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Kanu Organizers Boot Camp in Hawi

Written by Andrea Dean on 27 August 2010.

Andrea Dean opens the Kanu Hawaii Organizers Boot Camp.
Andrea Dean opens the Kanu Hawaii Organizers Boot Camp
I am not sure where to start writing the story of the Kanu Hawaii Organizers Boot Camp. It's my tendency to want to report the specifics: who attended, who taught, what strategies were imparted. But I think this story starts with a story.

I was feeling like the North Kohala Eat Locally Grown Campaign was a one woman show. If I dropped it, would anyone even notice or care? Where were the community volunteers? Why didn't the community "get it?" Why didn't funders "get it?" Why did the same 1-3 people always end up doing all the work?

I suspected that I wasn't communicating effectively and that I wasn't reaching deeply enough into the community. I tend towards an "I can do it all" management of projects, but I was starting to think that the hierarchical approach was not working because it does not create long term community buy in. My projects may get beautifully executed, but I wasn't leaving a structure behind to build on the work.

I decided to start the North Kohala Eat Locally Grown Campaign this year by bringing Kanu Hawaii to the Big Island to share their knowledge about community organizing. I knew I needed some tools and figured others did too.

James Koshiba led the workshop.
James Koshiba led the workshop.
I met Kanu Hawaii's Executive Director James Koshiba at a number of conferences and had heard him talk about "kuleana-based activism." I had also used the KanuHawaii.org web tools—first to make commitments for myself and also to measure the impact of a group. Kanu Hawaii encourages individual activism and then measures the collective impact of those actions. For example, at the Kuleana Green Business conference last year we asked people to make commitments on behalf of their businesses—a year later we were able to report the impact of those actions (and I polled a number of people; they did follow through!) We conserved about 10,000 kwh of energy, reduced CO2 emissions by 11 tons, volunteered almost 2,000 hours to charity, saved 77,000 gallons of water, kept $64,000 in the local economy, and kept 5,500 pounds of trash out of the landfill—just to name a few positive impacts.

I think what is effective about the KanuHawaii.org "I Will..." commitment model is that it creates an atmosphere of accountability so that people follow through on their best intentions. I know when I publicly declare my intentions (I will eat locally grown food for a month from Sept. 3–Oct. 3, 2010, by the way), I perform.  In addition, by measuring the collective impact of our individual actions, it helps us feel like we are making a difference. Eating one locally grown meal a week may not seem like much, but collectively that action can keep thousands of dollars in our local, sustainable economy.

The other thing that Kanu Hawaii does is to organize specific campaigns. The North Kohala Eat Locally Grown Campaign, September 25–October 2, 2010, is timed to coincide with Kanu's statewide Eat Local Challenge. Kanu Hawaii campaigns encourage "on the ground" collective action that makes a difference and makes a point. For example, when lobbying the legislature to pass clean energy legislation, Kanu volunteers checked air in the tires of all of the legislators and their staff (if your tires are underinflated, you waste gas). Volunteers also exchanged incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents. These actions make an measurable difference, and make a point that is easily understood by the public.

Thirty three people attended the Kanu Organizers Boot Camp in Hawi on August 21-22, 2010, and we shared our own successes and failures, and Kanu shared theirs. Kanu shared "10 Lessons Learned About Organizing." Lessons included asking people to take an action, set internal recruiting targets, tell stories that illustrate values in action, define goals and deadlines, and give people constant and real-time feedback.

Kanu also shared campaign organizing worksheets. One question from the material that I am finding particularly helpful is, "What community values are you trying to speak/tap into?" I know that a locally grown food campaign has the potential to improve health, support the local economy, reduce carbon emissions, etc... but what are the inherent values in an eat locally grown campaign? What motivates people to action? Is it fear of a lack of food? I often hear that put forth. Is it pure pleasure through great tasting food? Is it a desire to connect with community? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

The second day of the workshop was focused on the power of story. We reviewed the anatomy of a story and had the opportunity to analyze Barak Obama's breakout speech at the Democratic National Congress. Kanu contends that strong stories make strong communities, and strong communities have strong stories—communities are strong when values are clear and that they are reinforced by iconic stories.

What is your iconic community story?

Workshop organizers (left to right): Andrea Dean, James Koshiba, Mailelaulii Neff and Keana Okuda.
Workshop organizers (left to right): Andrea Dean, James Koshiba, Mailelaulii Neff and Keana Okuda.
But the story within the story was how James Koshiba, Mailelaulii Neff and Keana Okuda from Kanu Hawaii demonstrated through their action the power of humble service. They created an atmosphere of reciprocal learning, hope and action.

I'll end with a quote that Kanu Hawaii shared from Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power, Sparking a Collective Awakening:  "Many of us believe that we are powerless, that we can't do much to change the situations around us, especially political situations. The reality is that we can always be someone and do something to help change the situation.  We have to find ways to get in touch with our political leaders and help them.  Protesting is a kind of help, but is must be done skillfully, so people see it as an act of love and not an attack"

Andrea Dean is a green business coach, facilitator, and community organizer. Visit her web site for more information or check out North Kohala Eat Locally Grown and KanuChallenge.