Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talked with Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews,
Director of Clergy Organizing, PICO National Network
Paul Ingles: I’m sure you could give a lecture on this, but let me ask you to give us a thumbnail; what is meant in your resume about your focus on the theology of resistance?
Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews: The Theology of Resistance, yes. That is our baby here at PICO. It’s about two years old. It was born out of that baptism that I talked about before in Ferguson. It’s a multi-faith theological model for articulating how faith informs our commitment to build power for change.
There’s a fundamental question that lives at the heart of the theology of resistance and it’s inspired by the question that Howard Thurman asked in his book Jesus and the Disinherited. The question is what does faith have to say to those whose backs are against the wall. What do we say to people who are being oppressed, who are being marginalized? Does faith tell them to simply pray and hope and trust or does faith tell them to act? Does faith tell them to fight back? Does faith tell them to resist?
We are exploring the ways in which our faith traditions hold within them examples and teachings about how we resist the logic and the impulse of empire, how we resist injustice in our communities. We ask that question and try to respond to that question about how faith informs us through three narratives and the arc of that narrative includes encounter, disruption, reimaging and action.
I might tell a personal narrative like the one I told about my experience in Ferguson or the experience I had with the young man in church; this disruptive encounter that created an opportunity for me to reimagine who I was and the who church is and who we’re supposed to be and then to take action in the world.
I might then look at a second narrative that’s the sacred narrative. Where in our sacred traditions are there already stories that are about people being disrupted by uncommon encounters that cause them to reimagine who they are and understand who they are in different ways and take action in a different way that allows for the transformation of themselves and their community.
PI: The first time when a lot of people see a communities’ organizing efforts manifest is when it gets to a critical point or there is a shooting in the community or there is some sort of an event and then there is a demonstration and then it’s on television. I want to talk about those moments, but what I hear you saying is that there is a lot of training that is focused on the unseen steps that are happening up to a crisis point like that.
MRM: Absolutely. There is a need for us to be constantly building the relational power of our communities, the civic understanding in our communities so that when these moments arise, we are ready to respond to it and we have the networks of relationships, we have the ways of trying to understand and analyze what’s happening in our community. We have the connections with people who have decision making power to then be able to take some kind of action together.
PI: Discuss other coordination efforts, particularly on priority-setting for goals of a national consensus message versus a local emphasis. Is there some coordination (I don’t want to say imposed) with these groups’ agenda items? Does it come from the bottom up or the top down or a little of both would you say?
MRM: You said coordinated. I’m going to describe coordination, but if you were watching it live, it wouldn’t look like it was very coordinated. The process can be a bit messy, but it’s really, at the end of the day, about having deep relationships across our network and processes for communicating and discerning together the priorities that we going to make.
We have always prioritized the local in organizing and in PICO and since we’ve been organizing in Washington, D.C. working on federal policy, we’ve had to work a lot harder at trying to honor that bottom-up perspective for our work.
We’re often looking at how something that’s happening in the local environment adds up to something national across our network and so that’s an example of how we might pay attention to the local first.
But then there are those moments where something is happening in the national arena, something is happening in the broader culture, there is an opportunity that opens up in terms of what’s happening in our Congress where we then have to bring from our national staff a proposal to our federations around an opportunity to act together. Sometimes decisions get made based on what we’re understanding from a national perspective, but we’re still negotiating and trying to understand that better between the local and the national.
PI: When you look back on Ferguson a few years down the road now, how do you evaluate the overall effort of community organizing to work for change and to affect change in Ferguson?
MRM: Well, I really feel that Ferguson was a watershed experience for us and PICO, but I think for the whole movement, I think it opened the doors for a lot of conversations about the tactics that we use in organizing. Protests have not necessarily been one of the primary tools in faith-based community organizing.
Now people are paying attention to the sacred moments that happen when people are outside together in public expressing their values. There’s a lot more outdoor organizing in our work today than there was. I think that it highlighted the role of race in our work because you couldn’t talk about Ferguson without talking about race. You couldn’t talk about Ferguson without talking about gender.
You’re talking about Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, you’re talking about a movement in a moment that was born in the hearts and vision of women, black women, black queer women and so there are ways in which we have had to renegotiate our understanding of who leads this work and whose analysis informs this work. I think it has had a major impact on organizing writ large, PICO organizing in particular.
