. I did grow up in a middle class family. So one summer there was a block party or something and the neighbor who lived across the street who worked in a bank said, you want to work in the bank? And I said, okay, worked in the bank for about 2 years and then I went into the business school. I never quite felt right. I can remember doing a project on the social equity of business and the presenter after me was doing a business plan for a pool or something like that. I did well with numbers and it wasn't that I didnít excel at that stuff but it just didn't feel right. I think a lot of it was from my family upbringing, we're a kind of socially conscious. I want to be rich!

And so here you are!

Exactly. But then came the summer job that I took that summer. I was the project manager for a program of youth that were working at this youth services center, and my role was to manage the books and help out the accountant in the office.

For the business school program.

Well this was a general grant that they hired a businessperson to run the books and then to work in the office and the rest of the people were working with the kids, eh. So I would be sitting in the office in the summer trying to use numbers and people would be coming in and going out to the beach with the kids and all these kinds of things, there's something wrong with this!

I'm on the wrong side of this deal!

So I started kind of hooking into it and then I really enjoyed it, they gave me some part time work there and that summer I decided to quit the business thing and look at the social work thing. So it was really a summer job thing, that really.

That youth program was in the north side of Winnipeg, or?

Well, it was working with inner city kids, so it was working with the whole city, we were working with group homes. They would have group homes all over the city kind of a thing. But it struck me, I put myself through school I'd worked the evenings and the overnight shift there. It was kind of a high-level group home care thing, and a lot of these kids were pretty far gone by the time we saw them. It was too late. So that's where I guess that after that kind of started to make sense, like how do we do some proactive, preventive, how do you get resources into families, how do you get people back to work?

Greg was at CEDA?

Greg was at what ultimately was to become CEDA. We've known each other for 25 years out of that, and I was kind of following in his footsteps, he was the executive director. You see a lot of people come and go, kind of keep your spirit in this organizing. Like when 5 years ago we got half our funding cut, he was right there and we were strategizing together and there's just a life long bond around this thing. Now he's got this big job, but he'll come down here, he was here last month. What an interesting guy, it was this hot afternoon, he's got to wear suits now, but he comes over on his bike from the Leg sweating away on his bike! One of the interesting things I think now, we see how we can try and shape this province. He ran for mayor in the city and narrowly lost and went on city council and I've always believed and he knows it, too, in terms of trying to achieve change we need the organizers pressuring the politicians, so even though I think this guy is a great guy, I understand that he's got different kinds of strengths and roles now and he needs pressure from the streets in order for us to really achieve certain things. So we've seen with this new government a lot of our community organizers have been hired for government. I purposely, I could have got a job probably anywhere, I purposely want to stay at the neighborhood level because I believe in that part of the political dynamic. If we don't have good strong organizers pushing progressive politicians then we're not going to achieve the kind of change that we want. There is no way they're going to achieve it on their own.

When people go into government do they come back out and go back into community?

Well it's been 10 years since we've had a progressive provincial government, so a lot of that generation of people but yah, they've gone back, the ones who were in the government. So yah, there is that movement back and forth,

So it's not just one way,

Yah, yah.

Do you know the story of, this may not be true but I've been telling it for so long that by now, Franklin D. Roosevelt was forming a new deal. The brain trust came in and they were all men, they came in and laid a big memo on his desk. He would only read the top page of any memo, everybody knew it, and he wanted a big fat case, but you better make a good case on the front page or he'd never read it. He looked at it and he says, well boys, youíve convinced me. Now go out and put pressure on me. And it's true, the smart politicians understand that, that there's all these other pressures. And they need somebody to balance it.

So that's where I have kind of positioned myself and I look forward, you know, there are 4 year mandates here, but we've kind of ran out of opponents, so it could be an 8 year span, so over the next period of time, we want to work on long term stuff. I guess some of the things that I've seen more and more is like how do you work on the long term stuff. Without watering it down, having a strong left of center a focus, a feeling in your gut that this makes sense in the community, you're not going out there, that you are kind of looking at the longer term kind of thing. I really want to explore with Mike Lewis this whole Oregon experience and Mike seems to be pretty high on it. You know, there is room to put outside pressure on that coalition. That's what we see. When the right comes in they wipe everything out, when the left comes in they bring in a little bit more but no where near what they used to bring in. And that's what I'm arguing with these guys, if you brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in resources then I would think you know, you're the man, I mean, we'll follow. It would be a straight partnership kind of thing, but they're not bringing to the table the kind of resources that are required.

More and more incrementalists, more and more

Yah.

It's a matter of the numbers.

Yah, and I guess that's another piece around community organizing that I've spent the last 15 years on, and it's my kind of passion, community economic development. I think that that appeals to both sides of the political sector and you use certain language with one kind of faction and another language with the other side of the faction but you know what, the bottom line is community here, you're dealing with what you want to deal with. And I guess that's why I look at that long term boom and bust as a killer. We need to look at longer-term partnerships where there might be some movement but it isn't like it's either rare or it isn't there or anything like that. And the strategy that we're working on here is developing a community development corporation, you know, we've been around for quite a few years but in Canada there really arenít many of us.

