"A psychologist wants to change people. An organizer wants to change society," Dave Bockmann said.
He has filled both exacting positions. Beginning his career as a psychologist, he said, "After a while I decided organizing was a better role for me. Instead of trying to fix people, I would try to change society's way of dealing with people. I became an organizer."
Although he had a social conscience, awareness of injustice and desire to do something about it, he was not a confrontational, fiery political person. Instead he was quietly even-keeled and cooperative, working steadily for his beliefs.
Born the son of a mechanic in Idaho, Bockmann took his degree in psychology at the University of Idaho. "I worked as a counselor with juvenile delinquents," he said. "Within a year I moved from that to a community action agency. Those agencies were local organizations funded by the federal government to try to eliminate poverty in the U.S."
That worthwhile aim appealed to him, but he wavered before making an abiding commitment. "I tried my hand at reporting for a newspaper. I enjoyed that very much, but didn't stay because of the things that were happening in Idaho." A local cause called him back to organizing. As codirector he joined a coalition of Idaho citizens who were involved in a fight over a projected thermal power plant. The coalition won.
Bockmann crossed over to Oregon, where he continued with an action program concerning manpower and energy. He felt he had really left Idaho when in Oregon he became regional director of the Fair Share organization. He said: "I did actually help found this organization, and a few years later a similar one in Seattle. Washington Fair Share became the largest independent, state-wide citizen action group in the Pacific Northwest. Fair Share, now Citizen Action, had significant influence on major public policies such as education, health care, energy costs and the environment."
Before taking on Washington Fair Share, Bockmann directed a public foundation known as A Territory Resource in Seattle. His position there gave him deeper insight into money management. He said: "The foundation was made up of people who had inherited wealth, generally younger people with social consciences. They believed it was part of their responsibility to give some of their money away."
Bockmann oversaw making grants to nonprofit social change organizations in five Northwestern states. During his directorship, he doubled the donor base and revenue, and so was able to increase the number and size of grant awards. He included amongst eligible recipients minority communities and cultural and community art projects. "All the time I was doing what I wanted to do," he said.
In 1992 Bockmann became coordinator of Seattle's Neighborhood Resource Program. He said: "I think I have a flair for this kind of work. Organizing is a lot of talking to people in systematic ways, but organizers have to listen to people and to hear what they are really saying. I think my first background as a counselor was important, as I learned early to listen." For 10 years in Seattle he worked to provide training and technical assistance to volunteer neighborhood associations, community councils and neighborhood-based nonprofit organizations. He managed grant programs and sought new resources.
He might still be in Seattle's "unique program, which is now widely copied," had he not met his wife, researcher Yuko Nishimura. He embarked on a new life in Tokyo in 2001 whilst still doing what he wants to do. Having shared interests and strengthening each other, he and his wife work together. He said: "Nonprofit organizations have been going like crazy since 1995. My wife and I have developed a program with the University of Washington to take young Japanese people in the summer to Seattle, and place them as volunteers in various nonprofit groups. We put them to work every day, moving dirt, building fences, getting their hands dirty. They separate and go to different places so they can't lean on each other, and are exposed to English in natural ways. We hope some will go into management."
Since coming to Tokyo, Bockmann teaches some English classes, and spent one summer lecturing at the Okuma graduate school of public management at Waseda University. He volunteers at a soup kitchen. "I still want to learn how people do things in Japan," he said.