“Organizers are not born, they are made”: West Coast Regional Training

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by Deborah Argueta, Literacy brigadista, UC Santa Cruz member You don’t really know what CISPES truly stands for until you experience an Activist Camp! The first few minutes are filled with nervous and awkward introductions, but by the end of the weekend, you’ve made long-lasting friendships and leave a more knowledgeable individual. Activist Camp provides a space for the sharing of ideas that help members become more familiar with CISPES and the current issues in El Salvador but it also helps to develop a stronger character and a foundation for becoming a leader. During CISPES’s Regional Fall Camp 2012 in Northern California, members were able to engage in several workshops that allowed them to better their communication and leadership skills. During a workshop on recruiting new members, Program Director Lisa Fuller made a point that really stuck with me. She said, “Organizers are not born, they are made.” She emphasized that most individuals are not naturally gifted with organizing skills; rather, these are skills that everyone can learn, which was an overarching theme for the weekend. Other workshops provided guidance on how to strengthen qualities that individuals felt needed improvement, tips on making a strong fundraising pitch, training on how to develop new volunteers into to active and committed chapter members and practice in popular education methodology. Aside from the excitement of meeting other CISPistas from all over the country, the Fall Camp agenda included discussions of hot topics such as the smear campaign against FMLN Presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez-Cerén, which reminded everyone why it is so crucial to maintain an active role in CISPES if El Salvador’s next elections are to be free from US political intervention. Not only did members learn about recent news from El Salvador, we had a chance to engage in provocative discussions about Latin American alternatives to capitalism, which prompted interesting conversations and new perspectives. We also heard reportbacks from two delegations to El Salvador this past summer - CISPES’ first-ever Literacy and Medical Brigades! Madeleine Conway and I gave a presentation on the National Literacy Program, as well as our personal experiences during our three-week stay. Hilary, one the medical brigade coordinators, provided information on the universal healthcare model that has been implemented by the FMLN. These presentations inspired us to join similar delegations in the future and to share the experiences with our chapters and communities back home. Fall Camp was especially exciting this year because it marked the first time that the newer chapter members in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles came together to exchange ideas with each other and with more experienced organizers from Seattle, Portland, Olympia, DC, Boston and New York. Fall Camp fostered spaces for all chapters to develop recruitment goals and formulate local organizing strategies that would be pursued starting in September. Since Fall Camp, we’ve been hard at work implementing our recruitment plans! At UC Santa Cruz, we started off the school year by participating in the annual Carnaval, where Latino/a organizations provide information about their mission and goals. Fellow brigadista (and UCSC alumni) Anthony Flores is now in LA, where their chapter is recruiting new members at UCLA. The connections you make at CISPES events like Fall Camp are the ones that really inspire you to become involved with this amazing organization. You meet people who are knowledgeable, accepting and as excited to learn from you as you are to learn from them. Fall Camp broadened my perspective on a spectrum of tactics we can use on campus to be as productive and active as we can. The workshops were engaging and an extremely fun way to become more situated with Salvadoran politics and gain skills to be an overall better organizer, speaker and leader. Fall Camp was definitely a memorable experience.

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