Applications are now being accepting for the 2018 College of Constructive Hell Raising. Above, 2017 graduates of the DFW-based community organizers school. Courtesy of Downwinders at Risk.
Nov. 14, 2017
For anyone who’s ever witnessed a social ill and thought someone should do something about it, local environmental watchdog Downwinders at Risk is gearing up to share the wisdom of veteran activists at its College of Constructive Hell Raising.
Aimed squarely at turning eager activists and concerned citizens into a fearsome force to be reckoned with, the school begins on Jan. 16, 2018 and runs through May. Enrollment is open to 20 students. Classes are held every other Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Meadows Conference Center at 2900 Live Oak in Dallas.
Downwinders director Jim Schermbeck said the seminar series follows a college semester structure and has three goals.
“One is to help develop a more strategic way of thinking about social change and how to get it. One is to learn about the history of successful social change in North Texas and what made those campaigns successful. And one is to provide a valuable networking opportunity for activists and organizers in DFW that crosses organizational and movement lines.”
Schermbeck said enrollment is open to anyone who wants to be more effective at whatever social change they’re pursuing.
"This is also for activists who want to step-up their game and newcomers who want to know why DFW is the way it is and anyone who wants to meet their peers, hang out and talk at a more sophisticated level about the mechanics of getting change to happen here in Texas,” Schermbeck says.
The school’s name references 19th century union organizer Mother Jones’ famous exhortation to farmers to ‘raise less corn, and more hell,” Schermbeck says.
Bois D'Arc Patriots, a group of Dallas activists, circa 1970s.
Although an environmental group is organizing the seminar series, the coursework applies to activism in any cause, from the anti-war movement and immigration rights to police brutality and public health policy.
The curriculum is organized into ten topics and covers all aspects on how to initiate and maintain an effective social campaign.
“We go from the most basic community organizing principles – movement versus organization, strategy versus tactics – to more abstract concepts like critical thinking and the framing of your language. Our guest speakers chronologically stretch from Peter Johnson, who was a player in the the civil rights movement of the 1960s, to Sara Mokuria, who's with Mothers Against Police Brutality,” Schermbeck says.
Other speakers are Kim Batchelor, tenant rights organizer and former member of the Bois D’Arc Patriots, a Dallas activist group; Mavis Belisle, a peace and anti-nuclear organizer; John Fullinwider, an original Bois D’arc Patriot and longtime community organizer; and Patti Fink, a veteran LGBT organizer.
Additionally, guest lecturers include Jeff Jacoby, the Austin program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment; Peter Johnson, an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and original Southern Christian Leadership Conference Dallas organizer; Don Maison, director of Dallas AIDS Services; Sara Mokuria, cofounder of Mothers Against Police Brutality; Sister Patricia Ridgley, a life-long social justice organizer; and Luis Sepulveda, a Dallas environmental justice organizer.
New for the 2018 semester is a presentation on 21st century media by Zac Crain, editor Of D Magazine.
Modeled after reputable institutions in other parts of the country, the College of Constructive Hell-Raising brings community organizer training within reach of North Texas residents at a fraction of the cost.
Hell Raising instructor John Fullinwider leads a class.
“If you get hired by one of the larger social change groups, chances are they'll send you to the Midwest Academy in Chicago, the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee or a similar training program to get trained in basic community organizing techniques. You'll stay a week or two and it will cost your group thousands of dollars for you to go. They're very good programs but they're not accessible to the average activist,” Schermbeck says. “We offer the same training as those places, plus give you valuable local history lessons from right here in DFW, by the people who were there – plus plug you into a network of friends and allies that's not going to break-up at the end of the class. And we do that for $200.
Schermbeck said the Hell-Raising curriculum is built on the approach of the Midwest Academy and uses Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals as a textbook as a guide, with lots of supplemental material.
"Our history lessons are determined by what the local fight was about, if it was a grassroots success, and if we can get one of the principals to show up to tell us about it.”
Although the 2018 semester will follow the much of the structure of the past session, Schermbeck says the coming semester will offer additional information. He added that a major benefit of the program only became evident to him in the months that followed the 2017 semester.
“As an organizer, you're always in need of refresher courses, and there's no better way to relearn these basic principles than having to teach them to some very smart people looking over your shoulder. I haven't read this much since I was in college myself. It keeps me on my toes,” Schermbeck says. “I also learned the networking opportunities we offer the students was as, or more important than anything they learn in class. They are new friendships and political alliances we brought into being because of last year's class.
This year, he said they've tried to be more interactive, and include a broader scope of history lessons.
"Now that we have alumni, they'll be a network already in place for this class that there wasn't last year.”
The college-style program already touts up-and-coming alumni among its accomplishments, including Kristian Hernandez, who was recently appointed to be on Dallas’ Fair Park committee, and Corey Troiani, who took home the Green Source DFW Sustainable Leadership Award for Best Nonprofit Professional last week.
Graduate Fran Mayo, who works with the Dallas Green Alliance, praised the school.
“The College introduced me to an incredible array of passionate, intelligent and pragmatic advocates for change. It gave me crucial context about DFW, situating our political present in a complicated history. I met the people who had pushed Dallas forward over the last century, which was hugely inspiring and energizing. Overall, it made me feel far more committed to Dallas and aware of how an ordinary citizen like me can make a change,” Mayo says.
“Anyone who looks around in their neighborhood or city and thinks ‘Huh, that's kind of messed up, I wonder what I can do to change that?’ will find an incredible community and lots to learn from the College of Constructive Hellraising. Jim Schermbeck is a really talented lecturer and an awesome mentor who has a lifetime of organizing experience to share. I unequivocally, without qualification, recommend the College of Constructive Hellraising.”
2018 College of Constructive Hell Raising
Hosted by: Downwinders at Risk, DFW-based clean air advocacy group
About: The activist organizing school offers an overview of social change, along with community organizing principles and networking opportunities. Instructors include veteran local and national organizers. The school is accepting 20 students. Enrollment ends Dec. 15, 2017.
When: Meets every other Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m starting Jan. 16, 2018 through May.
Where: The Meadows Conference Center, 2900 Live Oak, Dallas.