Deconstructing Power: Reflecting on Session Three of HEAL’s SoPL

In April, the HEAL Food Alliance brought together our four teams of 14 SoPL leaders for a dynamic session on Power Analysis & Campaign Strategy Development. For this session, we engaged the expertise of HEAL’s Campaigns Director Jose Oliva, who led the group through power mapping exercises and a discussion on deconstructing power to win campaigns. Below, Ben, Sidney, Marielena, and Sam, who make up the “Idaho Food Sovereignty Project” SoPL team each give their personal thoughts on the third session of HEAL’s SoPL, and share how they are integrating lessons learned into their collective and individual work. 

Deconstructing Power: Reflecting on Session Three of HEAL’s SoPL

Co-authored by Sidney, Ben, Marielena, and Sam (aka the Idaho Food Sovereignty Project SoPL team)

This year has been a challenging year for all of us, but for some it has been more challenging than for others. Having time to reflect on what has brought us together and our vision for  changing our food systems in Idaho is the valuable space HEAL’s SoPL has provided our team. While we are working together on our campaign to bring traditional food cultivation and food sovereignty to local communities in Idaho, it is our unique perspectives which are grounded in the experiences of our respective communities that shape each SoPL session. Today, we are sharing some of those unique perspectives with you. 

Sidney Fellows, Member, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils

Camassia quamash

As individuals and as a team, we are developing systems of culturally appropriate foods within our diverse communities. In Fort Hall, ID, our community is prioritizing traditional foods through developing programs to revitalize and strengthen ancestral food system practices. Camassia quamash is one of those foods on the table to reconnect and engage with. 

SoPL offers a space to explore effective solutions to our collective mission to create and support a more just food system in our communities. Our SoPL team, the Idaho Food Sovereignty Project, envisions a food system that is healthful in both food and workspace, accessible to our marginalized communities, and culturally appropriate for BIPOC folks. Through HEAL’s School of Political Leadership, we are cultivating skills that’ll meet current food system issues with power and structure.

Session three of SoPL focused on “Power Analysis & Campaign Strategy Development” and introduced power mapping as a tool for our team’s campaign to ensure safety for our local food workers. An essential step to our campaign was developing a specific goal — a goal that embodied our mission while also feeling achievable through our collective efforts. We were taught how to treat a goal as a foundation to build upon, and dug deeper into questions like: what are the components to this goal and how do we untangle, define, and connect them? The session provided us with the teachings we needed to understand the necessary components of a campaign and how to work with those components to realize our campaign goals.

Our team is going to carry the tools we gained during this session into our collective and individual work, to better the future of our communities. Our collective mind will continue to stay open to SoPL’s gifts of opportunity and guidance. With the SoPL team, we will continue to fine tune our campaign. Beyond our campaign, we will be able to take our SoPL experiences into our communities to inform and benefit current and future workings for food system justice.

Benjamin Trieu, Board Member, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC) & Co-founder, Treasure Valley Community Garden Cooperative (TVCGCoop)

Treasure Valley Community Garden Cooperative (TVCG Coop) members
While I have learned a lot through HEAL’s School of Political Leadership, it was during this past session on “Power Analysis & Campaign Strategy Development” that a new perspective on organizing really clicked for me. HEAL’s Campaigns Director Jose Oliva, who led the power mapping session, talked about a scale that went from Direct Service (helping people cope with an issue) to Direct Action (fighting corrupt power head on). It made me realize that most of my work has been closer to the Direct Service end of the spectrum, trying to care for the symptoms while the disease rages on, and has really pushed me to be more direct with my actions. I’m really excited to use this new understanding to dig into how we can change legislation to create real protections for farm workers from pesticides.

Jose also shared some important and inspiring stories with us. Too often in this day and age we hear about the launch of campaigns and attempts to win, but I often feel there is a lack of happy endings where the good guys win. Not at these sessions! The first uplifting ending was the story of Jose and other kitchen workers banding together to change a truly abusive and toxic work environment. They first tried as a small group of workers and were given the boot, but they brought their story to their community: neighbors, non-profits, churches, and came back with a coalition of respected individuals and the press, and got a complete overhaul to happen!

Jose also detailed a larger more tactical struggle: bringing the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) to Chicago. I’d always thought activism was from big, spontaneous acts of resistance like marches and demonstrations, but this story underlined the importance of planning and strategy: constantly having meetings, mapping out the power structures and where the important players lie, researching available leverage points, making a plan, and executing to perfection. The part that stuck out to me was hearing how Jose and others went to every debate and town hall possible during election season and constantly hammered the folks running for office with questions on the Good Food Purchasing Program. Essentially, anytime a key candidate was in a public forum, the team made sure the candidates heard about GFPP until the candidates made statements of support. An analogy it made me think of was a performer like a musician or a magician: everything feels extremely spontaneous and in the moment, but it’s all a show. The performer has practiced and practiced and practiced this over and over and, truly, set the stage so when the moment comes, the magic happens. It often feels like magic is the only thing that will change our society, and so I feel called to double my dedication and work to make sure the stage is set for the future of food sovereignty I dream of!

