I was a brand new organizer when I found myself standing at podium with about twenty microphones and recorders clustered together. Everyone was waiting for someone to say something. It took me a minute to realize they were waiting for me.

As one of the lead organizers for the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union – trying to use people power to bring a just resolution for the public transit operators and riders to the 2003 L.A. bus strike – I had to say what we as a group needed to say: that we supported the drivers and mechanics that were going on strike to protect their benefits and wages; supported the riders who paid for and deserved a first class bus system; and called on the public transit agency to end the strike and stop its policies of transit racism. Flashes and TV cameras were rolling as I spoke and I got out our message loud and clear.

For thirty more days after that conference, I was instrumental in the strike: setting up free “people’s shuttle” vans for stranded riders, creating communications to get people’s attention, leading civil disobedience actions by shutting down downtown streets during LA’s evening commute and even participating in a sit-in that landed me in handcuffs surrounded by police in an underground holding area deep under the county board of supervisors building.

This is the point in my career where I became a ChangeMaker. I had a passion for this cause; I saw it as a present day civil rights movement. And even though this passion fueled my work, this was a turning point in my career. I stepped outside of myself, my own ego and my own insecurities; this was more about me being a tool to further the movement, the demands and the victories. I had the specific skill set and willingness to lead and facilitate change. I never really wanted to lead but I was willing to lead when I was called upon to do it.

And now, these learnings and skill sets are something I look forward to sharing in the upcoming ChangeMakers Program – the year-long facilitator training for individuals ready to transform the world. As one of the faculty, it’s always my goal to help advance the team in making social change – arming them with tools they begin using in their own practice right away.

Damon Azali