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Community Organizers

Representative : Nina Gregg

Putting Ethics into Action

by Nina Gregg

Putting Ethics into Action brought together staff and members of more than twenty advocacy, activist and policy organizations in New Mexico for a full day of conversations, panels and experiential workshops about institutionalizing representation, democratic decision-making, transparency and other hallmarks of ethical practice.

Putting Ethics into Action brought together staff and members of more than twenty advocacy, activist and policy organizations in New Mexico for a full day of conversations, panels and experiential workshops about institutionalizing representation, democratic decision-making, transparency and other hallmarks of ethical practice.

The gathering was the culmination of months of planning by a team composed of representatives from Common Cause New Mexico, Center for Civic Policy, ProgressNow New Mexico, New Mexico Voices for Children, and the Ethics & Responsibility Network.

Inspiration for the day came from Viki Harrison, Executive Director of Common Cause New Mexico. Viki was active in the Repeal Coalition (death penalty opposition) when she took part in an action research project on Ethics and Responsibility in Organizing led by Nina Gregg (US Coordinator of the international Ethics & Responsibility Forum). As the action research project was drawing to a close, Viki suggested that a larger face-to-face conversation would encourage attention to the potential and challenges of making explicit the ethical commitments of social justice organizations. In response to Viki’s suggestion a New Mexico planning team was recruited and Putting Ethics into Action was the result.

From the very start the planning team was committed to designing a collaborative learning event that built on the knowledge and expertise of participants. We aimed to strengthen existing relationships and build new connections for continuing to work together. The invitation asserted that “Ethics and responsibility strengthen the work, our communities and our institutions.”

On Friday, October 25, 2013, Viki welcomed everyone on behalf of Common Cause New Mexico and the planning team. Two respected leaders set the tone for the day with their remarks about the meanings of ethics and the welcome opportunity to have these conversations with allies and partners.

Putting Ethics into Action - Arturo SandovalArturo Sandoval, veteran organizer and founder and director of the Center of Southwest Culture, challenged participants when he said “Ethics are not about following our feelings, religion, following the law, or what society accepts. Ethics are well-founded standards of right and wrong: honesty, compassion, loyalty, rights.” Reminding everyone of the importance of holding ourselves accountable, he said, “We need to live out the values in our lives first, then we can promote them in our communities.”

Putting Ethics into Action - Stephanie MaezStephanie Maez, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Civic Policy, emphasized the importance of internal organizational mechanisms for accountability and also called for being more intentional about embracing ethical practices in our work. The morning panel was composed of two experienced activists, each of whom offered examples of ethical practices and challenges from recent and highly visible campaigns.

Putting Ethics into Action - Rachel LaZarRachel LaZar, co-founder and Executive Director of El Centro de Igualidad y Derechos, announced “I want to talk about the messiness, because we are faced with ethical dilemmas every day.” Until comprehensive immigration reform legislation is passed in the US, organizations like El Centro must make strategic and difficult decisions about policy and transparency. Keeping community members informed is a critical component of accountability and responsibility.

Putting Ethics into Action - Monica CordovaMónica Córdova described the commitment of the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) to building high-trust relationships by valuing indigenous knowledge and expertise, a commitment to long-term leadership development, supporting allies, and creating safe space for members to tell their own stories. SWOP’s affirmation that “There is genius in the hood” is a key component of developing relationships that are transformational, not transactional and thriving communities.

Before and after lunch attendees took part in interactive workshops on Defining and encouraging civic engagement as ethical and responsible activism (led by Javier Benavidez and Oriana Sandoval from the Center for Civic Policy) and Infrastructure for ethics & responsibility in your organization (led by Nina Gregg of the Ethics & Responsibility Forum and Alex Curtas from ProgressNow New Mexico).

Putting Ethics Into Action

After the afternoon workshops participants convened for a plenary session on Putting Ethics into Practice. Three respected leaders shared the ethical practices (tools) they have found to be effective in their work.

Putting Ethics into Action - Sarah NolanSarah Nolan from Comunidades en Accíon y de Fé (CAFé ) returned the focus to the choices made every day when she said “Our commitment is to truth, not a quest for power.”

Laurie Weahkee, Executive Director of the Native American Voters Alliance (NAVA) reminded everyone that for Native peoples, responsibility for all living things is not a new concept. She described the importance of having guiding principles that set out the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Putting Ethics into Action - Matt HendersonMatt Henderson, Executive Director of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ ) shared a story about a group action to make the point that there is a lot of conflict in the work of social justice and that conflict can be a positive force, clarifying options and opening up dialogue.

