Wake Up and Smell July!

“July, July, July, never seemed so strange!”

Sitting here in our Omaha office in the bottom of  St. John’s Church, Lance Brisbois, one of our organizers put the above song on. At first I thought it was just another  song by The Decemberists, but then I noticed the deliberate look Lance was giving me.

“Aaron”, he said, “It’s freaking July!!!”. I couldn’t argue with his infallible logic, my computer calendar confirmed that truth. It was indeed, July. A month since our program started. Whoa. Now, I’m not entirely sure about how other programs are being run, but I think Omaha is a little bit different. See we’ve been semi-intentionally & semi-unintentionally creating a space where we as organizers can truly run wild with our ideas for a sustainable Gifford Park (the neighborhood we’re working in) and a sustainable Omaha. Another way to frame that is, we have sort of abandoned any structured process right now with out program and adopted a very loose style of working together and working on our projects. There are definitely positives and negatives to this, and seeing as it’s now JULY, and our program is somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3 over, I’d like to take a second to reflect on the style we’ve been using so far, and examine how it can be applied to both the Summer of Solutions and organizing as a whole. This is far too much information for one post, so I think this will be done over a few posts in the next few days and maybe weeks!

For this first post, I’ll give my view of how things in Omaha have been going down so far.

Omaha is a weird town. Amazing, exciting and inspiring, but weird. We’re not quite like St. Paul, San Fransisco or Eugene. There’s not a large progressive population base, incredibly active organizing culture or anything like that. Sure there are awesome things happening, but Omaha and the people within haven’t figured out how to connect with each other quite yet and get amazing stuff done. This is the environment we find ourselves in, and I think it reflects heavily on our organizational structure. We had a great start to the program- kicking things off with the Midwest Summer of Solutions Gathering, and getting all excited about our programs, which we had nailed down to three. These three projects were: organizing around the North Omaha Coal plant and developing infrastructure for a long term campaign to close it and develop solutions, working with the federal stimulus funded Weatherization Trust here in Omaha to bring free home weatherization to low income households and organizing to establish a garden market in the Gifford Park neighborhood. We never really stated who was working on these three separate projects, we just assumed that we would each follow our passions and then help each other out as needed. And this is how we’ve been moving forward: working together in our office, chatting about the various tasks we’re working on. We’ve, for all intents and purposes abandoned weekly meetings, partly because there are only four of us, partly because of our laid back organizing style and partly because we live, eat and work together.

Our projects have been moving slowly, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve largely been focused on having conversations with people, understanding where folks in Omaha are coming from and what their vision of a sustainable Omaha is. We’ve had several strategic planning sessions for various projects and are looking to try to find/help start organizations that can continue our work past the summer. In talking to all these various folks in Omaha, I’m realizing JUST HOW MUCH this city is ready for something like the Summer of Solutions. Alot of people I talk to share my values, goals and deepest desires for the city of Omaha and only through engaging them intentionally could I have ever found these similarities out! For me personally, this first month has been all about making solid connections that will enable us to empower community members to develop organizations, partnerships and businesses to keep making this amazing work happen.

So that’s the lay of the land as I see it now. Look forward to a more intensive analysis of the Omaha team’s organizational structure and program as a whole!

Much Solutionary Love!

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