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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Letter to a Canadian Friend

Dale, from his Canadian perch, asked me what is going on in American politics--not just national but local. I took the opportunity to talk to myself about what I must do.

I pointed out that there is still a lot of local church and community based organizing—Alinsky style--going on here. I told him that I am partial to the PICO, IAF, and NPA organizations, but there were many others which are doing their best to put people and common interests above those of the wealthy and dominating interests.

I sent him a list of 1200+ so-callel organizing networks. I noted that most of them are single issued, movement styled organizing projects. And some of them are probably scams. 
The Bernie Sanders movement has tapped into a lot of these but especially the Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Wall Street movements and now the Democracy Awakening and Climate Change movements. I would hope that some good organizing could come out of his campaign, but I doubt it. Obama people tried to move his campaign movement into a sustainable organization, OFA, but it really can’t happen from a electoral party base. In working with Obama's administration at Housing and Urban Development, I clearly saw how party politics really interfered with authentic people politics.  I think my friend Arnie found the same thing working with the Labor Party in England.

I have no doubt that in our time there is a need for partisan electoral politics to advance progressive national and even international agendas. And I am willing to work for Hillary 
(as we did during the Obama campaigns) in Virginia or other areas near us that are in danger of moving to reactionary plutocracy and populist exclusiveness. But I believe that true progressive republicanism can only be sustained by publics—i.e. local community organizing in which people, and especially the working poor, build solidarity and push their common agenda. That means the interplay (and tension) between movement and organization, and also between direct democracy politics and electoral politics. 

I told him that our interaction, when we worked together 40 years ago in Toronto, between the NDP (New Democratic Party) and GRO (Greater Riverdale Organization), was fruitful as long as GRO maintained its self-sufficiency.  That interplay and tension will be necessary until the classless society is achieved—in other words, forever.

Unfortunately, the parties, even the progressive labor parties, like corporations, are fixed on the immediate bottom line, i.e. the next election. And even community organizations (church, labor, nonprofit org based) have to focus on winning short term victories. This is why national and transnational churches, unions, nonprofits need to build and maintain strategic resource and training mechanisms where thinking and acting can move from local to regional issues and beyond while local organizing keeps taking place where ordinary people can experience true civic action and leadership. This is what the IAF, PICO, and NPA are trying to do. Also Midwest Academy, Organize Inc, and others. It is also what we are now trying to set up in Haiti (see our CEN project in Haiti).
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So I guess my counsel to myself is. Keep doing what we can even with the small stuff (e.g. transportation, clean ups, schools, safety issues, housing) but, at the same time, keep pushing to the wider analyses as to why this stuff happens. And use the smaller stuff as ways for people to learn to be engaged citizens of their communities and of their world. 

Look for opportunities to connect to other organizations that are building local power. Tie it to electoral politics locally and then regionally, but don’t get sucked into parties and campaigns. Participate in movements as a way to learn and teach leaders, but keep doing what you can to build local power through collective action around numerous issues. 

Keep trying to spot leaders to prod and support—often by letting them go. And help in anyway we can to strengthen sustainable resource and training capacities. These are the new missionary societies establishing congregations and institutions for social justice and equity.

And above all--keep the faith!


1 comment:

Aaron Baker said...

Nothing on earth can go far in the forgotten abandoned, will collapses when the houses were abandoned, it will decay when the fabric is abandoned, it will light when the friendship was abandoned, will dissipate happy when abandoned, will be dissolved when love was abandoned.
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