ENGAGE is a confusing organization. I struggle to explain it to friends and family, usually leaving victims more lost than they were when I started talking. Sometimes I don’t bother to explain it at all, waving my hands with dismissal. As I made the long, hot drive to the annual Convergence with new ENGAGErs from Wisconsin, I realized just how mystifying the network can be. This year’s Convergence was the largest ever, and a good number of people came not because they knew all about the network, but because they trusted their friends and colleagues when they told them it wouldn’t be a scam or a waste of time.
Speaking on a panel of fiery speakers from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), organizer Kevin Pentz said that people come to KFTC for two reasons. Some come because they have a problem. Others come because they buy into the vision the organization has, and then, “they’re in it forever.”
The Convergence showed me that the strength of ENGAGE is in its vision. ENGAGE has a unique vision of power and fulfillment for all achieved through both grassroots organizing and education–a commitment to concrete solutions and lasting shifts in consciousness. Whether they’re running an alternative school in New Orleans, building a sense of community in rural South Carolina, or supporting community gardening and creating cooking classes in Wisconsin, the bases in ENGAGE all represent that overlap, or they’re striving for it.
We don’t know everything and we don’t do everything right, but we’ve got something that feels special. In meetings and workshops throughout the weekend, ENGAGE’s commitment to process and improvement was evident. Facilitators asked for ways to improve their sessions and participants gave suggestions.
“You either give a damn or you don’t,” pronounced Sue Tallichet, professor at Morehead State University, to the crowd gathered at the Convergence. That was another thing–every person there gave a damn. They were farmers and cyclists and organizers and students and human rights advocates and educators and musicians, and every conversation had the potential to turn into a discussion of passion, justice, and injustice.
These people and their vision are worth describing. Maybe the tangled structure of the network distracts from these elements at the core of ENGAGE, the reasons people keep coming back. Explaining this network takes time and effort, but everyone deserves the chance to be around people who give a damn, and everyone deserves to help create and work toward a vision of the future that will keep us in it forever.