Vanessa Rhodes, with the group Lucinez, led the Organize! workshop in Fresno. Does the San Joaquin Valley need more grassroots social and economic justice organizers? Does the sun need to come up every day?

Organize for better working conditions. Organize for environmental justice. Organize to win healthcare for all. We know that you can’t wait for the powers that be to bestow upon us what is needed to improve our lives. The change begins when people work together and organize.

The Central Valley Partnership (CVP) held the Organize! workshop on Oct. 21 at Fresno City College to train organizers. Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds⎯organized labor, young people from Valley Forward, a contingent from the Dolores Huerta Foundation and participants from community groups such as Peace Fresno.

Those attending gained valuable insights into how to become a better organizer. There were breakout sessions where participants practiced active listening skills to better understand concerns in their community.

There was role playing where an organizer encountered a reluctant community member who said she didn’t have time to talk. By engaging her in a conversation that would lead to improvements in her community, we could see how the skill used by an experienced organizer made a difference and changed the homeowner’s mind.

Vanessa Rhodes was the workshop trainer. She said her motivation comes from knowing that “organizing is about power. When we take the time to learn the skills we need to coordinate our efforts, we win. We win cleaner air. We win work protections. We win safe spaces for our children. We win power to fight for justice.”

Rhodes hopes the people attending the workshop “gain the tools social and economic justice organizers need to move people to action. My hope is that participants walk away feeling more confident in having organizing conversations.”

Anne Merrill, a member of Peace Fresno, said she was “impressed with the Organize! conference and left feeling uplifted and hopeful knowing people and youth are so involved and committed.”

At the Organize! Workshop, there were breakout sessions where participants gathered in small groups to discuss organizing techniques.

Jon Mark, lead pastor at the First Mennonite Church in Reedley, said, “I’ve often heard the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, ‘Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.’ So, I attended because I wanted to learn more about the methods of gathering people together for change.”

Mark added, “I hope to integrate these lessons into my ministry. Organizing people for social justice issues is close to the heart of the church. I believe that the church can be a positive influence for change⎯inspiring people to love without discrimination and to show up in solidarity with others.”

“The event exceeded my expectations and after reading our surveys…the people agree,” said Lisa Alvarado, operations manager for the CVP. “The cross-sector curriculum brilliantly blended by Lucinez at Fresno City College brought life to my Saturday; I left inspired.”

Lucinez, the training group that led the workshop, was founded by Rhodes and a fellow activist in the social and economic movement, Heather Carroll-Fisher.

 “We both learned the skill of organizing through the sink-or-swim method,” Rhodes explains. “Over the years, we both became educators in the movement and gained an appreciation for teaching organizing as a skill.

“Lucinez now creates spaces for learning and community building through cutting-edge trainings, specifically designed to transform the skills of activists.”

Alvarado says that the CVP will hold more workshops like this. “Absolutely! [The] Central Valley Partnership is big on offering knowledge.”

She describes the CVP as a regional progressive convener that is inter-generational, multiracial and gender-inclusive. “We gather a diverse set of organizations, backgrounds and perspectives monthly through meetings, trainings and calls to action.

“We’re mobilizing to achieve social, racial, gender, environmental and economic justice here in the San Joaquin Valley. We welcome and invite in anyone interested in growing or sowing into the force that is Central Valley people.”

Groups co-sponsoring the Organize! training were Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, the California Environmental Voters Education Fund, the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 246, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District 16 and the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council.


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. is his website. Contact him at

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