Tell me a little bit about that, I'd like you to describe it to some degree, but youíre building out of the base of CEDA, you're building a development organization, what's the mandate here?

Yah, I mean that's the nice thing about CEDA there's so many small nonprofits that are always sort of worrying about money. We do worry about money but we do have a base of money from the United Way year in and year out, we've had that,

What portion of your budget?

Well, it can vary but we get about 280,000 from the United Way each year. And you know some of our budget we tie in from our projects. We run about a million dollars a year, but the core funders support three organizers and this kind of infrastructure and myself. So we'll always be able to be organizers, whatever else happens, we can always organize and that's so there is a chance of stability about that that you can look at longer term kind of things. So we looked at CEDA as wanting to develop a longer-term infrastructure around community economic development kind of thing. So we organized. It was interesting because we got this grant from this Bronfman Foundation which is in Montreal and the project manager was Giselle Rucker. They call this urban networks. One of their goals was to network with all the different organizers in urban settings across Canada and so they funded I don't know, 15 projects across Canada. They would bring all of us together once a year to do this kind of networking kind of thing. They were trying to build up that kind of capacity in organizers in urban areas. They would give you a travel budget, which I thought was excellent, where you could go around then and visit these different organizers and learn from kind of networking. So we had the good fortune to travel, I traveled, you know, all across Canada. But we zeroed in not so much on organizers but this community economic development stuff. And that's where I've spent a lot of time in Montreal with Nancy Neemten at RESO. She started out of an organizing program; she was working at the Y and was organizing and so forth. They were looking at how can we marry social and economic development strategies. Now they've been around for 15 years, they're probably the most significant urban organization in Canada. So we spent some time and we actually modeled the Development Corporation off of RESO. So that was critical in the development of what we do here, that knowledge base of okay, what's happening all over in Canada and let's look at it, and what are the best kinds of,

Not an abstract study either, but some relationships with those people, some experience.

That's right. So we actually brought, we pulled a group of leaders together in the north end and we did a pitch about what potentially a development corporation could do for us.

You pulled together leaders, you have 7 people, 10 people,

There's 40, 40 organizational leaders, but not individuals,

It's positional,

Yah, cause we looked at the development corporations and organizers, and we then brought in this man to talk to people about this stuff in Montreal and part of this meeting is to say we did it there, you can do it here.

Put a face on it,

Out of that we got the steering committee. One of the things that impressed us about Montreal was they based their development corporation on sectors. So they had a resident sector, an agency sector, a business sector and a labor sector and we kind of expanded that a little we did an aboriginal organizational sector and a religious organization sector.

I see a Sicilian club and the Hungarian club and it looks very familiar to me.

That's a unique feature. You don't see these fraternal organizations in other parts of the city but they're very predominant here and the number of churches in this area is unreal. Now most of the people don't live in the community that attend these churches, but theyíre institutions,

And it's a home based community, right?

Yah. So we pulled that together. And then we had a steering group representing those different sectors together and we looked at how could we and the group kind of collectively divide the client base. The kind of social economic and cultural development of the north end. Out of that steering group, they met for about 6 months to put together some basic frameworks. Then we pulled together, sponsored a community visioning kind of event where we had oh about 100 different organizations come out. A lot of small groups though, so we kind of sort of did a thing of you know, here are some of the key issues. We did a kind of a profile of the north end and had the background information on different issues. So we got broke down into different groups.

People chose, or you broke them down.

No, we just broke them into small group kind of things. We pulled together the information out of that and there was about I don't know 7 or 8 key issues, areas that you could break everything into. Some of it wasn't surprising, but the 4 most prominent ones were housing, safety, jobs economic development, and the cultural diversity was interesting. They really saw the first three as kind of a concern but the fourth they saw as a strength and that we needed to build on that. So that became the basis of the four themes as they are today. We then put together a sort of annual meeting where they elected a board of directors from the sectors and the way that works is interesting too. The elections don't take place at the annual general meeting, the sectors like the residents sector, the poor people, the business sector elect four people and we'll build it that way. So then that's when we tapped into Mike Lewis, through a foundation that provided lots of technical assistance. We brought in Mike Lewis and we began to do some work. Mike actually came in earlier on too to help us with the design. So as we looked at, okay how do we take these sort of four key areas and move it from there, it was we generated about I don't know, 60 actions out of the four key areas and then the board prioritized the costs. So we have now like a 3 year plan based on 14 areas that we see happening and everyone is sort of working around that kind of plan. There were no resources for a development corporation; there was no government program or anything. The partnership was CEDA and this other organization that CEDA helped set up called SEED Winnipeg. The acronym is Supporting Employment and Economic Development in Winnipeg. There's a lot of micro enterprise stuff and we moved to the CDC, community collective development stuff. Then the Mennonite Central Committee kind of links there from the first. The MCC works with us to help SEED. The executive director of the MCC was in on this and they too were very interested in moving beyond the micro enterprise to a collective approach. So the three groups then with no resources were the organizing bodies that provided staff for this.