PI: Reverend Matthews, talk a little bit about the role of public protest and social justice work though. It certainly seems to make a lot of people uneasy to watch it unfold from afar. It’s a much different experience to be in the middle of it as you have sometimes. Talk about the pros and cons and what you’ve learned from your participation in your study that is important for us all to take in.
MRM: I would say that public protests can be uneasy because it’s outside of the historic norm of how we organize, as I mentioned before. I think there are also concerns about the safety of public protest.
I think also there is concern about the respectability and order. There is a discomfort with public expressions of anger, but we teach that anger is really about grief. The root word for anger is Old Norse for grief. It’s important that we restore practices of public grieving in our society and our communities. I think that’s the beginning of reimaging is to be able to grieve and to be able to articulate what has been lost or what has been violated in our communities.
I think we learned in Ferguson that public protest is a disruptive encounter that creates that space for reimaging who we are and who we want to be together. I value public protests today because I think it’s where the wall between the sacred and secular collapses. It’s where we begin to see the sacredness of one another in ways that we couldn’t see before.
PI: Well, I guess one of the most challenging things is that if there is an instantaneous need or a protest emerges on its own, you can have your people involved, but you also have people who are sparked by emotion who have never been to a community meeting and these two groups are trying to integrate. One had no training about the mission or how to measure the protest and that sort of thing versus those that have, that, in itself, is an instantaneous piece of conflict resolution that has to happen within the demonstration.
MRM: Yes, and I think that Ferguson is an example of that. I think what happened at the beginning of the Ferguson experience was that you have a set of clergy that wanted to respond and you had a set of young people that wanted to respond. Clergy had an idea of how to respond that was rooted in many years of practice and many years of how clergy showed up when these kinds of things happened. That’s how things were run. The young people, they were saying that that approach was not sufficient for the expression of their grief.
One of the main reasons we were invited into the Ferguson space during the uprising was that there was a need to try to build some lines of connection between these two groups; there was clergy who wanted to work with young people who asked us to come into Ferguson.
At the end of the day, the success of Ferguson really depended on the clergy being able to yield to the leadership and to the grief and perspectives of young people and not the other way around.
PI: Let me close with this Reverend Matthews; what’s the thing that you would like to say to those listening? Most listening are probably not engaged in political organizing honestly. Some may be in a church community, but others may not be in our audience. What would you like to encourage or suggest to those listening to become involved or how to become involved in all these important things like improving race relations and police relationships and just being active in the community? Let’s presume most of our listeners are not especially active.
MRM: I would say that it’s really important for folks who are not familiar with organizing to take some steps, whether they be small or large, to get connected to the people whose stories are informing this work. I find that our folks get more involved when they are hearing the stories and the cries of people who live closest to the pain.
I think often our fear of getting involved is related to the fact that we don’t have the relationships that give us the kind of context for understanding what we might be bearing witness to on the news and in the media.
When people hear the stories of indigenous leaders who are trying to protect the environment, when they hear the stories of mixed immigration status families who are trying to stay together, when they hear the stories of women and men who are trying to reenter society after incarceration and finding that there is obstacle after obstacle in their way, their hearts open. Their hearts break open to understanding why it is important and what’s at stake, not just for those individuals, but for all of us as a community in terms of getting involved in this work.
At the end of the day, you realize that these are my people; this is my sister, this is my brother and the welfare of my life and my family depends on the welfare of these sisters and brothers around me.
I would say begin with relationships. Organizing begins with relationships and I would say that you need to lean in and begin with building the kinds of relationships that allow for you to much more deeply explore how and why you can get involved in this kind of work.
PI: And I guess be ready for a little internal resistance because it’s not necessarily an easy space to occupy.
MRM: No, and this is why I’m saying to take that first baby step into these relationships because there will be resistance and that resistance will come from multiple corners. There is the resistance you have within your own spirit about being in public relationships with folks. There is the resistance that others around you might have like what it means for you to be involved.
My family, for a long time, was trying to make sense of what I do as a minister and how do I even describe what I do as a part of being a minister. They understand the historic examples of a minister wearing a robe and a collar and when I was doing that, they knew what box to put me in. Now I’m in the streets at protests and they’re not quite sure what I’m doing.
I’d say definitely just take a first step, dig into the relationships and your imagination will open up from there.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talked with Rev. Alvin Herring, Director of
Racial Equity and Community Engagement, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Paul Ingles: You do a talk called “Getting Beyond Biases” often in which you say that talking about racism and white supremacy may not be the best way to get people to respond to the call for social change and racial equity that continues, but the talking about inherent bias is more productive you say. Tell me a little more about that.
