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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Alliance builds relationships as people share concerns, then act

by Mary Stamp

Organizing through the Spokane Alliance helps people in congregations, labor and education build relationships as they share their passions, frustrations and hopes.  Out of listening sessions, common issues emerge and the alliance helps member organizations prioritize those issues, research them and decide on ways to make changes that benefit the community.

For more than 10 years, the alliance has used the community organizing process to improve public transportation, increase job opportunities, promote green building, improve access to health care and bring funding to Spokane to improve life in the community by both challenging and partnering with people in power.

Carol Kawczyk

Carol Kawczyk seeks to inform and energize people to act.

Carol Kawczyk, the Spokane Alliance’s executive director since November 2011, brings a background from community organizing—also in the Industrial Areas Foundation model—in Baltimore, where she moved at 18, after leaving her home in Milwaukee.

“I saw the face of Baltimore while teaching art in churches, community centers and soup kitchens while working on degrees in fine arts and community art at the Maryland Institute College of Art,” said Carol, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2005 and a master’s in 2006.

As she taught art, she listened to people’s pain.  What she experienced was quite a contrast to the life of students in college. 

Carol collaborated with people, developing relationships and ideas to address issues for young adults and older people.

“Although they were homeless, addicted to drugs or needed a meal to share across the table, they faced similar issues,” she said.  “I couldn’t just listen.”

So she began doing community organizing, working nine years with Baltimorians United in Leadership Development (BUILD).

“BUILD started 35 years ago, using ideas from the civil rights movement,” Carol said.

Community organizing helps people find shared self-interests and builds consensus on issues to influence decision makers, while developing leadership skills.

In a Baltimore school, she talked to teachers of children who were in trouble and who gave them trouble.  She learned they could not play outside because of a drug dealer on the corner.  They could not walk to school because they passed prostitutes on the way.

Carol kawczyk
Carol with information about the Jobs Bill from WA.

If we know something like this, and the community wants things to be different, we need to act to solve it,” said Carol. 

A team of parents built a relationship with local police to solve some safety issues children and families faced.

Similarly in schools they identified facility issues, and found simple things to do, such as adding streetlights in the dark areas around the school and building a playground in a neighborhood that lacked one.

“We organized with the parents and teachers in the schools,” Carol said.  “We made the repairs possible by building relationships with the school superintendent, who became a partner.

“Organizing is addictive,” said Carol, who grew up in a Polish Catholic family with Jewish roots.

She has been visiting different member churches to learn about them since she came to Spokane.

“Often we meet people who know things could be different and are willing to organize to create change.  Organizing gives focus to conditions, so later things are different and better,” she said.

In Spokane, she has found that there are so many issues work can go on for years.  Because of its size, Spokane also is a community where organizing can have a positive impact, compared to a large city with crumbling buildings, she said.

“Compared to Baltimore, Spokane is smaller, more stable and easier to grasp for a single staff person,” said Carol.

Since she came to Spokane, she has recruited five new organizations and none have dropped out, although several had dropped before she came.

Of the 25 members today, six are congregations—St. Ann’s, The Unitarian Universalist Church, Westminster United Church of Christ, Liberty Park UMC, Covenant United Methodist Church and Holy Trinity Episcopal, down from 14 in 2004.

Fourteen are labor unions, and others are school and community groups. 

Carol said some churches may have dropped because of dues.

“I don’t want dues to stand in the way, but dues mean the alliance operates autonomously,” Carol said.  “They give us more power to be a presence rather than spending our time raising money.”

Through its member organizations, 20,000 people are involved. Participation is through member organizations, not individual members.  Some individuals who belonged to previous member organizations, wanted to continue when their organizations dropped membership.  Fifteen formed the Independent Grassroots Organization, Carol said.

Priorities are to find new leaders and to broaden membership.

“The goal is to reenergize, refocus and set people into action,” she said.  “Most of my efforts are learning by doing, building relationships and sharing experiences.”

Soon after she arrived, the Washington State Legislature passed a jobs bill that gave local stimulus through a $1.1 billion bond for construction projects supported by the Spokane Alliance, working in collaboration with the Puget Sound Alliance.

Of that amount, $54 million of the projects are in Spokane.  Half of the fund will help finish the Medical School at Washington State University in Spokane.

Other projects include energy-efficiency programs under SustainableWorks, a University District pedestrian/bike bridge; Spokane Community College’s Extended Learning Center; infrastructure on the Centennial Trail and a professional technology skills program.

Those funds coming soon after she arrived gave a boost of energy to the Spokane Alliance, she said.

The current action teams are Restore Spokane and Washington’s Future, responding to budget cuts and shaping a shared vision for the future in the city and state; the Jobs Team, working to ensure quality jobs in Spokane County, and the Health and Education Team, seeking to open school-based health centers in two public schools.

Since the end of October 2012, the Spokane Alliance has focused on the city budget, concerned that managers’ salaries were increased when other items were cut.

The alliance involved 12,000 volunteers to back the library levy, which passed and to oppose the measure requiring a two-thirds vote by the City Council for new tax revenues.

For the November election, the alliance’s strategic team urges a platform calling for quality jobs, restoring the river and increased resources to public safety

“People are facing many decisions about cuts, so we need to be clear what we want funded or created,” said Carol.

The Spokane Alliance has embarked on a multi-year campaign to address state-wide revenue shortfalls by standing for needs of the whole state. 

“By organizing more people with this focus we believe we can help shift our economy,” she said.

Carol said the alliance has worked recently with the public facilities district on Convention Center expansion to hire locally, offer health care, hire apprentices and provide jobs for veterans.

For information, call 532-1688 or email

Copyright © September 2013 - The Fig Tree