So what's the capacity of SEED, what's the staffing or the budgeting or,

Well we're building that and you know, you've met with Flo Frank so that's interesting. Saskatchewan has had an NDP government for about 10 years and so they have a very interesting thing. They call it Neighborhood Development Organization and itís a funding mechanism so that they were able to get some resources there in their main cities. We don't have that so we're working with this provincial government to develop that. It's like that's where we're slugging it out with the NDP and now we'll bring in the elected people who we know we'll have to yank some chains here, you know, and we'll bring out the Saskatchewan models and we're bringing out like Mike Lewis spoke to all these Assistant Deputy Ministers and those are the key. We're having to do, we're actually the driving force in the community to shape government policy because there's a vacuum there, that leadership is missing. So we're trying to develop that resource space now. One of the things that I think we were able to do is say, hey look there's already resources at the table, right, CEDA with our staffing and thatís dedicated and we pay for the operation of the building and stuff. The north end community Development Corporation is housed in this building. So we pay about 75,000 dollars a year and then MCC bought the building and has provided staff support. So there's dollars there, SEED Winnipeg kicks in staffing right now, we were able to get some funding from United Way for some staffing, there's a labor investment fund called the Crocus fund which has seconded a staff person. There's some resources there. So all told we've brought about 360,000 dollars to the table, that includes the 140,000 for the building,

In time eventually, but yah, somebody will have to pay for it,

Somebody's going to have to, yah. So now we're really talking to the province about the matching dollars. So that's starting to flow I believe. One of the things, it would probably be helpful to bring out our work charts so that you could see that we have kind of lead areas and different areas, employment, development, and housing, and that so we're starting to get funding for those positions and probably by the end of the month we'll have funding from the executive of the province. I think the way the budget cycle works here is March 31st. They're sort of going to give the bridge funding first and then they feel they'll have a policy framework for after April to fund urban development corporations. So the work charts would be helpful, I can get it now if you want to kind of show you or what have you, but anyways, that's how itís set out. And we've positioned ourselves. We look at RESO in Montreal the acronym is RESO, and I forget what that stands for, but the acronym means network, and that's the way that they positioned themselves, not to be kind of empire builders but how do they get links to hold all the different rings together in the community and have sort of like a common strategy on some things. So that's the way we've positioned ourselves. Like the employment development for industry. We have a whole sort of section on that and a staff person leading that. That person's approach was we pull together all the small, well all of them are small, but training organizations in the north end here, and the population of the north end boundaries we're working in is about 30,000 people. And the second largest city in our province is Brandon and that's 38,000 people.

We stayed there one night, yah, that's small.

Yah, it is. It is. So we're saying that we're working with a population that is the second largest city in the province and if the second largest city in the province has a high levels of crime, unemployment, a housing crisis, all this stuff.

It would be an emergency.

There would be massive attention given to that city! So part of the renewal corporation we see is, you know, people don't even think of it that way, to try and sort of give them that image, then people start saying, okay, yah, I see what you're talking about here!

You know, many of the interviews have really focused on the person not on the program. I am particularly interested in as you create a new thing here, what your thinking is in terms of why and how it connects to organizing and activism and social change. So I'm especially interested in who keeps the C in the CDC. Who keeps the community responsiveness.

That's one of the things that I saw with RESO that was interesting because I talked to Nancy, very in touch with Nancy, I think she's doing a very good job. But also I talked to some of the detractors in that neighborhood and there was a woman at this church mission initiative that is one of the founders of RESO. She thought they had sold out and had become more of a business development as opposed to a community thing. I saw that that was, and I guess that I always have that image in my head, to me I think it is a problem that the community feels and I'm not saying this personally to the community, but that we need the sense that I'm never going to fall out of this thing, so that what happens with one group is that they just they sort of just quit. And then they became the marginalized whiners, and when you really look what they're doing, they are very marginal, you know, but some of the things that I think she was trying to raise one of the things I see around community development is what I call balance. That I think, you know, the business development thing might have been caught up in the technical stuff you need to operate on that level, and might have pushed out the community a little more than you would have wanted to. I also see that if the community is just looking at things and there isn't some of that technical capacity being brought in then they are going to be very marginalized. So to me that is a constant balance and a tension that I think you always need to work on. I think when you get to the polar extremes of the continuum you're in trouble. If there's outside technical people that are running the show then that's to me not community development. But on the other hand if the community says, and we've seen it in our town here, we don't want any outsiders, we're going to do it on our own. And more often then not I've seen that go nowhere, it doesn't get done. So to me, how do you find that balance and the midterm where technical people and community people can work together to achieve things.

So you keep the C in the CDC your staff is community organizers, so it's sort of their job to go out and get people involved and keep the pot stirring.

