By Harold Dela Cruz

You’ve probably all thought about doing something in your lifetime that will change the world. But what does it take to create lasting change in a community? And what are some of the challenges?

Participating in the Organizing and Leadership Academy (TOLA) has shown me that positive change is incredibly difficult and can’t happen overnight. I have been a part of the San Francisco vs. Big Soda campaign since late July and I’ve experienced the day-to-day challenges of correcting the narrative on the negative health impacts of sugary beverages. We are constantly met with folks who say that they don’t want to take away sugary beverages from people; who believe that the consumption of sugary beverages is a personal choice; or who deny that sugary beverages are contributing to type II diabetes, obesity, and other related chronic illnesses. While these conversations are draining, they are incredibly important in changing the way our society views sugary beverages.

As communities develop a better understanding of the negative impact of excess sugar in drinks, a shift in health behavior can begin. In order for a majority of people to adopt this perspective of sugary drinks, there will need to be millions of conversations about it. One person may have 1,000 conversations over 3 months, but the only way that a city like San Francisco can possibly adopt this understanding is for more people to join in spreading the message. From this experience of talking to people every day in the community, I’ve learned about the power of community organizing but also its “kryptonite.”

A major challenge in organizing is balancing one’s commitment to the community and taking care of one’s self. With the demanding nature of social change, it becomes crucial for organizers to be able to take care of their physical and emotional health. In order to do this, organizers must first realize that they cannot do all of the work alone and then be able to depend on other people to ensure that the social change happens.

At the beginning of my organizing experience, I found it incredibly challenging to be able to juggle multiple responsibilities simultaneously. After beginning to work upwards of 60 hours per week, I’ve learned how to stay organized, take detailed notes, get work done immediately, and develop skills that have given me the ability to not only work many hours per week but also be more efficient with my time, and keep close relationships with family, friends, and my partner. I’ve also been given the opportunity to coach and improve the skills of others. Although our interns initially joined the campaign looking to simply volunteer their time, they will be leaving the campaign as organizers themselves, having learned how to recruit and mobilize their respective communities as well.

Organizing work is not a typical 9-5 job. It’s a lifestyle that requires investment from all parts of one’s life. Although I may not work on another political campaign, I’m certain that I will continue to organize communities and live this lifestyle of building capacity and creating social change.

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