Alvin Herring: I think one of the ways, particularly through the organizing work at PICO, in which we were really able to get groups to really both talk about racism and also organize their voices and their civic leadership and ultimately their power was by helping them understand that the foundational building blocks of racist systems begin in places where biases are shaped and formed and those biases become locked in at a subconscious level or a level where we aren’t always able to access them intentionally and that those biases are performative. In other words, we act them out. Certainly, we act them out explicitly with intention, but a lot of times we’re acting them out implicitly without intention but certainly with impact.
We found that that’s a much more effective way to bring people into the kind of conversation and into the kind of orbit, if you will, in which more intentional actions and deeper conversations can happen.
PI: Well, I watched one of your talks, obviously in front of a room full of people at a conference. You invited them to ask themselves; “Where did you grow up? Did the people in your neighborhood look like you? Did the people in your school mostly look like you?” Just about every hand went up. Then when you said, “What about the grocery store you most often go to; do the people mostly look like you?” These are conscious choices that maybe are feeding into an unconscious space, but we don’t think about them that much. That one caught my attention, the grocery store one.
AH: Maybe another way of approaching it is that these are unconscious biases that feed into and are the building blocks of conscious choices. I think that’s really what we’re trying to isolate here; that you can form an association. For example biases are really often formed through association, something that you witness, but even more importantly, something you’ve been told, taught or heard and you link the two things together. For example; “These people are dangerous,” “These people are irresponsible,” “These people are lazy,” “These people will cheat you.” Certainly, very few people would say out loud and consciously; “I believe this entirely,” but you can still hold that bias and make choices in your life and upon reflection, you can see that those choices are really in part or in total inspired by those biases.
That’s why we end up living in segregated neighborhoods. In this country, many of the largest cities are segregated or more segregated than this country was in the 1950s. Public schools across the country have never lived up to Brown (vs. The Board of Education). We have never desegregated our schools. Our children still don’t have an equal shot of sitting next to each other in the classroom and sharing that experience together.
Certainly, if you look at the laws on the books and the statutes and the Constitutional protections and the vigorous enforcement, all of that is there. If you ask the average American what they are feeling about segregation and education and housing, for the most part, poll after poll shows that our conscious and explicit orientations are bad and yet, we make choices to live in neighborhoods where people look just like us, shop in grocery stores, parks, worship, you name it, our lives are lived to a large extent in this country parallel to one another with very few areas of intersection. That scenario, that condition is created by our inability to really take on consciously what we hold dear unconsciously.
A lot of the organizing work, and for that matter, a lot of the work of faith and a lot of the work of this foundation is to move us into a conscious dialogue where there can be clarity, accountability, we can heal and we can really reach for something better with real intention.
PI: You invite people in these talks to challenge that old saying, “I have lots of (fill in the blank); black friends, Hispanic friends, Native American friends.” Say more about that challenge.
AH: I think one of the ways in which we let ourselves off the hook is when we are made to confront our biases; (saying)“We have [fill in the blank] black friends, Jewish friends, Muslim friends, white friends, Latino friends, Asian friends” as though that then excuses us from ever holding - either consciously or unconsciously - attitudes, biases, prejudice’s and perceptions that ultimately support and become the fuel of the systems that really deprive us all of equal access to equitable opportunities and equitable treatment and that’s never sufficient. It’s never sufficient.
One friend or five friends certainly don’t represent a whole group and just because you have some associations, which is great, doesn’t mean you’ve done the other work of walking inside the experience of your friends, really seeing them and seeing what they’re up against and understanding what that means for you.
It’s one thing to say, “I have black friends.” It’s another thing to say, “I understand through my close associations better what that experience is like.” But then there is another thing to say; “I have really walked inside that space intentionally with my friend and I’ve come out on the other side as an ally, as a person committed and willing to work, not just for what’s good for me and my family, but what’s good for them and their family.
That’s the hard work and we won’t get to it as long as the only or the most frequently suggested activity towards racial comity or racial healing is that I have friends.
PI: It’s a step, but if you ask those who say that, have they walked into your home and spent time with you.
AH: Oh, absolutely! That’s a good point Paul. That really bears repeating.
PI: Well, it’s your point. I borrowed it from you.
AH: Even folks who say, “I have good friends,” when you ask them if those friends visit with them, if they know their children’s names, their anniversary, birthdays, if they spend holidays with them, if they’ve sat with their sick loved ones and if they’ve sat with yours, then that “I have a friend” thing begins to break down.
