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Organizing for Social Change: the Role of the Organizer

I was recently asked to write about the role of an organizer. I was excited for the opportunity as I think it’s really important to have a strong understanding of social movement knowledge and strategy.

An organizer is someone who organizes other people to engage them in their agency to oppose injustice through intentional steps of collective action by identifying a social problem, making demands to address the problem and often advocating long term for those demands.

What is agency? Is it the power, resources, hard work and ingenuity that people utilize to “do something” about their circumstances. Community is the petri dish for agency to grow. When are cut of and disparate from each other, we tend to feel helpless to change the conditions of our world. But in community we are emboldened by each other and the potential collective impact of our collective action.

What is collective action? Collective action is when people take individual action in chorus with others in a coordinated way, resulting in the building of grassroots political power.

What are we talking about when we say building political power?

The Momentum Training teaches two main views of power in social change, the monolithic view and the social view of power. In the monolithic view, the organizing targets the law makers who have the power to change the legislation and can be very successful if the law makers comply. However, if the law makers won’t comply, the social view of power relies on a base of active popular support that can utilize their collective voice to put pressure on law makers and if necessary escalate the social costs of business as usual. Engler and Lasoff state, “The difference between an issue that moves and one that does not is active popular support. This refers to the base of people who not only approve, but are willing to take action on behalf of a social movement.” (Engler/Lasoff, p. 60)

The four roles of social change are a helpful tool in understanding the role of the organizer. I first encountered this at a training in Philadelphia called Training for Change. The four roles are represented by a quadrant, the first of which is the helper. These are the people who are in the trenches of direct services and support. The second in the quadrant is the advocate, these people are not directly impacted but advocate on behalf of the directly impacted. The third is the organizer who works with people directly impacted to organize their community and speak out directly for themselves. And the fourth is the rebel who stands outside of the institutions and make their demands by protesting and disrupting oppression as they see it.

I want to be clear that organizing happens all four of these quadrants, so don’t get hung up on the name of the organizer quadrant. Sometimes it is called “change agent” It’s also possible to inhabit multiple quadrants. Someone might be a helper at church and an advocate at work. It’s possible to change quadrants over time. I identified as a rebel and came to age as an activist in anarchist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist organizing in San Francisco. But the anti-racism work that I’ve done has led me into more of the organizer quadrant. But I often find myself identifying as an advocate in relationship to that work and advocating on issues that I am not directly impacted by,  but stand as an accomplice with people who are.

The organizer has to be willing to be with people and to take part of the “multitude.” For faith-rooted organizers in the Christian tradition, Joerg Rieger’s “theology of the multitude” in his book “Occupy Religion” is a beautiful view of what God is doing through the spirit and force of people power. He views Christianity as a religion that needs to decolonize itself from empire and reposition itself with the poorest people. Rieger says, “God in Christ is a different kind of lord who is not in solidarity with the powerful but in solidarity with the lowly…. This position—at the heart of the new world proclaimed by Paul—directly contradicts the logic of the Roman Empire.”

It is one thing to be a leader and quite another to be an organizer. Organizing is a mantle that is taken up by everyday people around the world, most often who do not get paid, who take on challenging the injustices in our world.

Charlotte Uprising & the Church that Broke My Heart

One year ago Charlotte, NC lit up in a blaze of social unrest. A literal uprising, “Charlotte Uprising” was a whirlwind of engagement in mass protests of communities rising up, grieving and healing together after the police shooting of Mr. Keith Lamont Scott.

I will never forget the call that came late that night from my fiancé, a pastor who was down at the protests when shots were fired and a protester was killed. I was two hours away in Asheville but I could tell by the sound of his voice that I needed to get there. He had witnessed the shooting, but didn’t see the shooter. At the time of the incident, his immediate perception was that the shots fired had come from the police. He had been very close to the victim at the time of the shooting. Other people we talked to also perceived the shots as coming from the police line.

