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We all die. Which means that we have limited time in which to act. Ed Chambers, a community organizer and founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation wrote that, and it reminded me of the scripture for today. What can you give in return for your life? What actions will you have done by the time you leave us? Both are calls to action. Every moment counts. To act is to move and shape the world- To act is to be human.

My name is Izzy Adachi, I am a community organizer with Greater Victoria Acting Together, a coalition of labour, faith, student, environmental, and social service providing groups. Our mission is to develop leaders and organizers who have the skills to participate fully in our society, as well as foster community solidarity between organizations. We are an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, an international network of community organizations which has developed a theory of community organizing over 40 years. We do this through the process of community organizing and campaigning in order to address local needs, build community power and train leaders. We have conducted campaigns on accessibility, public transportation, housing, forestry and environment, and mental health. We were instrumental in getting the community led crisis response team pilot in Victoria, which creating a trauma-informed peer led alternative to police intervention for people in crisis.

In my time as the organizer I have been able to get to know some amazing leaders, like Brigitte, who are putting their time and effort into serving the community by building Greater Victoria Acting Together into an institution to incubate civic leaders and positive social change in our community. I began organizing formally in 2020, during the onset of the pandemic. Minimum wage workers like myself were being told we are now essential. I was a barista at Starbucks, and being told that there was a deadly illness spreading rapidly, and also that they could not give me more hours, and they were cutting our hazard pay. so while many Canadians could stay home on CERB, I made around half that, and got to work with a disgruntled public. Starbucks also did not let me use my PPE from home. My coworkers and I were struggling to make sense of this absurd situation- So we organized a meeting after work and had a long talk. We were afraid, and we were angry. We felt sacrificed to keep the “economy” going. We knew that individually we were going to get nowhere against the faceless corporate monolith that is Starbucks. Together, we were stronger and we could sense that in the conversations we had. When we brought in a union, we saw the immediate reaction from the company to institute better safety protocols for workers. In a moment we went from being a group of 20 something Starbucks workers, to being part of a union with 1.2 million other workers across industries. Although it was us on the ground taking the action, we were accompanied by the solidarity of generations of other workers.

At the same time, I was also just winging this thing that people were calling “organizing”. Organizing is something distinct from other forms of social change like charity and activism because it is dependent on relationships built among impacted individuals to build power. As a Gen Z person, the world I grew up in was a promise of hope and sunny ways, followed by things immediately proceeding to get much worse in most metrics over the next decade. I organize now so that this is not the case for future generations. I also organize for myself and those around me today, and for the people who I haven’t met yet who are connected under and by the hard times that we are in.

The will to keep yourself and those around you safe is a natural and human instinct. It is why and how we have community. Navigating the modern world with all its distractions and complex, intersecting problems comes less naturally to most people. Learning by doing is a difficult process because it can feel very solitary. This world encourages loneliness and isolation. It is how these crises have been allowed to develop. The solution, the resistance of isolation can only be found in consciously building relationships and community. I became involved in the student union at UVIC, and created campaigns on housing and food insecurity. I heard horror story after horror story from students about their housing situation. While I had a bit more guidance at that point, it was still a difficult time. University and non profit bureaucracy move glacially, and things get frustrating. In tough moments, usually after one of us asked “why we do this?” when it can be so thankless and daunting, one of my coworkers would chant “love of service”. That became a mantra for when things got hard. It connected us to the greater meaning of the work. I think at the same time we were doing it in “service of love”. I love community organizing, because you are peering into the world as it should be: built on love, justice, and equity. There is so much potential for positive change. But you have to stay rooted in the world as it is in order to be effective. You hear some really difficult stories.

The polycrisis that our society is facing: homelessness, food insecurity, climate emergency, imperialism, addiction are all incredibly daunting. But we need to bear witness to it, in order to act on it. Even when it is hard, it is far worse to turn away from all that is possible to achieve for our community, to turn away from a world of justice and love and equity and to act only for ourselves. To do that would be to turn away from the hope for better. Building community power is about something greater than our individual lives. At the same time, it is only when we act in community that we truly get to live. That future relies on us building networks of community, solidarity and education today. It requires commitment to the greater cause of building collective power for good.

Greater Victoria Acting Together is an opportunity to build power across diverse groups to create change. We teach a relational model of organizing that clearly models how to build power with others to create change, rather than navigate the systems power over that dominate our society. We are building tools and resources to become an agent of change in Greater Victoria. We can only accomplish this if we build across faith, labour, student, environment and other civic groups that are working individually on interconnecting crises. I want to thank the Evangelical Lutheran Synod for their support for our broad based organizing, and especially our Chair, Brigitte, who has dedicated countless hours to ensuring GVAT’s success. Thank you all for having me here today.