PI: What are some of the personal responsibilities and steps that any of us can take to move beyond that point, beyond the overall culture of exclusion?
AH: That’s a great question Paul. It really is a very thoughtful question and I appreciate you asking that because I think that really is what’s on the mind of most people who intend to try to hold themselves accountable for making change at this moment.
I think that there are two or three things that people can do. We’ve already talked about one of them and that is all change begins in relationships, so the first thing that people can do is to really seek out and completely and thoroughly live inside those relationships whose identity and culture and background is different than their own, to really see them and really move inside that experience such that you carry a commitment to their liberation or their health and wholeness and healing, similar to the one you carry for yourself and your family. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, and this is really where it gets hard for people, although the first step is hard too, but it is that there is a narrative in this country that supports systematic racism and systematic othering. We’ve got to challenge that narrative. The most effective way to challenge that narrative is for people to begin to tell their story, speak in their authentic voice, share their identity, make it known that they have a level of comfort about who they are and a level of curiosity about the other, but to really gather with one another, this is now beyond the one to one, but gather with one another in church, in synagogue, in mosque, in the streets, at school meetings and PTA meetings, on the playground (given your age) and get in there with each other and have that kind of conversation. If you can’t give all mostly constructive answers, at least have the courage to ask the important questions.
Then thirdly, beyond beginning to shape and change the narrative, and you can do that in other ways too, literally like interviews like this, but people are going to have to speak up. They’re going to have to understand that they are powerful and that they are not only individually powerful, but even much more powerful when they work together and then even more powerful still when they work together across race lines, across gender lines, across other lines of identity and that organizing work, that coming into power, that’s really, really, really hard, but we won’t get to where we need to get to if we’re not able to do that work as well.
PI: You have said that Black Lives Matter is perhaps one of the most important social justice movements in this countries’ history and that even historic Civil Rights Movements even in their own way were saying “black lives matter” without catching onto that phrase.
Then in recent years of course, there is this public conversation, even some people who feel that they are in solidarity with African Americans, if they’re honest, might admit to taking a pause when they hear someone on TV say, “Hey, all lives matter.” Their brain might say; of course, I agree with that.
What do you make of all this? You’ve said that to you, it’s more than semantics. Could you talk about it a bit?
AH: I do think it’s more than semantics. Young people insisting that black lives matter really matters to all of us because what that cry is about is just that it is a cry. I think it is most usefully understood as a question. Can you imagine putting a question mark at the end of it? “My life matters, right?” “I’m black, but I still matter, right?” When you encounter it that way, you understand that that kind of question can only come from pain.
I defy anyone to say that any of us are born unable to understand and to feel the others’ pain. I think what makes us human is that, as creatures, we’re able to reach out for the experience of the other and to understand the other.
Black Lives Matter is a call, it’s a cry; “I’m in pain. Does that matter to you?” What’s been remarkable around the country is that people from all walks and backgrounds are saying, “Yes, it does matter!” They’re saying one other thing that I really am encouraging us to listen to and that is “It matters because of who they are, but it matters because I’m in pain too.”
This last recession, 2008, more white working men lost their jobs than any time in American history other than the Great Depression. More white families were unable to send their children to college without being saddle with debt than any other time in American history. More whites fell below the economic line that marks working class from middle class than any other time in American history.
There is a lot of pain in this country and I think that’s what Black Lives Matter is really calling us all to listen to.
PI: I was just thinking that if you have to add the word “all” in there somewhere, that’s the place you would put it; “Black lives matter to all.”
AH: Amen! Amen! I think that the narrative says that the majority of people can’t really understand that and aren’t really reaching for that understanding. The reality is that it’s just not true.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talked with Richard L. Wood, Ph.D., professor of sociology,
University of New Mexico and co-author of the book “A Shared Future: Faith-based
Community Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy”
Paul Ingles: In this program, Peace Talks Radio, we’re interested in defining zones of conflict, conflict scenarios and then exploring what is working to reduce conflict, how, in general terms first, can we define the conflict that faith-based community organizing is making some headway to address.
Richard Wood: There are two of them that I think are really central for these organizations. One is the level of inequality that’s all around us; the way huge chunks of American society, many of us, feel excluded from shared benefits of being part of this society, the level of inequality, the feeling that somehow politics don’t matter, that being involved politically doesn’t help anybody, the conflict around just inequality and is everybody in this society really part of the society.
