by Sally Eiler Cordova —
Before I was old enough to vote, I was a poll watcher for Eugene McCarthy. I found myself sharing space with a much older and decidedly conservative man who was a poll watcher for the other side. Although he disagreed with almost everything I said, he gave me pointers on how to effectively do my job and helped me get accurate figures on the vote count without a hint of condescension or disapproval. I felt proud to be a citizen that night.
When I went to college, the full force of the anti-war movement swept over me. I attended demonstrations, meetings, fundraisers, and the March on Washington. I refused to go to class as an act of protest against the Kent State Massacre. I stood outside the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, where an event for political and military leaders was taking place. Police Chief Frank Rizzo and a solid blue line of his officers kept us on the opposite side of the street. As a high-ranking military man attempted to enter the building, someone near me loudly mocked his weight and his labored efforts to ascend the steps. The crowd erupted in laughter. I still remember his half-second hesitation and the stiffening of his back as the words hit their target. I went home that night not feeling so proud and wondering if any of us really knew what we were doing.
In the ensuing years, I have often struggled with what is effective, kind, and indeed moral in our efforts to bring positive change into the world. Can we recognize the common humanity of those with whom we passionately disagree? These are challenges that I meet every day in my work with the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI). Among its beliefs are that all people are good and deserving of respect, and that every issue counts. It strives to bring everyone to the table to find a way to move forward together.
This would all seem too idealistic and overwhelming were it not for the skill training that leads to empowerment. I have seen these skills work, especially in the areas of overcoming racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, ageism, adultism, and classism. Using the NCBI model has allowed me to employ the idealism of the sixteen-year-old in ways that work with the passion of the student radical and do not hurt.
Sally Eiler Cordova, NCBI