Notes from the Balcony

Ongoing comment and dialogue on being a new church in a new world - A Blog by John Montgomery

[The Bible] is not, for a start, a list of rules, though it contains many commandments of various sorts and in various contexts. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though, of course, many parts of the Bible declare great truths about God, Jesus, the world and ourselves in no uncertain terms. Most of its constituent parts, and all of it when put together (whether in the Jewish canonical form or the Christian form), can best be described as story. This is a complicated and much-discussed theme, but there is nothing to be gained by ignoring it. - N.T. Wright

Friday, September 5, 2008

Community Organizing

Recently a colleague of mine pointed out that in the coverage of the Republican convention, how utterly homogeneous it appeared. Actually, one explanation is that all those Blacks, Latinos, Asians and youth are all there, it is just that perverse liberal media that keeps the cameras from revealing their presence. I did see two black men and one black woman. There was one Asian man but I really did not see anybody obviously Hispanic. I am sure they were there.

Not much else needs to be said. I will be glad when our two candidates actually debate each other. Maybe we can move beyond the cute side shows.

The most telling event of the evening was both Giuliani’s and Palin’s apparent ignorance about the time honored strategy of change and empowerment represented by community organizing. I will say much more in a future post. Needless to say, community organizing is about all those people who were not present at the Republican convention tonight. So I hope everybody had a great laugh. It’s one reason; I can’t and won’t vote Republican. It is the reason that tonight I made another donation online for Obama’s campaign.

Perhaps, a little background will help here. In the late 80s, following my graduation from seminary, I was hired as the Executive Director of the Institute on the Church in Urban-Industrial Society (ICUIS) in Hyde Park. I hope to come back to this work soon and talk about some of my research, but I thought I would share a paper written by young Obama on the subject of community organizing. Maybe if Giuliani had read the paper, he wouldn’t have looked so elitist tonight.

During the four years I was director of ICUIS, we focused on documenting a new trend in the traditional community organizing strategies of persons like Saul Alinsky and the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). During that time, I was able to do research on the more than 100 ‘congregation-based community organizing efforts” across the country and publish several studies. In Chicago, one of the key groups facilitating such organizing was the Gamaliel Foundation that helped organize The Developing Communities Project and GREAT on Chicago’s Southside.

Obama was right in the middle of these efforts. And it is his instinct as an organizer that makes me so interested in his candidacy. I have paraphrased his comments more than once where he says, “What people don’t get is that it is not about me, but it is about we.”

That is a community organizer talking.


lorna said...

I listened to part of Guiliani's speech - the part where he kept repeating that Obama has *only* worked as a community organizer, making it sound very condescending and I was very offended by that.

I don't know much about community organizing, and so the little I do may not be totally correct, but one of the things I remembered from a seminar I once took years ago is that it takes some unique talents that not everyone has. Talents that allow you to listen *and hear* other's stories in a way that provides assurance to that you have heard and understood, as well as being able to provide a sense of working together (including desire and willingness to do so), building hope, inspiration and motivation. Not to mention the ability to see a vision for a solution, communicate the vision and bring it to reality. Not an easy task. Those seem like talents that would surely enhance anyone's qualities for the role of President.

The only thing I have seen that trickles down is attitude. May it be an attitude of bringing together, inspiration and motivation.


Earl said...

Obama's "experience" as a community organizer is a thin portfolio on which to declare him qualified to lead this nation. Hillary said so as did every other reputable leader in the Democratic party. He has never ran a business or been responsible for producing anything beyond sound bites. Not withstanding mere imagination, he remains a good talker. His record at the state and federal level is inconsequential. His close questionable criminal associations are a matter of legitimate concern. Given his track record or lack thereof, his vision is irrelevant.

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