Well I think one of the things around the model that I like here and itís working at that RESO thing is there's 11 neighborhoods in this area. Thatís the way the urban planners define neighborhoods, we would look as organizing at more than that, but what we're looking at doing is we're working the high stressed neighborhoods. Weíve got two organizers that will be there for a longer term and weíve got one organizer that's going to rotate around to the more stable neighborhoods, so we're looking at kind of building that sector of neighborhood resident association. So that will always be there, that kind of dynamic and tension.

Your organizer's assignment, then, is to build those neighborhood associations.

Yah, so there's this larger entity, but we're working at issue based levels at the neighborhood level and then there are some common issues like there's this one on this big tax appeal, property tax appeal that sort of everyone's behind, so they kind of reinforce each other. I see that in a way as sort of bringing the issues, bringing the leadership forward that will come up into the Renewal Corporation. At the end of the day if it comes down to numbers things, and the residents, they really get pissed off, they will always outnumber the businesses, will always outnumber the organizations, and if you're not listening to the resident members you're going to you know, but that's the kind of,

That's not where it's going to go.

Yah, we're looking at some very collaborative approaches. But I see that as a safety valve if all of a sudden like, we don't feel like we're being heard here, you know,

And we'll make sure we're heard. So how much hell gets raised?

Over the years, or with this renewal corporation?

No, I'm not saying with them as a target, I'm saying as a community in action.  One of the things I'm interested in is the United Way, does that tend to damper down or do they have a hands off policy?

Well for years we were the lunatic fringe of United Way. They didn't want to know what we were doing and I didn't want them to know, you know! You know, they kind of just left us alone and you know, they would call you in and not you but the Board. I guess weíve got so much credibility and we're rooted in the community like we just blow them off and say, this and this, oh, well, okay!

And that actually happened, you had a controversy and a campaign and they called you in and told you to,

Yah, yah. And,

What was it?

Well, we wanted to challenge this charity approach and so a big thing in this town around Christmas is the corporate community gets together and the media and they get Christmas hampers going, eh. And, you know, people need those immediate needs met, but it just kind of reinforces the residual welfare state, I mean, the corporate types don't look at the taxes they're avoiding or the programs that they oppose and all that, the United Way can be corporate proud. So we organized this counter campaign called the Christmas Local Investment Towards Employment campaign, so the acronym was LITE, Christmas LITE campaign, and it's still running, after 7 years and I got a 7 minute video on it it's kind of interesting. What we did, what we talked about is that a million dollars is raised in this town, but all the purchases are made at all these big corporate Wal-marts and all this kind of stuff but really there's a million dollars being raised in the name of poor people but it's all these corporate entities that are getting the perks, all the toys and all this kind of stuff. So in terms of bringing that into our local economic development strategy we started with one initiative that was to expand an aboriginal worker coop, a grocery store. Of course it's all local people. It kind of started out when Neechi approached the Christmas Cheer board and said look, we'd like you to purchase your goods from our store,

You've got to buy them from somebody!

It's a two for one deal, you get the hampers out to the people and you're supporting local jobs. And the cheer board said, naw, we ain't going to do it, you're prices are too high! Well I mean, these guys are dealing with big corporate wholesalers and all this kind of stuff to get the best deal. So they came back and we were pissed off, eh, so we said well screw it, we'll organize a counter campaign and we organized this Christmas LITE campaign. We said look, all the money you donate to the Christmas LITE campaign will be used to purchase food and goods at Neechi foods. The Christmas Cheer Board hated us, actually it was a good war, and we in turn will go donate these goods to the Christmas cheer board, because we don't want to,

Bring it all down!

We don't want to distribute any hampers, eh? You could just feel the tension; we had the media there and all that. There was actually an interesting story where a fairly progressive reporter from a religious paper here interviewed the head of the cheer board who just was saying that we were scam artists and you know how dare we and we're not going to buy, you know, from this loser, tough bananas was what the guy said! And so this woman publicly said that, verbatim. You could see that they so betrayed themselves you know, Christian types, and this guy looks like the real asshole in this article, eh? She ended off the article saying thank goodness these people with Christmas Lite aren't going to back down and that they're going to move forward and tough bananas to the cheer board, eh? So United Way sees all this get played out in the newspaper and so they haul me in, they say, they lay down the basics. What is this? What's going on here, and I just said, well you know, the co-chairÖ We knew this was going to happen so we got sort of high profile people to legitimize the thing along with community people. I says you know, the co-chair of the Christmas Lite campaign is with the United Church.  I guess thatís the Methodist church in the states. So there's this aboriginal person who was the highest-ranking officer of the united church, they call it the moderator of the united church in Canada. He had just sort of finished the gig, and he lived in Winnipeg so we got him to co-chair the thing and then we had another aboriginal woman co-chairing. So we said you know, laying out who's involved with it and then talking about this charity model you know, you were hitting them where they were not able to defend it. And you know what, most of the time it's so superficial that it doesn't take much to blow them away. I said, that's what's happening, if you don't like it, tough! You know, it seems like the community is responding to this thing and they backed off. So I think what they've seen is that we have credibility that weíre not just shit disturbers. There is a community system too that we work and we do their work and what we've found is that we've moved from the lunatic fringe of the United Way and I know this is having some impact. They see community economic development they see, you know, we've used that old thing give a person a fish you feed him for a day, you teach a person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime. They see the logic of an alternative to the dependency model, a development model. And so now we're seen as sort of helping play a strategic role. Then we are asked to go to meetings and so on. They have brought in some people who have a broader understanding of United Way. One of the things that we're working with the government on, that Selinger understands quite well is, when the Tories were in power they were slashing programs and slashing advocacy groups like crazy, and the United Way was there. Really there is more voice still around in United Way for funding this thing. So we're saying in terms of simple long term strategies, we think the Winnipeg United Way is one institution to look at for the longer term sustainability thing, so that when the government swings there is a resource base there. You know I remember we brought up Shel Trapp from Chicago, and he said how can you organize when you're getting funds from United Way, but here it works. I know some images of the United Way is that it's corporate you know, but I think Selinger played a good role of developing some really good credibility and you know what, action speaks louder than words and when they see all this stuff happening how can they turn their face.