These organizations talk about that as economic justice or fighting against inequality, but then this book partly deals with that and then very much centers on the way that racial conflict continues to be so at the heart of the American experience.
Even though, in many ways, we’ve made a lot of progress around race, there are still ways in which race resides at the heart of some of the deepest differences in American life.
The book tries to get at how we can work together to really address, not just the worst, most superficial forms of racism, but also the deep forms of racism that are just what’s called implicit bias; the ways that, if you’re raised in American society, you’re raised to think in particular ways about different races in ways that often aren’t fair to those people and that’s true across races.
PI: Do you think the term “racist” is thrown around carelessly in these discussions?
RW: I think the word “racist” is often misunderstood in these discussions. Folks working for racial justice will often talk about the ways that an awful lot of American culture is racist. What they mean by that is that we continue to assume things about each other based on somebody else’s skin color, somebody else’s race.
The trouble is when many people, especially white folks hear that charge of racism in American culture, they think they’re being accused of somehow being consciously against black folks or consciously against people of color. And so in some ways, we talk past each other. It feels like it’s being thrown around in ways that aren’t very careful, but I think actually, as long as we hear each other carefully, it’s true; there is still deep racism in American life and in our shared culture.
PI: You use the term “implicit bias” which is the one that is substituted in conversation about racism I think as we talk about it, which might be a valuable tool just because the other term is so loaded.
RW: Yes, right. As soon as the word “racism” gets used, it often makes it hard for people to hear each other. The idea of implicit bias is the notion that racism doesn’t have to be “I don’t like black people” or “I want to stay on top of black people.” It’s a subtler form of racism that says; somehow if I know your skin color, I know something about you or if I see a black person on the street, somehow I’m more afraid than if I run across a white person on the street.
It’s these deep, unintentional (that’s the really important word) unintended, not thought through assumptions that we make about other people that are biased, but aren’t something we mean to do. It’s just implicit in our way of understanding the world.
The book is about organizations that are working systematically against implicit bias and systematically for racial justice in this county.
PI: How do you yourself define faith-based community organizing as opposed to any other community organizing?
RW: There is lots of different community organizing out there. What I write about as faith-based organizing is a form of organizing that works through people’s spiritual commitments and often their religious congregations or other faith-based communities to build organizations that are fighting inequality and racial bias in this country.
Also, think about a whole wider world of faith-based organizing that’s just anywhere where people get involved in their communities motivated by their spiritual commitments. There is this whole wider universe of people doing work because they experience life spiritually in some ways they think about as an expression of faith and all that is a form of faith-based organizing too I think.
PI: Is there also something about the church or houses of worship that are one of the remaining places where people put their bodies in a space?
There is a lot of social media action going on in terms of political activity, but it seems that it’s a rare case where humans get together and it seems like the church is one of the last places where that happens on some sort of regular basis. Does that have something to do with the strength or the power of faith-based community organizing?
RW: You know Paul, I think that’s a really important insight. As we’ve stopped coming together in other ways very often, except at huge venues like rock concerts or sports events, I think churches and synagogues and mosques and ashrams and other religious settings are some of the few places that Americans still do come together like that in ways that are reflective where people can be both affirmed in their commitments, but also challenged to go beyond themselves and engage with other people in some good way.
I do think that’s an important part of this strength of this kind of organizing and the trouble with that of course is that religious congregations aren’t thriving in America these days and one could foresee a future where there are no longer many people coming together that way.
That’s probably not a disaster if they’re not meeting people’s needs. Maybe they need to change or they’ll disappear, but what replaces them as settings that people of real difference come together and actually work together to change the world. If it’s not congregations, what’s it going to be?
PI: It strikes me that there is a practical or political advantage to having faith-based associations. Does it offer some protection from bad press? Does it offer some added protection from police brutality during demonstrations? Is there some element to that anyway?
RW: There is some real evidence that by being based in churches that are seen as legitimate and credible institutions in American society still, that that does help protect demonstrators. It does help people to feel like it’s okay to come together and try to change American society because they’re doing it out of a shared faith commitment or spiritual commitment. I think that does matter.
PI: You’ve seen it in Ferguson and some of the hot flash points where it doesn’t take long before someone, a man of the cloth, woman of the cloth steps up in front of the cameras and says we’re calling on all these people to do this peacefully or represent the effort in some sort of balanced way that makes a case for the inequality, but also makes a case for peaceful demonstration.
