Sunday, February 12, 2017

Organizing with grit, integrity, and vision

The PICO National Network of faith-based community organizations, which claims a presence in 150 cities and 17 states, has a Live Free component that has been building local struggles against mass incarceration and violence inflicted on communities of color.

By happy accident, I found myself in a Live Free convening last week. In anxious times, it was great to be among tough, experienced, determined new friends working in directions which we all need.

These folks aspire to be a "prophetic resistance." We were treated to a reflection by Doran Schrantz from ISAIAH in Minnesota that dared to ask what "moral genius," if any, might reside in these Disunited States. She proposed:

  • "Moral genius" means never to pretend to reconcile what cannot be reconciled. There can be "no exceptions. Democracy cannot be reconciled with white supremacy. You cannot build a free people on lies."
  • Moral citizenship is about picking up "the bedraggled promise of freedom, of equality."
  • Moral citizenship demands that we "root out every practice/law/etc that asserts that some are more equal than others.
  • We have inherited this contradiction: we have to decide to live with being Americans and accept that we live within the American contradiction. Our hands are going to be dirty. But there is only the complicated struggle of collective action.

PICO has not always been known for "playing well with others" -- for being willing to work cooperatively alongside other community actors. In today's broad resistance moment, leaders and organizers stressed that going it alone would not be enough, even though coalition can be hard, scary.
  • "We are not living in the same kind of organizing environment as before. It doesn't feel like a democracy anymore. Organizing will be different."
  • "We have to build a bigger tent ..."
  • "Organizing works. Does it make room for new people? Does it have room to learn? Nimble is good."
  • "We can no longer win by ourselves ..."

Taking the fight into the electoral arena was considered essential. "Political involvement is not optional." That's tough to sell when people don't believe they can make a difference, but what else is organizing for but to help people find their power?

"Some of us have been made for this time... Be the storm ... Raise up our own prophets of resistance." "Our faith has to exceed our belief ..."

All of these admonitions speak to me.

Quotations are my hasty notes, as accurate as I could make them.

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