Neighbors United for a Better East Boston
Building a Solidarity Organizing Model for Abundant Community
Neighbors United for a Better East Boston (NUBE) has been organizing community members in East Boston’s majority immigrant neighborhoods for over a decade. Co-director and organizer, Gloribell Mota, remembers the original impetus of NUBE as a matter of fair and equal political representation. “In 2006 there was just a group of community neighbors, organizers, and activists, predominantly from the Latino immigrant community here, that were looking at why even though East Boston was a majority-minority community, [that majority] wasn't reflect[ed] in our public leadership and our public institutions…we thought, if we were able to educate and get our folks that were able to vote, and get them civically engaged, that we could shift political power and create community change.”
Over the past decade, NUBE’s organizing approach and model have undergone significant restructuring, but its primary aims of shifting power and creating community change remain at the core of its mission.
Mission and History
NUBE was founded as a formal organization in 2008, largely out of the efforts of a successful state congressional campaign. Mota explains, “it was the first time that a Latina [had] run in this district for state rep, or any seat, I think, at that point.” As a result of this victory, NUBE started to “build a foundation”, as residents more fully realized their electoral power. Says Mota, “we thought…if we get more people involved and organized this will help shift the weight of the political culture.”
Focusing primarily on housing, economic development, and immigration issues, NUBE worked to increase both civic and political engagement among residents, resulting in more just representation and government accountability for East Boston. Since 2010, NUBE’s efforts have gone on to include participation in the 2010 census; voter registration trainings and voter turnout; community education around sexual assault, public safety, gentrification and displacement; as well as organizing campaigns around immigrant rights and fair wages.
Despite NUBE’s substantial early success, creating a sustainable organizational model that could truly shift power and create real community change remained elusive. By 2014, leaders and staff were exhausted. Organizer Diana Salas explains, “all of our organizers were burnt out…they were doing a lot of that legwork, a lot of the mobilization policy work, rallying, marching, you name it, we were in it.” Mota concurs, “ I was burnt out and I was like ‘we can’t sustain this.”
Wrapped up in this individual and organizational fatigue was a growing dissonance between NUBE’s values, aims, and practices. Even more, the efforts of the organization were felt as reactive rather than productive, and relationship building had taken a backseat to moving from one issue to the next. “[We were] always thinking about what we don’t want and never thinking about what we do want because we [didn’t] have time to dream in that way.”
Hibernation and Abundant Community
In 2015, with both the successes and challenges of the organization in mind, NUBE members and leaders did something courageous. They took a step back, and rethought everything. Salas recounts, “we spent about a year and a half, literally, what we call hibernating—re-assessing, figuring out what works, what doesn't work, doing a lot of training. And [we] emerged with…the focus much more on building the leadership of our membership to spread abundant community.” The concept and practice of an abundant community begins with a transformation of the self and our relationships with others. It’s a relational organizing approach in which solutions to social problems and power itself, reside in the hands of a caring community.
“Does power really lie at the State House? White house? City Hall?” Mota asks rhetorically?
For NUBE, the answer to this provocative question hinges on the mindset and actions of community members. “[Powerful institutions] depend on us to give them power,” explains Salas. “A lot of our work and our language is no longer geared towards fighting the political powers that be, but …[is instead geared towards] collectivis[ing] our own collective power.
NUBE members take direct action around issues, policies, and elections. But that action emerges from an enlivened community with deep relationships; with community members and leaders who live their values; and through a community that is empowered to create the social practices and structures that they want to see in the world.
Solidarity Economies and Abundant Communities
Joining the Solidarity Economy Initiative cohort has helped to further expand NUBE’s thinking around and efforts to create abundant community through relational organizing. Says Salas, “part of us spreading abundance is arguably to recognize all of our community gifts. Our folks get together for stuff real quick when they need it, but instead of constantly responding on the resistance side, [we want to] be more proactive in building the alternatives…[instead of], band-aiding the stuff that's already dying. So it kind of segued very naturally for us to get engaged in the solidarity economic work.”
A felicitous entry point into the solidarity economy for NUBE has been around self-care, healing, and community connections. This is the type of labor that a profit-driven economy devalues or completely ignores, but it is central to NUBE’s vision of an abundant community. Within the cohort, NUBE “has been very vocal on the self-transformation, self-healing piece that other groups might not [emphasize as much].”
At the same time, being in dialogue with other base-building organizations who are incorporating different elements of solidarity economy into their work has encouraged NUBE to continue it’s process of hibernation—of ongoing reflection and transformation. Indeed, as Salas relates, the cohort has become a community learning space “to really dream big and realize that part of base-building. It has created a space to think about that alternative political system, that alternative housing solution—land trusts-- alternative ways of practicing and being in meetings…it’s been beautiful.”