The next morning we went into Charlotte for an organizing meeting. We offered the use of his church at the time where he was an associate pastor. I met with a representative of local Black Lives Matter and handed over the keys to them.  What happened next was my dream of church. To me, it was like watching the kingdom of God inhabit a church. There was a full scale mobilization happening out of the church within 6 hours. Supplies were dropped off en mass, medic and first aid trainings were happening a few times a day, mass trainings and meetings, clergy events, a press conference, plus food and sleeping places for anyone who needed it.

Mobilization spaces are beautiful expressions of beloved humanity and community. It’s one of those rare times in life where we are a part of a crowd (the multitude) and have an experience of connection in community, in that liminal space that happens in trauma, when we are good to each other.

Don’t get me wrong, we can be very not good to each other at mobilizations too. We bring the pathologies and poison of the culture with us into movement spaces.  It is why we have to be so vigilant in employing de-colonizing practices in our movement spaces.

I made a mistake that week. I had been told not to allow media into the building and we had passed that along. Well, one morning I had just arrived on site at the church and was trying to make coffee happen when I was introduced to a beautiful black woman who said she was doing a story on our support mechanisms and wondered if she could see the triage area where we do medic and first aid support for the protests. I got kind of lost in the yumminess of the interaction and ended up showing her around. Just then we got a call from the BLM activists who we were working for. They heard there was a reporter in the building and they were pissed. I was able to kill her story. She deleted the photos off her phone. I did the clean up work that needed to fix my mistake. I realized how my sense of safety isn’t everyone’s experience and that a reporter, however sympathetic to the uprising, can release information publicly that can compromise movement work. Again this work pushed me up against my own privilege and assumptions about life.  I’m sorry I embraced that journalist when I agreed not to. My sense of safety and being accustoming to having the power and making decisions led me to making the wrong call in that moment.

SO what happened next was the senior leadership of my finance’s church flew back in town and showed up. The next day was, for me, the unraveling of the dream and the breaking of my heart. The senior leadership systematically shut down the church as a resource for Charlotte Uprising. The senior pastor maintained that having the Uprising at his church had hurt the reputation of the church. While this is going on, my fiancé was given an award for his work at Uprising, was included in a museum show for the same reason and was invited to be one of the grand marshalls of the MLK parade. Clearly there was a plurality of views on Uprising and how it impacted the church. It was difficult to believe that a progressive church was not fairing well post Uprising when he was receiving all this acknowledgement from the community.

But to me it’s not about how Uprising impacted the church. To me that’s the wrong question. How did the church serve the Uprising? That is the question I wish we would really rise to in Christianity. God is doing beautiful things for justice in and through the “multitude” and I really wish the church would honor that work as a divine expression and support it.

How White People Need to Talk to White People About Race (and Why)

11295935_10152781809716363_8945463482166101151_n-2Last night we had a live stream conversation on YouTube about “How White People Need to Talk to White People About Race.” Over 400 people RSVP’d on the Facebook event, which is a much larger audience than we have ever reached in our monthly Open Conversations.  During the video we had over 250 views, social media engagement was really strong and it has been shared and viewed widely.  This makes me think that white people are really struggling to talk about race.  I invite you to scroll down and watch the video below and share what you think in the comment section below. 

This is how we billed the event.

Transform Network Open Conversation on white (identifying) people talking to other white people about race and racial justice. Have you as a white person. . . .
+ Felt unsure, insensitive, confused and scared during conversations about race?

+ Felt like, “Hey, I’m not racist!” Why do I get lumped in with “all white people?”

+ Want to talk about race, racial justice, ask questions and even get involved in bringing about change but have no clue what that really means or how to start?

+ Feel passionate about racial justice but get frustrated talking to other white people about it?

As a person of color. . . . .
+Get frustrated being the “racial counselor” to white friends, colleagues or church?

+Want to have more productive interactions in mixed race groups when discussing racial justice?