I'm interested in what your experience has been with other kinds of organizing strategies, other kinds of organizing approaches or networks or training centers?

I think that we're kind of at the stage in our organization where we're really having to do a lot of that again. I have on my table sort of setting up our training school again because I see that some of the things we're not being able to do because the skills aren't there. I'm very interested, that's one of the things that I really see about this project. I mean one of the things that really helped me move in my organizing skills was a book that Lee Staples put together with ACORN called Roots to Power. What I like about that book was it wasn't academic, it was street knowledge. I had been organizing for like 5 years and a lot of it up here is instinctive, you know, trial and error. There's some through the framework that you get you know, there isn't an institute there isn't really schools, a lot of it is sort of in house, a lot of it's trial and error. And so when I read this Staples book it was like sort of lights going on and it wasn't like an intellectual light it was in your gut.

I did that,

I did that and that's where I had that problem or whatever. It was like street knowledge and that's what I like about that book and I liked that it was a manual and I went out and used that manual verbatim to organize a resident association. It was awesome, it was awesome and I guess part of it now is the new generation of organizers. I guess like to me, I talk about this isn't about an abstract theory, this works, these are the results and it was very helpful for me. There isn't so much a cookbook I think like Nancy Neemten talked about this being an art not a science you know, but there are some foundation things there are some kind of sequential kind of things and I thought Staples put that all together really well. And so I appreciate that kind of thing. I think in terms of organizing strategy, you know, I was, I still am, I love the Alinsky kind of style of organizing. Like I say, I like a good fight and I like raising hell, but and Selinger and I would talk a lot about that it's like Alinsky would come into a community and leave. The long term stuff, like you might get some really good action going around some issues but where are you 10 years after once he goes and some of the stuff we need to do is organizing long term. So I'm more sort of eclectic. There are elements and time for this kind of stuff that I love, there are other elements and times where like in community economic development stuff you know, needs to be looked at. And I guess the longer you organize the bigger your toolbox is and the more you can pull different pieces out of it. So I like direct action organizing and I like sort of organizational development stuff, organizing more kind of you know, collaboration kind of stuff, networking local capacity building, I like social kind of research

So you use Lee staplesí book. He had me write an article in the back, you know, on membership.

The books always on my shelf!

Well, I loaned so many copies out I had to call a friend of mine and get him to send me a Xeroxed copy of my article so that I could put it in a training manual.

Well we did a sort of reentry training thing; I just ordered 15 new Stapleís books! That's going to cost me a lot of coin but really it's a good basic tool. But the Rothman stuff on development you know the kind of thing thatís called in his articles mixing and phasing, it's the framework. It was done in 1969, like this is old basics, to me that's when some of the best organizing was being done!

If you're right you could stay right for a long time.

That's right. So you know, you say the Renewal Corporation, the Development Corporation is an example. We spent a lot of the first phase in locality development like sort of bringing awareness to people, more like an aid. We played a networked kind of a role and getting a bit of a program together and part of that was social planning like gathering information so that people can sort of see how to take action on some things. Some of us were moving into the social action stuff like this big tax appeal thing that we're moving on, we're looking at redistributing power and resources. There's issues around the boarded up old north end Y., itís been closed for 5 years. We're putting heat on the government now to get that thing opened up when it's more of direct action kind of strategies around that. Putting pressure, part of it is locality development, putting a coalition together to get better police services in the neighborhood.  You know, it's for the best and so you start collaborating, and a campaign and then you know, you need to get to the confrontation level which we haven't done. So I like the framework because to me it talks about at different phases of the organizing process you're going to be using a different kind of set of skills.  The thing that I like about Rothman is that he's got this one big paradigm is the role of the organizer changes form an agitator to a teacher and a research gatherer and stuff like that. So in terms of the approaches that I looked at, I think if you become a one-pony show, you limit what you can do. I mean, and I find it very demanding, I tend to be like the more agitator, the mixer of the pot but you know to me some of the most important work and the majority of the work you do with the groups is more mediator, conflict resolution, it's to help people develop the skills for their work.

