Open to Whatever Comes Next
April 15, 2015
From a young age, Barbara Gerten describes herself as having an innate awareness of injustice and desire to help other people. It’s what brought her from life in rural Montana to Minnesota when she was just a teenager. At the time, as Barbara describes it, those from a rural background were viewed as hard-working and quickly snapped up, which is how she became employed at 3M. After graduating from the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, she practiced as a CPA.
But Barbara knew her desire was to work directly with people and to be involved in making life better. She calls herself just a novice, but from issue organizing to volunteer involvement, Barbara's been building a life as an organizer from the start.
Barbara stepped in and out of issue work (hunger, nuclear threat, etc.) while she raised a family. She was very involved in her South Saint Paul community. That passion has allowed Barbara to help start a coalition of organizations in Minnesota doing restorative justice work as well as serving as the community coordinator with her local schools. Perhaps her boldest move was helping to start Partnership for Education of Children in Afghanistan. Barbara traveled to Afghanistan and, after seeing the effects of war on school children, committed herself to supporting education as the right direction to establish peace and rebuild the country.
After many years of working on issues, Barbara began to feel that it sometimes made little meaningful difference: “We work hard, but when decisions are made by elected officials they don’t really reflect what the people want,” she explained. Having, “never liked politics,” Barbara admits, she began to recognize that it was an important part of the process. She came across Move to Amend, a national organization with local affiliates that is working to amend the US Constitution to end the corrosive impact money has on our politics. “It’s not just about finding people who say corporations are not people, or campaign finance can be regulated, but it’s anti-oppression work; it’s bringing in voices that are often not heard,” Barbara described.
So Barbara spends her “retirement” (“I have other value to contribute to make life better for others. And I’m not going to rust out!” she says), heavily involved locally and statewide as one of Move to Amend’s State Network Co-Chairs and Legislative Team Representatives. The work, though political, is also about organizing and building the base. And that’s where Camp Wellstone came in. At the suggestion of a Camp Wellstone alumni, Barbara signed up for our annual Twin Cities training this past January and felt affirmed by what she learned.
Barbara loves the concept of power mapping (a strategic plan that determines who will do what with whom and for how much) and building relationships as part of organizing because she loves connecting with people one-on-one and finding out what motivates them as a way of engaging. Part of her work brings her to meetings with other groups and coalitions, and while that issue work is exciting to Barbara, being part of a group working at a larger level allows her to maintain connections and support those issues in concert.
Barbara summed up her experience over the years with Wellstone: “I followed Paul when he was in the Senate. I was a big supporter of Paul Wellstone. What a tragic loss. Our country would be in a different place today with him. He spoke the people’s will. I’ve always been a big supporter. When you’re in this work you just get connected and that’s how I found out about Wellstone Action and have been supporting the organization from time-to-time. To have this class, that was like the capstone!” It’s clear that Barbara’s life has led her to many different paths; we’re excited that Camp Wellstone was a part of it, and we’re eager to see where her organizing skills lead her next!