Organizer Jim Picchetti writes from Central Europe: Nothing is impossible

By Jim Picchetti, Statewide Organizer

Over the past week, I’ve held community organizing trainings with two non-profit groups in Bucharest, Romania and Debrecen, Hungary that both embody the motto, “Nothing is impossible.”

In my first post, I wrote about a Bucharest organization named CeRe – which means “demand” – and how it uses community organizing to increase political participation and government accountability in Bucharest.

Staff of CeRe in Bucharest
CeRe staffers in Bucharest

During my time with them, two U.S. colleagues and I held an all-day training for 12 non-profits that CeRe worked with or would like to work with in upcoming neighborhood campaigns. In one workshop, I conducted an exercise to get participants to think about the power they can build, individually or collectively, through a coalition with CeRe. After the exercise was over, they discovered that if they mobilized 10% of the people they serve and employ to work together on one community issue, they could mobilize 4,348 people! 

In Debrecen, I worked with a non-profit called Eletfa, which means “The Life-Tree.” Eletfa was founded 25 years ago with the mission of significantly impacting poverty in Roma communities in northwestern Hungary. Since then, they tried to empower communities using community development practices. In the last couple of years its staff has felt that it has not made the impact that it had hoped to make, and decided they needed a new direction.

Last October, Eletfa sent two staffers, Annamari and Timi, to the U.S. in the same exchange program in which I’m participating. They sought to learn how to bring community organizing to their community. CCH’s organizing department trained both of them and other Central European delegates through a two-day training at our offices, and they were placed for three weeks at other community organizing agencies in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Staff from Hungary's Eletfa organization
Staff from Hungary’s Eletfa organization

Since finishing their internship in the U.S., Annamari and Timi began to educate their staff on how organizing could help Eletfa accomplish its mission. A few days ago, four colleagues and I ran an all-day training for Eletfa’s staff and board, instructing on how a community organizing agency is structured, operates, and how it can leverage existing relationships it has with 230 non-profits in Hungary. At first, Peter, Eletfa’s executive director, seemed a little skeptical, but by the end of the training, he and the whole staff were shouting, “Nothing is impossible!”

In the three weeks that I have been in Central Europe, I have sometimes gotten the response, “But you live in the United States. That will never work here.” What my colleagues and I have done through our trainings and discussions has been to constructively challenge or agitate on this belief by asking, “Have you tried it before?” or “Are you happy with the direction Hungary, Slovakia, or Romania is going in?” If they are happy, we have encouraged them to do nothing. If they are not, then we have told them to try something new and maybe a little bit scary at least three times before giving up.