One of the most frustrating experiences a congregant can face is watching his faith community join an Alinskyian community organization. Sooner or later, he will approach the pastor, complaining that the organization is “just another political” group. The pastor patronizingly retorts that it isn’t.
President Barack Obama, however, is providing the chastened congregant with new ammunition. The Obama campaign for reelection has morphed into a non-profit entity called Organizing for Action.[i] Jon Carson, who directed Obama’s Office of Public Engagement during the president’s first term and is now executive director of Organizing for Action, has made a YouTube presentation[ii] (as has the president’s wife, Michelle[iii]) for the initiative. Carson invites folks – yes, it’s very folksy – to join the group and form a lobbying machine for Obama’s agenda, which is currently passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, gun control legislation, and a progressive budget. It links to BarackObama.com, so there’s no question who’s the lead organizer.
Are the Alinskyian community organizing networks involved in Organizing for Action? As it would have been awkward for non-profits to have been directly involved with the Obama reelection campaign, it is not surprising that Organizing for Action, rising from that campaign, is not immediately associated with them. However, there are hints that a marriage has been proposed and is forthcoming.
For instance, Ana Garcia-Ashley, Gamaliel’s executive director, writes “As we came upon Election Day, these relationships [that Gamaliel has forged with ‘electoral organizing allies’] may have saved our democracy. … We now have in place a powerful alliance of relationships that allowed us to navigate undeterred through these threats to our democracy. Now we can take next steps together. We seek to create a just world, built around our faith values. We will work together to repeal the laws that limit our democratic rights, and go even further, working to change the system that created the Great Recession and several concurrent wars. As leaders of the new progressive movement in America, we envision an economy that works for all, and with the fire of our faith we will work together to make that dream a reality.”[iv]
There has also been reportage about the convening of various religious left coalitions recently, specifically around the three issues that Organizing for Action has chosen for its opening salvos.
Sojourners chief Jim Wallis blamed the National Rifle Association as a primary reason for violence in America, citing phenomenally high gun-murder rates in Chicago (but never mentioning Chicago’s strict gun control).[v] Along with the PICO National Network, it used the occasion of the Newtown shootings to lobby 100 senators with a letter, primarily signed by clergy, urging support for gun-control legislation.[vi]
Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a New York City affiliate of the premier Alinskyian organizing network, joined with their Chicago affiliate, United Power for Action and Justice, in a campaign “to shut down the most irresponsible gun dealers in its metropolitan area.”[vii]
Comprehensive Immigration Reform:
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, which is promoted by Faith in Public Life, includes Sojourners, many of the prominent, dissident Catholic groups (NETWORK, Pax Christi, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, etc.), national denominational entities with strong Alinskyian organizing ties, the PICO National Network and Interfaith Worker Justice.
Of course, this is nothing new.
Throughout the years, Interfaith Worker Justice has coordinated vigils, rallies, and “pulpit swaps” for comprehensive immigration reform. The Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation has coordinated “clergy preaching for the pulpit” on the topic. Gamaliel has run National Prayer Vigil Campaigns and a Civil Rights of Immigrants Campaign. The White House has held gatherings of “faith leaders,” hoping to craft coordinated messages of “religious” support for its efforts. These groups have been working together for a long time.
Obama’s Budget (not Paul Ryan’s):
Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) proposal for a federal budget based on his understanding of Catholic social principles such as “subsidiarity” and fiscal discipline became a focal point against which the Alinskyian organizing networks and their allies enthusiastically rallied.
The PICO National Network, Interfaith Worker Justice, and others (including NETWORK, Catholics United, Sojourners, and Faith in Public Life) staged “Loaves and Fishes” actions “to highlight the need for moral and political courage in federal budget negotiations.”[viii] NETWORK specifically attacked Ryan’s proposed budget cuts, orchestrating a well-publicized “Nuns on the Bus” tour through nine states.[ix]
Clearly, there isn’t a one-to-one correlation here but an observation that fellow travelers, well, travel together. They share the road and the destination, which is important to understand when the Alinskyian organizations protest that they’re “not political.” No, they’re “not political…” just like Obama’s Organizing for Action is “not political.”
Spero columnist and author Stephanie Block also edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper. She recently published her four-volume work on Alinskyian political organizing, 'Change Agents', available at Amazon.
[i] Ken Thomas, “New nonprofit to promote Obama agenda,” The Guardian, 1-18-13. www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10618562 : “In an unprecedented move, President Barack Obama's vaunted political organization is being turned into a nonprofit group — funded in part by corporate money — to mobilize support behind the president's second-term agenda.”
[ii] Jon Carson, “Executive Director of Organizing for Action, Outlines Next Steps:”
[iii] “The First Lady on the Launch of Organizing for Action:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYT68Uii1dk
[iv] Ana Garcia-Ashley, “Show Me What Democracy Looks Like,: Huffington Post, 11-7-12.
[v] Mark Tooley, “Religious Left Wants Control of More than Guns,” Front Page Magazine, 1-18-13.
[vi] Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), “Newtown rabbi joins Muslim, Christian clergy in urging gun controls,” 3-12-13. Letter and signatories: www.piconetwork.org/tools-resources/document/letter-from-Newtown-with-signers-2013-03-10.pdf
[vii] Alec Harris and The Rev. David Brawley, “Gun control without waiting for Congress Wield the buying power of police departments and the military,” New York Daily News, 2-7-13.
[viii] Faith in Public Life Press Release, “Faith Community to Congress: ‘It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Make a Moral Budget’,” 3-18-13.
[ix] Allison Kilkenny, “The Resistance Continues as Citizens Fight Budget Cuts,” The Nation, 6-26-12.