In another two hours I will be back at the Arise office with a half dozen other Arise members, packing boxes, moving the remaining furniture onto to the truck, and, finally, locking the door at 94 Rifle St. for the last time.
Sadness and relief-- sadness that Arise's quest for social justice does not always run straight ahead, and relief that we will finally be able to focus on our plans for getting back to our roots.
We have always been a shoestring organization-- how could an organization of and for low-income people be otherwise?-- but this last year has been rough. Money has gotten tighter and tighter. A local foundation said we were "too political" for them to fund, and we were turned down for two other grants we thought we were likely to receive. Our small staff has not been paid consistently in a year, and sometime in December we realized more effort was going into figuring out how to pay the rent than in organizing. (And people wonder why more poor people are not politically active. Being poor is a fulltime job!)
I loved our office but it was in the wrong place-- harder for people to get to, and less easily connected to the political life of our city. The people who were most likely to walk into our office were people in need-- always true, of course, but they tended to be less able to recognize their own poverty as part of a larger problem. We began doing more advocacy than organizing. I knew we were headed in the wrong direction when we asked a sampling of our newest volunteers and members to describe Arise, and they would say, "Arise helps people!" No-- our mission statement says we are here to educate, organize and unite low-income people to know, stand up for and achieve our rights, and transform those conditions that make us poor in the first place! If we "help" people along the way, great. But that is not our mission.
The next three months will be spent meeting in people's houses, re-educating and committing ourselves, and ORGANIZING! If all goes well with fundraising, we can reopen a physical office in September or October. But the office is not Arise; Arise is in the will and commitment of our members to win a better life in a more just society.
Arise is not closing. We are being reborn.
PS-- you can still reach us at the same number-- 413-734-4948.