July 17, 2014

LAP 2014: Graduating locals offer valuable advice for community building

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications
lap 2014 local action project
Caption: Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Great ideas are seldom born overnight. Instead, they grow through trial and error, cooperation and a shared sense of mission.

That was the message that graduating locals at NYSUT's Local Action Project conference gave to their union sisters and brothers this week as they described the projects they developed out of their three years as LAP participants.

LAP, held in Saratoga Springs, brings together activists from 20 local unions for an intensive week of learning how to increase member participation and build community support. The conference wraps up Friday.

Members from the seven graduating locals were unsparing in their self-critiques as they described ideas that succeeded beyond their wildest dreams - a bimonthly community dinner that grew from 50 attendees to 600 - and the "lead balloons" that couldn't get off the ground no matter how hard the local tried - such as a barbecue that drew 50 people the first year and a half-dozen on the second try.

But the successes far outnumbered the misfires. Among the winners: A political action day that targeted local lawmakers with 10,000 letters - written by students, parents and community members - advocating for more budget support; a mobilization effort that successfully backed a long-shot write-in candidate for the school board; and the creation by several locals of sharp new logos that sizzled with graphic impact.

Graduating members also offered tips for success.

"A lot of what we did was based on feedback from our members," said Matthew Rivera, a building rep with the Sachem Central TA who described the positive reaction his local received with a member survey it developed through LAP.

Other recommendations:

  • Try a variety of ways to communicate with members - email, traditional mailings and "text blasts." Several locals highly recommended the text blasts as a quick, effective and affordable way to reach people.
  • Don't let your ambitions outstrip your abilities. "One of the best pieces of advice we got here was, 'Think small and narrow yourself down,'" said Cherylyn Hughes of Kenmore TA.
    Focus on one idea and make it work.
  • Reach out to community leaders, your school board and social action groups in your region to tell them about your local and its goals and needs.
  • Include family activities to bring members together. Rent an amusement park, a zoo or a ball field for a day.
  • Get creative about cutting costs. Malone members got a huge break for one of their community dinners when a local ice cream parlor donated leftover ice cream, as it got ready to close for the season in October.

Several LAP participants said the accounts by the graduating locals resonated with them.

"It was really great to hear from districts bigger than us," said Cynthia Scavo, of the Shenendehowa TA.

Said James Graber of the Associated Teachers of Huntington, a first- year local: "I think it was really inspiring to see that other locals have had to address challenges that we too are facing."