Going one direction instead of around and around,

Or not employed, like they're at each other's throats and just the notion of leadership is that I'm the king or I'm the queen of the organization,

You don't like to get out. You get pretty small that way,

Exactly! And I also found that there's a lot of social work that goes into that because a lot of people, their self esteem and everything that they haven't been in their lives, not much going on. But now they're president of something! It just really is a way of boosting that but it also can be a way of a lot of dysfunctional stuff comes out of it. The personal baggage that people bring in how they relate to people shows up in groups. It can be a family or a group but the way they relate to people will be, you know, the strong thing, or the building thing. So in terms of my philosophy and stuff, that is the range. I find more and more you've gotta spend more time stepping out and saying okay, what's going on here? I'm more of an organizer than an administrator but when you're working with people, your other organizers are too, youíve got to kind of work with them and it helps to reinforce with me, hey, I better practice what I preach here, gets you thinking about the kind of role.

So talk about what your support systems are. I mean, you are executive director and fund-raiser and a manager and an organizer and a strategizer, you know, all those things. What are the support systems for you in this, in those different jobs?

Well, there's a number. Like my board is very supportive, they've always been. In these 20 years, the boards are fantastic. The boards are always a work in progress themselves because the majority of our boards are local resident people, so itís sort of a community development process working within your board.

How big is your board?

It used to be 27! So we're 13 now. You know, some of the local neighborhood issues aren't as, they may not be as complex all the time as our issues when we're looking at something like building a community development corporation with people that have never seen a community development corporation before and you know, for people to feel comfortable about making that decision. I always find that's another balance issue, too, you know, always when are we way out in front of our board and when are we sort of feeling yah, they're really onto it, so that's a support base. The person who is our assistant director, she used to be a leader here. Like I said, I met her through an organizing thing 15 years ago and she's sort of been active in the community, gone back to school, and is an organizer herself now. She was president of our board for a number of years and on that personal level we just really clicked. I'm a hot head so I always like to talk to her, like I can vent with her so when I go out and do what I need to do I got that out of the way,

You don't start flapping, yah!

And so she's great, you know, she and I work, and she'll come in and oh, I'm going to nail that bastard! You know, so we can sort of talk each other through it and okay how are we going to move on this thing. So that's critical, I'd say probably the most important kind of support base there. That's why we're kind of using it, one of the things we see is a lot of nonprofits going into the director's role is really tough. People see it as being like Greg, a white guy. We want to make that change, looking to the future. So we have a woman, an aboriginal woman that lives right in the neighborhood here, so we're looking at this as a mentoring thing for the next director, when I'm gone that there's someone who feels really comfortable. She feels really good about that and I'm not going anywhere in a two-year time span, we're seeing this as a longer-term thing.  She's taken some learning, some administrative stuff and stuff where she's on her own, so she's a half time organizer and half time just an executive director, so we consciously set it as a mentoring kind of a thing. So that's a good place and I guess the other place for me is Choices. We initially did it through the project and then it got too hot so I just did it as a volunteer. We organized this coalition called Choices; A Coalition for Social Justice. We organized the coalition in 1991. The right wing Tory government got elected in 1990 and basically we were organizing sort of a counter force to the government, it was very political and it was a lot of fun. We had some people who we attracted around it was amazing, this one guy Richard Orlandini, who was actually an organizer in the civil rights movement and he was a draft dodger. He was just a very creative organizer and one of the things we used to a tee was humor and sarcasm in getting our point across, like it was really outrageous and fun and it really angered,

Like what,

Well, there was a number of things. The Tories were funding private schools with public money and so we, there's a couple of sequential things. We had a calculation of like 10 million dollars that were going to private schools and so we had a protesting thing at the biggest private school and we had the media and we used humor. We went out to the biggest private school with pickets and all this around the school and we walked up and we delivered the letter to the headmaster of the school, we want our money back! The cameras are rolling, I still remember I said we want our money so we can provide funding in the inner city schools and this guy said, I don't know what you're talking about. So then we escalated a little, we're thinking okay, that's the first step. Then they had a big fund-raiser for this private school and they were putting on a theatrical event, so we showed up with picket signs and everything. We had these cans and the people came up and we screamed, ďalms for the rich!Ē We had these pots and our goal for the evening was we were going to collect all this money for the rich and we were going to donate it to this school and then they could return that money to the public and so we raised a buck sixty-three, eh? And so the next thing was well you know, we promised them a big check. So we got them this four by eight piece of plywood and we painted on this check for a dollar sixty-three. So we go into another one of these private schools, these people have no sense of humor, these private schools; we had the media along with this big check. And the headmaster just says, this is just a publicity stunt. This guy on our side he had this kind of New York Bronx accent he says, no kidding! No wonder you're headmaster of this school, you're a real genius! So we get the media there, it looks like this campaign to raise money for private schools didn't raise much interest or support, since we could only raise a buck sixty-three but here's the check for it. So private school folks didn't like that at all. And then we had this member of the government who wound up being locked up in the trunk of a car and had to use his cell phone to get out of the car.