RW: I think that clearly matters; the image of a person of the clergy in any tradition in front of the demonstration has to give police or others a bit of a pause before they repress those kinds of demonstrations.
PI: There’s a picture like that on your cover.
RW: Yes, there is indeed. That’s out of Ferguson, Missouri right after Michael Brown was killed there.
I do think also faith also makes a very different kind of difference too.
One thing I write about is the way that, not all kinds of religion, but some forms of religion in any tradition help people come together and respect lines of difference. Now that’s a hard thing to hear because so much of American religion these days is deeply intolerant and divides the world into “us” and “them.”
But in all the great faith traditions, there are forms of those traditions that say the big division isn’t between you and I, it’s a dividing line that goes through each of us - between those parts of us that are really committed to the best in the world, to building a better world that we share, to being our best selves. (that’s pitted against the) part of us that’s tempted to just serve our own needs. And that if we can lean on those forms of religion that really draw us together and help us encounter one another, that those shared spiritual traditions actually can help us work for peace, work for a better world.
PI: What’s the headline from your research? What do you find that stands out as an important take away from the work that you studied and the interviews that you did?
RW: I’d summarize it this way. Taking on race in America is hard work. There is nothing easy about it. It doesn’t happen from one day to the other just by declaring myself not racist. But some organizations are doing it and doing it successfully, struggling to work on questions of race well, but doing that across race lines in ways that actually bring people together working for justice, working for equality in American life.
That’s being done with really important leadership from African American clergy and organizers, really important leadership from Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, but really importantly, it’s white folks getting on board and saying this is our struggle.
We need leadership from those groups that have been marginalized and oppressed under racism, but ultimately, it’s our moral and political burden. They would say it’s our spiritual burden to take on racism in America because it’s a white construct, it’s a white invention, white folks have got to be at the center of helping to dismantle the deep, deep structures of implicit bias.
PI: That was true in the ‘60s too, but is it more important now or just as important as it was then?
RW: I think it’s just as important, but it’s different. Racism isn’t as blatant and as obvious as it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s, at least in a lot of settings in American life. It’s subtle, but in that subtlety, in some ways it’s more demonic because it’s so easy for white Americans to say that they’ve dealt with race and they’re past and that we’re in this post-racial America; “My god, we just had a black President!” To think that that somehow means that we’re exempt from having to do the hard work of continuing to undo racism in America which spent 400 years being constructed. It hasn’t been undone in the last two decades. We’ve got hard work to do still.
PI: What does that hard work look like and are we talking about meetings that are resulting in petition drives, marches? When it’s working, what does it look like?
RW: When these groups take action together, it looks different at different times. Sometimes it’s demonstrations on the street, sometimes it’s folks going into a conflict like in Ferguson or any of the tragic and outrageous incidence of violence since then.
PI: And having to react quickly in a unified way.
RW: People are going from one day to the next just to be a presence in the middle of those conflicts.
Other times, it’s a much more planned, laid out strategy getting 1,000 into a room with the three mayor candidates in a given city and getting them to commit to doing something about living wages in that city or do something about immigrant rights in that city or do something about mass incarceration and policing in the city. Sometimes it’s a much more formal, political action that way. Sometimes it’s registering people to vote. The action part of it can take a lot of different forms.
Leading up to that, it’s these hard conversations between people who have different priorities. Is our organization for the next six months going to work against mass incarceration in America or are we going to work on immigrant rights in America or are we going to work on a living wage campaign? Those are hard tactical decisions that these groups have to make all the time and they have to negotiate it out.
One of the ways that the shared faith commitments of these folks often help them is that there is some kind of trust in these groups that’s been built through shared spiritual practices of one kind or another that I think help them negotiate out these hard political questions on the basis of some shared trust. Some organizations have to just fight those conflicts out and that’s tough and that’s hard on these organizations.
PI: You paint a picture of PICO being like a national network. I’m thinking then that there may be top down, within the organization anyway, ideas about what the most effective gathering of the local groups would be. Is there that kind of effort happening?
RW: There is some of that national kind of coordination, but all these networks try to really do decision making from the bottom up; what issues they’re going to work emerge from the local folks in neighborhoods all over the country and what they want to prioritize.
But your question is exactly right. Ultimately there is some coordination by statewide or national level bodies within PICO suggesting that given the current moment in American politics, we think right now we have the opportunity to address this successfully and we’d like to get everybody’s endorsement of that on an understanding that six months from now we’ll work on that other thing. Those are hard conversations sometimes.