Land is Liberation: Reflections on Session 4 of HEAL’s School of Political Leadership

By Richard Morris

Land is Liberation. When I first heard those words from a local Black farmer, I could not have guessed that they would become our North Star, steering Cultivate Charlottesville on a direct path to HEAL’s School of Political Leadership.

We had an ambitious plan. In partnership with residents, we want our city to create a public and private coalition dedicated to securing formal, long-term commitments to urban agriculture. Imagine a city with a mandate to set aside greenspace for urban agriculture as part of new housing development. Picture a city-level urban agriculture director working to make green growing spaces accessible to everyone, and envision this program supported by funding from existing city revenue. That was our vision, and the School of Political Leadership would help us craft a campaign to make that vision a reality.

In Session 4 of the 2021 cohort, we worked on field and base building strategies. We spent the two three-hour sessions investigating one-on-one engagement theory, reviewing our strategy chart, and developing our pitch skills, all within the context of the pandemic, because systemic inequities never take a break.

Listening isn’t a game of chess. It’s not about looking for your opponent’s weaknesses and attacking them. Listening is about actually seeing a situation from a different perspective. If it’s an opposing view, you can’t overcome it if you don’t understand it.
– Richard Morris

One regret we all shared in the cohort was that, because of the pandemic, we couldn’t gather in person and benefit from the kind of organic engagement that drives real learning and creates lasting relationships. In recognition of the loss of this cherished human experience, we held a regrets ceremony. It was yet another reminder of the importance of honoring those deeply rooted traditions that make us human and it’s why the SoPL experience stands out as one that knows it’s not just about the work, but the people who do the work as well.

From there we jumped right into that work with Jose Oliva as our knowledge guide. We learned that institutions can be moved by our campaigns, but those big changes can’t happen without a lot of smaller actions along the way, creating a causal chain of change. One of the most important smaller actions is a thing we often take for granted, a simple conversation between two people: the one-on-one.

You can think of the one-on-one as part of your ground game. After you’ve developed your power map, identified the players, friend and foe alike, and strategized how to approach them, it’s boots on the ground time… or faces on the screen time during a pandemic. The one-on-one is a recruitment tool. It’s where you sit down with another person, who holds power to affect the outcome of your campaign, and you tell your story. It can be used to energize an ally, recruit a fence-sitter, or strategically dilute the impact of a foe who may not be for you, to keep them from actively working against you.

For the one-on-one, you need to come prepared. Practice mock one-on-ones and be ready to answer questions and address objections to your goal. Be authentic and intentional, and if you don’t know, say so then follow up later. Legitimize yourself. Who are you? What organization are you with? What is your purpose? Listen. This is an underrated skill, but if it’s true that people love talking about themselves and their work, it follows that they also love being listened to. Listening isn’t a game of chess. It’s not about looking for your opponent’s weaknesses and attacking them. Listening is about actually seeing a situation from a different perspective. If it’s an opposing view, you can’t overcome it if you don’t understand it. Follow the 80/20 rule and let them do most of the talking.

Get a commitment. It can be as simple as a time and date to meet again or a promise to attend a roundtable event your organization is hosting, but get your target to agree to keep the conversation going. Finally, follow up. Even if it’s an ally who’s 100% on your side, keep the momentum going and the energy flowing and always follow up.

One-on-ones are an on-going process and often require multiple meetings. In our second session the four teams had an opportunity to practice mock one-on-ones with each other. It was an illuminating experience to hear other campaign pitches and to learn from each other. As usual, the sessions were well facilitated by the fantastic SoPL Squad. Thank you Marla, Rosie, Marlene, Neshani, and Zeenab. Despite the mild tech trauma of failing wifi here and there, they kept the session humming.

The Cultivate Team has really benefitted from these sessions. SoPL has helped us increase our potential for success through power mapping, strategizing, and increasing our capacity to engage with one-on-ones. The one top takeaway was Jose’s reply to my question about how much should we agitate a politician on a campaign issue if we hoped to return to that politician on a different issue later. Jose replied, “A politician’s job is to be harassed by the public.” I had never thought about it that way… and now, I’ll never think about it any other way.

Richard is the Urban Agriculture Collective Farm and Foodroots Program Director and  Cultivate Charlottesville, and a member of the Cultivate Charlottesville – Land, Liberate, Reparate team. Learn more about Richard and his work >>