There's a story there,

Exactly! So when we see that stuff we want to rub their noses in it a little more, right? What I like about the Choices thing was that we did sort of good social planning work, like good research work, but we presented the issue in a very comical way. So we did these alternative budgets. He had people from the economics department working with us and then that had evolved to a more of a popular education kind of thing where we got community people talking about what the alternatives are, but we would pull together a budget and present it as the people's budget. It wasn't just a wish list, we would work it out so that it factored in all the considerations, in terms of rigor it was a very extensive process. So we released one of our first budgets by we rented a limousine and a driver and we showed up in front of the Leg and out of the trunk pops our guy to release the alternative budget, eh?! This was just one of many things but it had that real razor edge, get in your face. I remember when they were laying off a bunch of civil service. We had one of our guys bust in on the press conference and issue the ministers that handled the portfolio, right in the middle of the press conference we busted in and gave him a pink slip and said you're out of here,

You're not handling this,

You're not handling this in a way that's representing the needs of the community. So I'm sort of in this core group, we still meet a couple of nights a month of the year. It's a network, but it's down to about 4 or 5 of us, but we are so close,

Now you're talking about Choices in the past tense, are they not doing alternative budgets anymore?

Well, a lot of people got hired for the government things. That's one of the things that we're working on is we're doing our first alternative budget in many years. Actually the alternative budget process gained so much attention that the Winnipeg Choices group worked with the Canadian labor congress and it was a partnership, we do alternative federal budgets now, and it's very interesting. So thatís a network of people that we work hard, but we play hard. That kind of social connection, like we get together, it's been 10 years since we've been getting together and there's never a dull night. We go out and you're talking about the issues and you're laughing about the things that are going on and that to me is probably the ultimate support. Right now some of them are higher up in the government and when we're getting screwed around I'll phone them up and like interesting some of the cabinet ministers we're partying socially. So we were always used to the label as outsiders. The NDP government brought guys like Selinger who led alternative budgets in, so now he's a finance minister who brings out the budget, eh? That was very, very interesting and just off the top of my head I can't remember but all the different kind of fun things that they did. Like on the transit busses, our logo is a buffalo and on a number of public institutions they have this standard trademark thing, a buffalo. It signifies that this service is financially supported by the province of Manitoba. Now we had very talented people in our group. So we got some graphic artists and we made the exact replica of these posters and we would say this service is financially impaired by the provincial government of Manitoba. The premiere, who is the head notch, we would just get under his skin. He said, ďI've instructed our legal department to see if we have a case against Choices for trademark violationĒ and all this. I mean if the guy would have just been able to shut up, it would have been a non-issue, but it became a really big issue, you know, who owns the buffalo. Then we have all the legal aid types lined up and we would send back to the premier that we have 20 lawyers that would be pleased to go to court with you on this issue,

Defending the buffalo, on the side of the buffalo!

And these alternative budgets would just get under these guys skin. The budgets aren't worth the paper they're written on and then you'd see they would have in the legislature they would be talking all the time referring to the Choices budget. Well the Choices budget says this and blah blah all this, it was a very interesting time. I remember one of the times around the labor bill where we organized the community filibuster. This guy from the States, he was great, he was the lead organizer on it. They had a provision in the bill where that if people were lined up to present they had to keep the committee open and there was no provision for breaks so they literally had to run the thing round the clock. We would be lining up people like all night, people there in sleeping bags. The other thing that we found out was that they didn't have any provisions for time limits on the presentations so we would have guys go on for 4 hours and these guys would be just listening to this thing. And I remember this one guy who was with us, he was the head of economics at the U of M just a hilarious guy. The hearing officers decided to read a newspaper and he would just stand there and he wouldn't say anything and they would say, go ahead, and he would say, until I've got people's attention and people are listening to me, I feel like I can't go forward. Then an old guy would sort of look over his paper, one of the right wing farmers. They said I had to be here, they didn't say I had to listen to people! We had a lot of fun and

And that's how you survived the Tory government.

Well we got some people who are now in government who are from our coalition. It was very draining work, as much as it was fun, it was like this big deep black hole. I guess that's to me the other challenge to organizing is finding a balance in your life. You've got a family, a personal life. There's mountains of social justice issues that will always be there and that became a problem, so we were able to generate some new leadership to come through but it became like this big black hole that just sucked all your energy.

Choices.

Choices. SO, we had initially organized Choices out of CEDA and then it became way too hot and we said no, this isn't, okay, I'll do some volunteer work kind of a thing. So here you are running an inner city community development agency. We organized massive rallies, we were doing some of that, it took a lot of time, it was a lot of fun, but it took a lot of time.  For say the past 3 or 4 years I've just kind of left it to the new generation. It's hard to keep an organization, it's been 10 years and it's hard to keep that kind of initial thing, and so now the old guys get together and talk about the good old days. But,

Was there a budget and staff for Choices?