Transform Network has always been focused on taking on big growing edge issues faced by church and creating a safe place for people to express doubts and practice generative community. We are one of the only progressive church networks actively engaging in training around anti-oppression and intersectionality.

As Christians, we believe racial justice is just one aspect of God’s vision of shalom for the world – that people of all races, ethnicities and people groups are recognized, valued and seen as equally precious parts of the Divine’s beloved creation.

Panelists include:

Dara Silverman – consultant, coach, organizer and trainer who has been building movements for economic, racial, gender and social justice for over 20 years. Dara is the National Coordinator for SURJ: Showing Up for Racial Justice, a network of 55+ groups across the US moving white people into action for racial justice. Dara was the Executive Director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in New York City from 2003-2009. Dara is a certified Somatic Coach through the Strozzi Institute. She supports leaders to be in the movement for the long haul.

Holly Roach – a contemplavist with her activist roots in numerous social justice movements including the struggles for Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Big Mountain, AZ and the Global Justice movement. Holly has a bachelors degree in art and social change and graduating from the inaugural class of Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation this fall. She is an organizer for the Faith-Rooted Organziing Un-Network and mentored by Rev. Alexia Salvaterra. Holly is president of the board of Transform Network and producer of the it’s annual national gathering. Holly is a practicing writer and contemplative and “mother-of-dogs” to over 200 pounds of dogs.

Jake Dockter – one of the editors behind Theology of Ferguson, an activist in Portland, and dreamer. He was worked in the nonprofit and creative space for years, helping launch and consult brands and projects. He edited a book, American Dreamers (published by Wieden+Kennedy: Sharp Stuff), and was a columnist for Relevant Magazine’s social justice column, The Revolution. He is a dad and husband, loving every minute of family time.

Chris Crass -writes and speaks widely on anti-racist organizing, feminism for men, strategies to build visionary movements, and creating healthy culture and leadership for progressive activism. His book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy draws lessons from his organizing over the past 26 years with groups such as Catalyst Project, Heads Up Collective, and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, divinity schools, and religious leaders to build up the spiritual Left. He lives in Nashville, TN with his partner and their son. You can learn more about his work at www.chriscrass.org.

Hosted by Micky ScottBey Jones, Director of Training & Development of Transform Network

A Conversation on New Wave Emergence from Emerging Voices on Patheos Progressive Christian Portal

imageresizer.html Tomorrow Father Richard Rohr will be joining us with his inaugural post on Emerging Voices. Holly and Teresa are both formal students of Father Rohr in his Living School for Action and Contemplation. But many of us in the community are greatly influenced by his work and teachings. You have the opportunity to view a conversation between Father Rohr and Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday February 8th. It is rare for a Franciscan and contemplative, an order always on the fringes of Catholoicism, to have access to this large of a platform to speak to an entire nation. By nature, Franciscans are wary of “bigness,” but we take this as a sign that the broader culture is hungry for spiritual practice and wisdom. We are delighted to see Father Rohr on television and appreciate his willingness to step out and teach contemplative spirituality to the mainstream culture.

There seems to be a moment in every story, where things have to change in order to move forward. We see moments in history in all movements and paradigms where new life needs to bloom and, in response to this need, fresh ingredients come together — to transform life and community into a new manifestation of what came before. This is why humanity and its lexicon created terms like “paradigm shift” and “new wave” in movements. Like the shifting of terra, the tectonic plates of culture and society have to move to accommodate changes in the earth’s structure. Into this space, we at Emerging Voices and other voices emerging from progressive Christianity have begun to speak, contemplate, and act into this new space of the progressive and emergent conversation.

Teresa Pasquale: My work as a therapist has historically been to provide space and planning around the individual experience of these emotionally tectonic shifts. I have been trained to see the spaces where transformation is possible in a human life and to help identify that moment for people. Then my role is to hold the door open long enough for my clients to see the narrow gate of healing, and walk through it. However, in therapy as much as in community, walking through the open door is always a choice. We all have the choice to move through the difficult, dark, and broken places into the light of a new wave of life. We all, also, have the choice to stand still, if we want.