Marielena Vega, Visión 2C Resource Council (V2C) Chair and Board Representative, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC)

My perspective and experience comes from being the oldest daughter of two immigrant parents from Michoacan, Mexico. Both of my parents worked as farmworkers in Idaho for many years before my father decided to switch jobs for a job with a more stable income source as a milker at a dairy where he worked for twenty years. My mother continued to work in the fields. My parents and I no longer work in the fields. It has been at least two years since we have last gone back but my family and I return to work temporarily in the fields as a source to bring additional income to our home. My desire to organize and learn more about organizing comes from my personal commitment to bring community justice and advocate for immigrants and farmworkers. I am excited to work with such an amazing team and with folks in my State to further develop ways to bring culturally relevant and nutritious food to our communities, continue to fight for food justice, and further continue our fight for community justice.

The HEAL Food Alliance has done a great job of making the SoPL experience the best possible given the current pandemic conditions we are all in. I have enjoyed every single grounding exercise that we have done. It is a great way to start each session!

It has been refreshing to all share a space together via zoom and get to hear everyone’s ideas and thoughts. Even though I do wish we could all meet together in person, I like that I have still been able to feel the connection with everyone across the country. I love that we are able to be all together as a cohort but also break into our own campaign groups to discuss, practice, and reflect on what we learned. I look forward to every zoom meeting with this group as it is very different and much more engaging than most of the work zoom meetings I have during the week.

What I found particularly helpful during this last session on campaign and power mapping was meeting, learning, and working with HEAL’s Campaign Director Jose Oliva to better understand what power is and how that translates into our campaign building and planning. I was able to learn how to power-map with the help of Jose, as it is something that is new to me and I haven’t had the opportunity to practice it much before. The power mapping exercise that Jose led was very engaging. I found it helpful to get his advice and perspective on my team’s own campaign, which is centered on traditional food cultivation and food sovereignty for local communities. My team and I were able to narrow down our goal to something that was specific and achievable, given the current work that is being done in our community. 

I feel proud of myself for being able to get a better understanding of what power mapping is. I am excited to apply all that I have learned so far to the other organizations that I am involved in and help others understand these processes. Whatever fog of misunderstanding or uncertainty I had last session went away and was replaced with excitement and empowerment. I look forward to further discussions and participation with SoPL. I am so grateful for this opportunity. 

Samantha Guerrero, Bilingual Community Organizer for Agriculture and Food, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC)

When the pandemic hit Idaho and our stores closed down, farmworkers in our community who were experiencing food apartheid were having a hard time obtaining supplies and food. At IORC we had just launched our newest chapter, Visión 2C, which was in the initial phases of starting a campaign to protect farmworkers from pesticides. Pesticides are harmful to the health of all communities but most farm workers who work directly with pesticides are not given adequate training on how to prevent exposure, or what to do if they are sprayed. All I could think about was the lack of justice for those sacrificing their health so we could have access to food. 

We decided that leaning into community during these times was our best option, so we created an alliance of nine local organizations called the Idaho Immigrant Resource Alliance to  raise funds and meet the needs of our immigrant community. Farmworkers from the immigrant community are the agricultural backbone for the state of Idaho, yet they are not treated with dignity here. Collectively, we’re working to change that. We’ve assisted with providing wifi to migrant students, translating important health information, providing PPE, and educating the community on vaccines. We wanted to provide food that is nutritious and spray-free while supporting the local food systems that heal us, not harm us, so we started by collecting food at local farms and accepting food left over from the Boise farmers market. Once we obtained funding for food we decided we wanted to purchase culturally relevant options and realized this would be the perfect opportunity to connect with and support local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) farmers in Idaho. These farmers turned out to be less than 4% of the state’s farm operators. 

As a daughter of immigrants and daughter of a former farmworker woman I also co-created Project Milpa with the hope that the corn can create the community and unity that we need. Corn is culturally significant in our Latinx community and visiting Mexico I recall shelling in the living room of my grandparents home with my extended family. The corn was grown in our community, it fed the animals (including humans), and provided seed for the next season. The corn that is grown in Idaho is mostly for cattle feed and sprayed, leading to the depletion of the soil nutrients, and harming farmworkers. We sourced non GMO corn seed that was grown locally. This corn seed has provided work for local farm workers during the winter, it has been distributed in our food boxes, and now we are working to aid farmworkers and BIPOC individuals interested in becoming farmers because we know there is a lack of access to resources for farmworkers who hold ancestral knowledge of growing food their way. We know there are many gaps within our community to achieve food sovereignty and believe that together we can push for funding, regulations that protect our communities, education so others in our state realize our food system is not serving us, and policy change will support the next generation of food growers. Everyone in the SoPL Idaho Food Sovereignty Project team is rooted in community and brought together by IORC and our love for food, healing the land and building community. We all hope to grow together, as leaders, with the guidance of SOPL.