No, that was the thing. We would work it so that the coalition would fund the alternative budget exercise and that would provide a staff person for a full year to work on the alternative budget but then they would dissolve on getting done. The other interesting thing out of that relates to what we're doing. You want to talk about the personal, I think it is actually, it is a personal organizing campaign, is we took over the largest credit union in Winnipeg. We set up this group called the Draining of the Assiniboine. There's a nine-person board and they got elected every 2 years and over a two-year period we took over the entire board. I sit on the board right now still and that was very instrumental in getting loans out for SEED Winnipeg. We started about the same time we started Choices in 92 I think. I think there is an example of a social action strategy to help support the building of a community economic development program.

Was it worth it?

Yah, it has made a difference. The inner city housing that's been funded has been funded through the credit union; no other banker would touch it. We set up a community economic development officer that zeroed in on employment equity issues within the credit union. So it was a very key institution, it was an interesting strategy around organizing,

I'm just looking at my notes from lunch with Bob Williams and he said to talk to this guy Tom, I can't remember his last name who tipped over the credit union,

Yah. Bob's really a character.

So we talked about what you do, we talked about what your motivation is or the engine that drives it, we talked some about the systems of support and what sustains you through the day. As I talk to others, not only in Canada but also in Australia and in the States, do you have either any observations or any questions to put on the table? What have you learned from your work or what do you wonder about other people's work?

I guess I see the need for, and I'm interested in networking with other people and groups that are doing the training stuff. That's what worries me, I don't think the quality of organizing we do is where it should be. A lot of that is that it's skill based and we need materials that aren't academic but that are street knowledge kind of things. To me it's more like an apprenticeship than anything else that we need to continue to nurture. So that's what concerns me especially as I see in Canada the kind of swing to the right. It has really shifted that way and I think that the union movementís a lot weaker now here than it was a decade ago. But that kind of extensive collective action approach, we're losing prominence around. Not in a self serving way but I think some of the skills and the people working on those kind of issues, and so I think if there's more sort of skill development around it, I mean people need to have some kind of ideological orientation for sure but I think a lot of it would help is if some of that was coupled with the skills of development. So that's what I see. I think it's needed now as much now as it's ever been.  I see you still like to hear the good yarns, just to get different ideas from other people, I think that that's important, that exchange of information and ideas. Just in general, I mean, I kind of view organizing as a craft you know, and the more you can learn and hear from peers the better you are going to be at your craft. I guess the other thing I see is when you're talking about potentially bringing people together, I don't see a lot of opportunities for people to get together from other places, you know, you're sort of keeping your head above water, you know, keeping the balls up in the air and what you're doing in your local gig. Having a chance just to network with others,

You can use their input at the same time, yah,

Yah, yah.

In some ways what Choices is like. A place where people you know, the way it's used, for community building and policy development at the same time.
 

Yah, yah. I think a lot of it, like I mentioned that Rothman stuff. I think you know there's been innovations but to me more and more I explore what's going on, we can't lose that stuff. This was way before my time, I was a still pretty young when all that stuff was going on, but when I uncover all this stuff, it's like right on, a lot of this stuff. I have a fun time now when Selinger comes out here. The stuff that he's taught me I sort of bring back to refer to him now that he's in a position of power. One of the pieces that he talked about is written by a woman by the name of Sherry Arnstein, the Ladder of Citizen Participation. She was out of the war on poverty Canada movement. It analyzed, like everyone talks about you know, back then maximum feasible participation was the thing. She said participation means 90 things to 90 different people, so she created this sort of paradigm. An eight rung ladder on citizen participation. I dust that stuff off and I use it now more than ever because we're getting into some of the things that the government wants to promote to the public through participation. We say, is it a token or does it have some real sense of power in it, and those kind of tools really help explain to people what is going on. So I guess that would be another thing is not losing some of the I think rich history. Like you say, if it was right it's still right. There's a lot that we can learn.

Another unfair question. Are you hopeful?

Hopeful? The glass is always half full. You shouldn't be in this business if the glass isn't half full.

Iím just very pleased to have a glass. There are people out there drinking out of their hands.

No I mean, I think, eternal optimism is something that really sustains me. Not to be naive I mean, the thing that I like about organizing is you just drive over the roadblocks. This is blowing up and everything is pretty bad and then you have this experience the next day, it could be a small thing and itís like, aaah. It doesn't have to be big, you know. What I liked about the Staples thing is it was this thing of hope, it was saying, for every 10 doors you knock on, like 2 are going to be people who are going to be interested in getting involved. So 80% of the time you're going to face apathy, rejection, or hostility or whatever. It's like sort of mining for gold, to me when I'm out there on the street I'm always, you know, am I going to find that 20% you know? Why not,

Possibly it's at the next 10 doors.

So I guess to me part of the organizing thing is that youíve got to know that yah, there is a big mountain there, but it's finding the margins where you zero in on and make some change. I guess the other thing about being hopeful is to me it ties into creativity.  To me, that's how you maintain that hope. The more creative you are in addressing some of the issues that the people identify, the more youíll have success at organizing. If you get stuck in a rut then you start saying well, maybe if we'd be a little more creative here, and you get out.