In the recent years, I have begun learning that this potential for transformation is equally possible, and equally complex, in community groups and movements. In the last year or so, I have brought my work of individualized healing and transformation into the context of community — namely this community of shared faith and hope and grace that is Emergence. It has been powerful work, and I have been humbled by the content and heart of the struggles I find in community with emergent folks, as well as the powerfully difficult task in front of all of us — to walk through the “narrow gate” or not.

For the last couple of semesters in my social work classes, I have spoken with my students about something I have been calling a “New Wave of Civil Rights.” This new wave has been showing up in the Progressive Christian movement and beyond in such places as the Forward Together Moral Movement, LGBTQ Equality, and Black Lives Matter.  What I’m coming to realize, as a person, as a therapist, as a fumbling contemplative speaking into emergence, is that the Emergent Church community has an opportunity to catch — and participate in — this very same wave.

What defines this new wave?

Teresa: It is grounded in action and contemplation. This dynamism between inner and outer life forms the cornerstone of my own theology as I have learned it from master teachers such as (but not exclusively) Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, the late Marcus Borg, Thomas Merton, and Brian McLaren. Their teachings and understandings of the nondual way of pairing action and contemplation exemplify the ancient-future truths spoken ages ago by mystics (also known as contemplatives) like Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Sienna, Meister Eckhart, and John of the Cross. It is the timeless ownership of beloved community embodied in the lives of contemplative actioners like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Dorothy Day. It is the work of reconciliation done by people like Desmond Tutu, Thich Naht Hanh, and Nelson Mandela. It is the healing work of people like Bessel van der Kolk, Brene Brown, Gabor Mate, Pat Ogden, and Peter Levine.

This new wave, as I see it, moves beyond woundedness. It honors and acknowledges sacred wounds, but it promises the potential for healing on the other side of hurt and the capacity for transformation in every human life — because being hurt is not the point. God wants us to be whole. Healing is the process, and wholeness is the point. And we are made to heal. The power of contemporary science is that it validates everything the universe and its inhabitants, on our best of days, have intuitively known to be true — that we all have the capacity to heal. We all have the right, as autonomous beings, to live in hurt and rage in perpetuity, if we so choose. But we do so consciously, eyes-open, with the knowledge that there is transformation beyond hurt. We don’t heal in lieu of justice but because the most transformed version of justice — for abuse, trauma, racism, sexism, homophobia — only comes from the transformed heart.

Holly Roach: New-wave emergents are missional community developers; they are faith-rooted organizers, contemplatives, theologians, teachers, and activists. New-wave emergent folks have deconstructed church and are now left wanting to create alternatives, to be the church they wish to see in the world, to embody the answers to our struggles in real and lived out ways. New waves are influenced by voices from the margins. New-wave emergents are bridge-builders in addition to being relational-bonders. New-wave emergents are LGBTQ-inclusive and engaged in dismantling prejudices in their own persons. New-wave emergents have moved beyond critiquing the hegemony of white cisgendered persistently at the center of conversations to creating spaces where the center is filled with voices from the margins. Thus new-wave emergents are passionate about justice and see dialogue, action, and reflection as integral pieces of a holistic effort. New-wave emergents are both pre-figurative and strategic. They are plotting for goodness while already living as best they can here and now — as if the kingdom has already come, “on Earth as in Heaven.” New waves embrace the rich tapestry of liberation theologies, and continue to surprise and invert the entrenched hierarchies of church.

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza: New-wavers are not just thinking or intellectualizing in a postmodern framework, they are striving to practice and adopt postmodern behaviors, an orientation that seeks to destabilize and disrupt systems that are death-bringing. New-wavers are less interested in arguing on Facebook than sitting in respectful dialogue where opposing dualities are both honored and heard.  New-wavers are about seeking to move beyond the oppositionality of “liberal” and “conservative” to help bring about a truly radical community of liberation for all.

