By Roger Saechao
“This will be a very intense sixteen week fellowship,” said TOLA Director, Christian Garcia, during my initial TOLA interview. Without a doubt the first two weeks at TOLA have been challenging. However, the experience also has been inspiring, positive, and motivating. I have had the privilege to meet experienced professionals and community organizers like Fred Ross Jr, Oakland Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, Zuckerberg SF General Hospital Physician Dr. John Maa, San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, and the Praxis Project Executive Director Xavier Morales.
It also has been an honor to work with my TOLA family, Aurora, Claudia, Geo, Grace, Harold, Kyle, Monica, and Sharon. I could not be happier working with such a great group of people. From the very first day, we established such a unique bond with each other. Without the support of my TOLA family, the daily grind and intensity would be tough to endure. Although everything may have seemed a bit overwhelming with tons of information being thrown at me, it’s been worth every second of it because we’re promoting important change in our community.
During our first week, we visited different neighborhoods in Oakland to raise awareness of the Oakland vs Big Soda campaign. We reached out to residents by asking them to volunteer, donate to the campaign, or put up a window sign. So far, everything I’ve learned about the campaign has been new and different. It’s exciting to be learning about diabetes and cardiovascular disease and to be educating my community about the connection between consuming sugary drinks and these diseases.
My first day in the field was very uncomfortable, but as a community organizer a valuable lesson I have learned is to face my fears. I was afraid of misinforming people with incorrect information, and encountering people with negative attitudes, but as Larry Tramutola mentions in his book Sidewalk Strategies, “If you want a career in organizing or politics, be prepared to deal with losses and failures.” Within the first week I definitely learned how to adapt to uncomfortable situations and push myself to become a more effective organizer. A valuable lesson I learned from speaking with Oakland residents is to speak with more confidence and have a positive attitude.
With the skills I’m learning reaching out to supporters and volunteers, and gaining new insights on community organizing from my TOLA family, I have a new perspective on my life as an organizer. The enthusiasm that my team possesses flows through me, and it is their energy that provides the support that I need to push through the intensity of this fellowship. I cannot wait until November to see how everything will turn out.