Friday, June 06, 2008

Reflections: Community Organizing

This week, I attended a gathering of representatives from area congregations who are having conversations about community organizing. The coordinator of these efforts is Rabbi Joel Moshbacher, from Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, in Mahwah, NJ. I went to check things out and see if I could potentially find a small group from FLUMC to join me. Mike Gecan, from Industrial Areas Foundation provided leadership and training for us. I found the conversation intriguing - I'm not (as I discovered) familiar at all with the process of community organizing, even though I had some assumption or ideas about what it involved.

Mike started by making note of community organizing in the current presidential campaigns. He talked about community organizing as a Broad Based Power Organization. Broad: more than one faith, race, kind, group, etc. Power: ability to act. Good intentions not enough. Organization: built of institutions. Institutions not individuals. Moderates are in institutions. Things are decided by moderates. Can't just be activists - that's too small, and activists alone can alienate moderates. Institutions have leaders, money, and a values base that can raise questions in the public arena.

Community organizing needs a financial base - Money. Dues. Hard $. Not fundraising. Not donations. A commitment to the group through dues. Financial independence.

Community organizing has a mix of leaders. Not one charismatic leader. A collective, a strategy team.

Community organizing enables the group to address a range of issues. Local and broad issues, but not just one issue.

Deep understanding of issues. Finding leaders. Establishing relationships. Conversation in the round - what bubbles up as a need of the community? The beginning of action in community organizing is local.

1) Build a base. (This is where we are at right now.)
2) Do Listening (Who else thinks what I think? What do you need? You act based on what others want to do. You have to have a significant base to act or change won't take place.) Joining similar issues. Throwing support together.
3) Power/Analysis/Research/Action
4) Win!

I'm intrigued by the conversation, and thinking about not only how our congregation could participate in community organizing, but also about how some of these strategies could be used in a single congregation. Some of it - well, it isn't what I want to think works, if that makes sense. I don't want to think in terms of institutions and moderates and needing to have a base for some changes to happen. But it does have me thinking and wondering.

Do any of you have experience with community organizing? What was it like? A good experience? A model that works?
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