What are the advantages of maintaining threads of connection from the new wave to the old wave from which it emerged?

Steve Knight: People who have been hurt by the founding generation of the Emergent movement often proclaim that the new wave needs to completely disassociate from Emergence Christianity. I see it differently. I believe deeply that, in order to know our movement DNA, we need to learn from both our wins and losses, to site our examples, tell our stories and know where we come from. Spiral Dynamics instructs us to “transcend and include,” like the evolution of DNA, movements need the base material of what made us with the ever-motivating pull of doing it better.

Mike Morrell: One of my favorite living Christian spiritual teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault, teaches this concept called the Law of Three. It’s too much to give full justice to in this space, but the upshot — the “so what?” factor — is this:

There are always more than just binaries at play. Our current narrative and frequent experience is, two sides become locked in a kind of dualistic rivalry. But what the Law of Three proposes is that, if we cultivate a carefully attuned awareness, we’ll recognize that there’s always a third, (as Bourgeault says) “reconciling force, or energy, [that] emerges as a totally independent force out of a capacity to hold these opposites.”

It’s not merely a synthesis, like in Hegelian dialectic, but a genuine “third force” — of novelty and truly fresh perspective. This third force doesn’t invalidate first and second forces — the two that find themselves opposing each other. Instead, third force redeems these, by showing a higher purpose they were serving all along.

Keeping this in mind (and truly, there’s a lot more to it) has helped me see seemingly intractable conflicts in a new light. It puts flesh on the bones of Richard Rohr’s idea that everything belongs, including — especially! — the things I don’t like. I find, on the other side, that my enemy is actually my ally in disguise.

Holly: I love the way Brian McLaren called upon the church to repentance for 20 centuries of crimes, then ceded his time to Navajo Mark Charles at Christianity 21 featured in the video below. And I love the way Jacqui Lewis, of Middle Church in NYC, says, “I am dreaming of a church that is activated to dismantle racism, because I think we can.” It’s critical to celebrate and lift up our wins in the movement. These statements from main stage at C21 exemplify the shift we are trying to describe here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fe1FP2fNeY [/youtube]

Teresa: Into this space we breathe this new wave of emergence, emerging. Welcome to the revolution. It is action and contemplation birthing something new, which is also the most ancient thing of all. We are living into the birthplace of ancient-future faith. It is a revolution born of dancing, and like the adage (once attributed to Gloria Steinem but actually from Emma Goldman) we speak loudly into the space of possibility, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution!”

In summary: It is our choice. Each one of us. We can move into a New Wave of Emergence. With this we have the opportunity to move into what is emerging and possible beyond the binary state of critique, rage, and hurt into a space of hope and healing. Powerful justice comes from this place. Powerful reconciliation is born out of this freedom. It IS our choice, each one of us. The work is still hard and the road is still long, but it is  built on the foundation of transformative hope and healing action, given to us by teachers of generations ago and present day who have and are living life that matters from a place of healing and possibility.  As a postmodern movement we have the posture and practices to be able to hold the tensions of the most painful dualities.  Is that not the work of ministry?  Our movement can hold, love and transform woundedness. So no one has to be excluded. That is the work if we only choose to engage it.

Transforming Missional Annual Network Gathering in San Diego

TF Digital Card 1.16.14This year I am helping to curate the speakers and workshops at the annual Transform Network gathering.  As an secular activist from a mainline tradition I have a hard time talking about the missional church to my secular movement friends. In fact the only way I know how to talk about it without invoking oppression born from colonization, is to talk about missional in terms of what it is not.  But you can only define things in terms of what they’re not for so long.

The theme that emerged this year is around translating the missional church, (our language, practices and culture) in ways that are accessible, relevant and of service to broader movements for change.

