By Sharon Merino
What does it entail to give oneself to the cause? It means long hours, stress, frustration, and little sleep, but most of all hope — hope that all the hard work will pay off; hope that you will meet your goals; and hope that the work will truly impact everyone you spoke with.
Working on the Oakland soda tax campaign has resulted in many of these feelings, but it’s the community members who I have engaged with in Oakland who have truly been my motivation to stay involved in this work. Community organizing requires one to fully engage with the community, so we can learn from them what changes they want in their own communities.
During the fellowship, we were pushed to engage in as many conversations as we could about the soda tax, so I did. Early one morning, my team members and I participated in an elementary school event, where we displayed our sugar demonstration. We were located right at the school entrance so anyone walking in was sure to walk past the display. We took every chance we could to engage with parents and children. “What is your favorite drink?” we would ask them. Most of the children would be filled with excitement, shouting or pointing to the name of their favorite drink on the display. I could not help but notice the visible dental problems that the majority of the children had. Even though we had done our research and studied the health impact statistics — actually seeing children with tooth decay truly paints the picture of how ‘sugar water’ is affecting our youth.
In community organizing, people become more than just statistics. Doing the sugar demonstrations at the school had a huge impact on me. I could not help but think of how these children might be one of the one in two Latino or African American children who will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. These children were more than just a statistic. They were filled with life and bright futures ahead of them.
In just 16-weeks I have learned that organizing requires dedication, flexibility, leadership, and responsibility. Community organizing has very easily been one of the hardest jobs I have done. I have learned that it is not something that gets easier; instead it is something you get better at with time.