What Immokalee Might Have For Me

I’m wrestling with my power, the opportunity of this moment, and the longer, slower work I may be being called to.  

On one hand there’s the big opportunity that may be once a decade. Perhaps once in a generation. And it feels like it’s happening right now and I need to jump on it. On the other hand there’s the slower work of figuring out the power of my life’s work, what is really mine to do, and trusting the relational work that’s cumulative. 

The first opportunity is clear. If we have a new President, a new Senate, what will the big policy push of the first 100 days be? The Green New Deal? What if it also had shared ownership woven in? What if there was policy change that made it easy for community capital to be mobilized and massively expand shared ownership opportunities for all?  Perhaps I’m naive, but my hunch is I may be one or two people removed from a handful of the key people that could be shaping these decisions over the next 6 months.

On the other hand, I know I have a tendency to sprint at big opportunities. Often good things come from those sprints, but I often overestimate my own power and ability to seize the opportunity. I get easily drawn up in working fast and hard to pursue the outcomes. I’ve learned that in these periods I get spread thin and it often leads to burn out and harm to others as a result of my trying to take on too much.   

I realize there is another body of slower work of relationship building and gradual integration that keeps inviting me closer. I notice the invitation when I make time for a contemplative sit and writing. When I intentionally create this space, I find it easier to resist the attraction and immediate gratification of smaller near-term projects (like email). Creating this space in my calendar, requires me saying “no” to lots of interesting people and opportunities that feel like they could be important.

However, when I do make the time to write, I sink into deeper work and feel swells of energy that emerge from a deeper place. I also notice that when I’ve taken time to sit and ground myself with writing, I show up with a different kind of attention. I feel a sense of spaciousness, and an ability to notice and wonder at the possibilities.

As I wrestle with whether or how to pursue the opportunity of this moment, this story of my parents and the place I grew up emerged for me. 

Immokalee

My parents were significantly shaped by Catholic Social Teaching, lay ecclesial partnerships emerging from Vatican II, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker approach to active non-violence, and the charism of Maryknoll missionaries. A couple years after they got married, they chose to accompany and work with migrant farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida. 

Their move to the small town of 10,000 or so residents — mostly a mix of Mexican, Haitian, Guatemalan, Honduran — would easily have been seen as insignificant to their friends, family, peers at the time. Today, however, Immokalee is on the map in the modern struggle for workers rights and food justice because of the patient work of building community, weaving relationships, and building trust. Greg Asbed, Lucas Benitez, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have been recognized for their fair food program work by many including with a recent MacArthur Genius Award.

The origins of their work started with my parents’ efforts, and gradually evolved with the capable leadership of others. As I look back on this period in the 1980s and 1990s, I wonder how my mom’s naturally transparent ways of building relationships, or her work with groups of young people, or her bread-baking and unceasing hospitality contributed to other families choosing to invest in the collective work of building power with the farm workers. I wonder how things would have unfolded without her patient unglamorous work — at the intersection of drawing many interesting people from within the community and drawing outsiders into the work — and how together there was a collective deepening of commitment to the work with, for, and among farmworkers fighting for basic human rights. I vividly recall hunger strikes when I was a kid where the Coalition was fighting for decent wages, against wage theft, decent housing, protection from the harmful, cancer and leukemia causing pesticides… and ultimately their work went on to win meaningful victories from major restaurant and grocery chains from Taco Bell to McDonalds to Publix. 

What does this offer me? 

My hunch is that I need to lean into the slower work of building the relationships. Investing strategically in the right relationships can lead to building the power that can have the kind of transformative impact that Biden’s first 100 day policy push might have on offer.   

Projects I could work on in the next 6 months

Trying to use the 2 by 2 Matrix Max taught us about to map a couple of the projects I could see myself working on in the near term.

Who’s Advocating & How Much Power Do They Have?

In this super quick attempt at trying to put visual tools into action, I can see how powerful trying to use simple mapping can be.

Published by Felipe Witchger

Felipe actualizes organizer-entrepreneurs for new economic praxis. He facilitates collaboration between community institutions for more equitable community wealth building. By developing leaders and allies, Felipe believes marginalized communities can build the power they need to change institutions, systems, and our culture. Felipe also loves building sandcastles.

6 thoughts on “What Immokalee Might Have For Me

  1. Felipe: you are at the brink of so much. As you enter this pregnant moment, how can you be open to every possibility, especially those you haven’t envisioned, and how can you be attached to no outcome? And what if Trump wins?

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  2. Felipe, the tension you’re experiencing in this moment feels very real for me. Over the last few years, I’ve found the patient, emergent approach to be impactful in ways I couldn’t imagine. And yet, the pandemic and racial justice uprising have thrown me for a loop, back to sprinting towards whatever I can get my hands around and never feeling like it’s enough. I’m trying to take more time for contemplative practice and remembering that the seeds we’ve planted with our partners will continue to bear fruit, regardless of what’s right in front of us. And I’m grateful to you and the workshop organizers, as similar to you I’m finding that having the time to write and reflect on our work is helping me feel grounded again.

    One of my concerns with visualizations is that they miss some of the nuance and richness of the work. When I look at your diagram, I feel like the “smaller” or “marginal” opportunities can be very impactful as effective models to lift up in a more supportive policy environment (IE a Biden administration).

    How do you think your more patient work will benefit and grow should we get a favorable outcome in November?

    Thank you again for such a thought-provoking post!

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  3. So amazing to hear more about your background, reading many of these posts it strikes me how many of us were influenced by our parents and their social justice lens on the world. I feel the tension in this post between the opportunity of the current moment and the brick by brick building of the movement. I sometimes wonder if there are different ways that people think and thrive that pull them one way or another. I have a mentor who was a brick layer- he would frustrate people with his patience that the world would catch up with him (and when they did, he was ready). He partnered with the ‘sprint to the opportunity’ guy who became his COO for 20 years. It was a good match and they build a strong, sustainable organization that was able to pivot and stay relevant. My point is, do you have to be both? Can you you charge towards the opportunity and work with a partner on the sustainability and relationship building? Could you be burning out by trying to be all of those things?

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  4. I enjoyed your “contemplating out loud” with us here! Your parents’ quiet slow work in the world decades ago has now grown into a tree offering the fruit of potentially greater health and justice for many. What was their discernment process in choosing to do what they did in Immokalee? I’m curious what lessons you might apply to clarify what is “yours to do” at this juncture in history? How might your relationship with your wife and kids and sandcastles be a part of discerning your focus? (No guilt intended–I ask as one learned that he gave away too much trying to be an institutional insider for change).

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing all of this, Felipe!

    I think it’s courageous of you to lean into – and share – all of these feelings. I have a couple of questions that I hope can help your continued exploration of all of this:

    Where do you think your tendency to sprint at opportunities comes from?

    Does this moment of opportunity re: Biden potentially coming into presidential power feel different than any other political moments in your life time during which Democrats were coming into power? And if so, what do you think makes this moment different?

    Reflecting on the “patient and unglamorous” relationship building with which your mom was engaged in, what kind ion organizing relationship might be available for you to enter into? Are there different types of relationships? Is there strategy that may or may not relate differently to different types of relationships?

    Thanks for your post and for sharing!

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  6. This excellent post resonates. I really appreciated a window into your family. As with many things, it seems that this moment has put into focus this tension between the need to be opportunistic and the need to create conditions. What precisely about this era is highlighting that tension?

    The maps and models you have presented are powerful tools. How have power maps generally changed in the last six months; will these trends continue or subside?

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