To do this we need to thoughtfully consider and be able to acknowledge the legacy of oppression and Empire that modern day Christians inherit. We want to ask ourselves how we and our institutions are still steeped in empire. How do we disentangle our ministries and faith communities from the tendrils of empire and oppression? What strengths do we have to share with and serve other movements? What do we need to be thinking about in connecting with broader movements for change like Climate Change and Equality movements. Can we become part of a movement of movements and how do we prepare for that kind of intersectional and pluralistic movement engagement as communities of faith?  In short, how do we become the church the world needs us to be?”

To guide us we’ve enlisted some pretty smart people of diverse bacgrounds, theologian Joerg Rieger, faith based organizers Alexia Salvatierra and Paul Engler, activists Celia Alario and Gareth Higgins, contemplatives Teresa Pasquale and Rebekah Berndt, radical pastors Peter Matthews and Anthony Smith, community missions leaders Rachel Goble, Dee Yaccino and Kathy Escobar, activist and author Mark VanSteenwyck facilitating an interactive weekend of keynotes and workshops.  Not to mention a book party with InterVarsity Press and a Homebrewed Live 3D Podcast with Melvin Bray of the WIld Goose Festival gourmet pizza and beer!  Which reminds me of my motto borrowed from anarchist Emma Goldman “If I can’t dance, I don’t wanna be part of your revolution!

Keynotes:Engler Quote
Joerg Rieger – Taking the Church Beyond Empire: Toward Deep Solidarity
— Alexia Salvatierra – Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World
— Pamela Wilhelms – Living Systems for Change
— Paul Engler – Social Justice Organizing Models
— Celia Alario – Spiritual Activism: Uniting a Movements of Movements
— Gareth Higgins – A New Story Makes A New World

Read keynote descriptions

Workshops:FROBIG
Urban Street Angels Service Outing with Eric Lovett
Sacred Wounds & Healing Spiritual Woundedness with Teresa Pasquale
Privilege Power Shuffle led by Holly Roach and Steve Knight
Contemplative Sex: Learning to let go of judgement, live in the present, and awaken to our god-given desire led by Rebekah Berndt
Contemplative Prayer for the Justice Seeker led by Teresa Pasquale
Christian Responses to Genocide: An Episcopal Perspective led by Kathryn Rickert and Elsie Dennis
Relationships: Cultivating Kingdom Connections for Transformation led by Dee Yaccino
Paradigm Conversion: Nutrition & Wellness in a Corporatocracy led by Allegro Hopkins
SoulEmergence with Anthony Smith & Peter Edward Matthews
The Revolutionary Table of Jesus led by Mark Van Steenwyck
Media Spokesperson Training taught by Celia Alario
Incarnational Communities: Strength & Hope for the Long Haul led by Kathy Escobar
— RSM: Racial/Ethnic Self-Awareness as Spiritual Discipline for Missional leadership offered by Marie Onwubuariri
Preventing Human Trafficking / Sex Slavery led by Rachel Goble
Recovering the Missional Human: 12 Steps to Missional Living with Teresa & Chris Pasquale
Exegeting the Community: The Intersection of Theological Education and Social Justice with Tavonda Hudson, Leigh Finnegan, Elizabeth Mathis, and Scott Bostic

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Panel Discussions:black outlined fist red heart
How the Missional Church Needs to Change with Rich McCullen (Missiongathering), Jon Huckins and Christiana Rice (NieuCommunities), and Bret Wells (Missional Wisdom Foundation)

De / Constructing Youth Ministry with Melvin Bray, Tripp Fuller, Micky Jones, Gregory Stevens, and moderated by Kristen Perkins

Queermergent MultiFaith Panel with Jason Frye and others, moderated by Adele Sakler
Emergent Village Conversation with Mike Clawson and others
SoulEmergence Conversation with Anthony Smith and Peter Matthews
Skeptimergent Conversation with Kile Jones

False Self Anonymous 12 Step Meeting for Everyone with Paul Engler

Read panel and conversation descriptions