Putting Ethics into Action - Marsha GarciaTo conclude the formal program, two participants offered reflective remarks. Marsha Garcia from ProgressNow New Mexico encouraged participants to continue to be attentive to ethics in their organizational practices and to make a commitment to share what was discussed.

Oriana Sandoval summarized the themes from the day, emphasizing the importance of living our values in our organizations before we promote them in our community or judge others; the importance and challenge of transparency; the necessity of inclusion; tensions between short and long-term objectives and incremental versus whole system changes; and the work necessary to codify principles and ethical practices.

Everyone expressed appreciation for the day’s program and the opportunity to have candid conversations with allies and partners about the successes, challenges and lessons of their work. There was a lot of interest in creating safe spaces to continue talking about putting ethics into action.

Next Steps

The momentum launched by Putting Ethics into Action continues:

• Contact information for participants has been circulated to enable networking and building new relationships. The C3 Table (a monthly meeting of leaders of not-for-profit organizations) will host an ongoing group focused on putting ethics into action.

• This report has been distributed to participants. In response to participant requests for assistance developing organizational codes of ethics, we have also distributed examples of statements of values and codes of ethics from other organizations along with suggestions for ways to proceed. SEE ATTACHED DOCUMENTS BELOW

• We are exploring the development of written case studies on ethics in action as resource materials for internal education, in recognition of the value of written resource material about putting ethics into action. We will develop a case study template and encourage participants to use or adapt the template to document their own experiences. If this idea takes hold we will identify a web platform to host these materials.

• We are looking into organizing similar gatherings, focused on Putting Ethics into Action, in other regions of the US.

For more information, contact Nina Gregg, US Coordinator, Ethics and Responsibility Forum ngregg (at) (865) 977 7399

Sponsoring organizations for New Mexico Putting Ethics into Action:
Center for Civic Policy
Common Cause New Mexico
Ethics & Responsibility Network, supported by the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind
New Mexico Voices for Children
ProgressNow New Mexico
University of New Mexico

Participating Organizations:

Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice
America Votes
Center for Civic Policy
Center of Southwest Culture
Common Cause New Mexico

Communication Workers of America (CWA)
Comunidades en Accíon y de Fé (Café)

El Centro de Igualidad y Derechos
Ethics & Responsibility Network
Interfaith Worker Justice
Native American Voters Alliance (NAVA)

New Mexico Voices for Children
Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLE)

ProgressNow New Mexico
Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC)
Committee of Interns and Residents/Service Employees International Union (CIR/SEIU)

SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP)

About the three documents attached below:

Many professional associations (for example, lawyers, judges, physicians, financial advisors, accountants, fundraisers) have Codes of Ethics governing standards of professional responsibility, conflicts of interest, and compliance with regulations. These generally focus on maintaining the reputation of the profession (and defense against liability) and rarely address social justice, values, respect, inclusion, or transparency. This isn’t too surprising, considering these are codes for individual professional practices, not for organizations with missions and visions of social change or social justice goals and objectives. What this gap signals is an opportunity for community-based, advocacy and activist organizations to begin articulating our commitments to accountability, responsibility and ethical practices.

And here are a few thoughts on how to proceed to create a Statement of Principles or Code of Ethics for your organization:

1. You already know that the most effective organizational processes are inclusive and take time to develop. When we can see our own contributions in a vision, values, or code of ethics that comes out of a collective process, we are more likely to feel committed to and ownership of those statements and what they express. Use the participatory processes you and your constituents are already familiar with to begin a conversation about what ethical practice means for your organization.
2. You may already have — in founding documents, reports, and proposals — language that begins to express what your organization is committed to as ethical practice. Review what you have and be prepared to listen, discuss, interpret, revise, and adapt. Getting the language right is time-consuming and sometimes challenging!
3. Developing a Statement of Principles or Code of Ethics can be a separate project or effectively integrated into program planning, evaluation, visioning, exploration of strategies, planned growth or other organizational activity. However you proceed, consider the resources available (time, personnel, skills) and what makes most sense (separate project or integrated into ongoing activity) at the time for your organization.
4. Statements of principles and code of ethics are valuable references and tools to guide strategy, set priorities, and evaluate activity. The process of creating these materials can set in motion progress towards an ethical organizational culture, but the existence alone of these materials isn’t enough to ensure or sustain ethical practices - they have to be used.

Published on: 23 January 2014
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