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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Open Hearts Mean Open Hands, Part 3

This the last part of a sermon continued from the two previous posts.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11
Acts 4:31-35
Durham CAN and other organizations like ours, in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Boston, Washington, D. C., New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, and London, England, have decided that it is time to take a stand against usury. The campaign, launched simultaneously in many cities on July 22, is called “10% Is Enough.” We are calling on the CEOs of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Mechanics and Farmers, SunTrust, and other banks to put a cap on consumer interest rates at 10%. We are also calling on Congress to pass a usury law and restore a reasonable cap on consumer interest. Professors like Mt. Level ministers Dr. Turner, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Carter, and I all endorsed a theological statement on the economy, along with professors from nine divinity schools and seminaries in North Carolina and South Carolina. This statement has been sent to bank CEOs and to pastors as part of this campaign. We want the bankers to realize this message is deeply rooted in our tradition. And we Protestant Christian professors do not stand alone.

The social teachings of the Catholic Church have a long history of making a clear stand for economic justice, for example the encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, explicitly implicates usury in what he observed as a growing oppression and exploitation, saying working people “have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide,” and directly quotes from Deuteronomy 15:11 to emphasize the many ways in which we are exhorted to “open wide our hands” to the poor.

Of course, when Christians draw heavily on texts from Deuteronomy or Amos or other texts from the Jewish Scriptures in our efforts to articulate a theology of economic life, we show our indebtedness to and sharing in the narrative of God’s calling of Israel. Over recent months, Jewish Rabbis in North Carolina have joined this conversation about the economy. In this week, the holiest season of the Jewish year, our brothers and sisters of the covenant are reflecting on their lives under the Rule of God, the Maker of heaven and earth. As the season of the new year—Rosh Hashanah has passed and Yom Kippur is coming—it is the time in which the Sabbath year or Jubilee year would be proclaimed. God’s rule over all of life is the concern of liturgy and prayer. Thus this season is linked with economic justice and the plight of the weak and marginalized. The story of God’s deliverance of Isaac when he was bound on the altar is a central text, and we can see in it the symbolic binding of the poor by oppressive economic systems of low wages, inescapable debt, and unattainable basic provisions. These High Holy Days are days of repentance and resolution. Repentance is a leaving behind, but also a taking up. Thus, in the economy it means leaving behind injustice and taking up the cause of those unjustly treated. It is taking up the calling of tikkun olam, to mend the world.

Islam continues in our day to practice an economic system which opposes usury, which in Arabic is called riba. Our Muslim brothers and sisters in North Carolina have also composed a document for reflection in their communities, revealing ways that the Qur’an teaches about justice in economic relations. Rather than loaning at interest, Islamic societies have developed creative ways to allow investment in which benefits and risks are shared by both borrower and lender. This kind of thinking about God’s creation as something shared by all people equally is deeply imbedded in Islamic teaching, and their witness to it reawakens truths in Christian teaching that have been overshadowed by modern economic ideas. To our shame, too many Christians have sold this common birthright for a mess of pottage in the empty promises of modern economics.

The faith communities do not always agree on everything, but we do agree on some things. One, above all, is that God is the ruler of all creation, and that we are responsible to God to live in right relationship with one another according to justice. Moreover, we all agree on the specific admonition that usury, the financial exploitation of the poor and weak, is wrong no matter when or how it is done, or what it is called.

But, why, you ask, does the church bother with such things as interest rates and health care access? Why don’t we just focus on saving souls? I’m glad you asked that, and probably most of you know the answer. We are concerned about economic justice and the health of all people because Jesus came to save whole people, whole communities, the whole of creation. This is not just some obscure ancient Jewish law about the economy that has become irrelevant in Christ. Jesus said he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He said he came to set at liberty the oppressed. He came to heal. He came to bring abundant life. He came that we might now live in the foretaste of the glory of eternal life.

The passage from Acts which we read helps us to know that this is what Jesus came to do. His earliest followers realized the connection between Deuteronomy 15 and Jesus’ preaching and atoning work. In words which quote from Deuteronomy 15:4, Acts 4:34 says, “There was not a needy person among them.” They saw themselves as living out the promise of God that when we share with one another we can all have what we need. Martin Luther, the great reformer, wrote a treatise against usury in which he said we ought “to be bound . . . to allow no one to suffer want or to beg.”

But again, you may ask, how is it that getting so concerned about economic justice can go together with Christian concern for saving souls? The answer is in understanding that God is a God of grace. God offered Israel a better way of life in Deuteronomy. It was a way of life that would allow them to take on the character of the God who delivered them from oppression, slavery, and perpetual poverty. If they would remember that whatever prosperity they have is the gift of the God who brought them out of Egypt, then they could understand that it is always grace that sustains them. And if God is gracious enough to allow us to prosper, then we ought to become like God and see that others also can prosper. As God has given us blessings, we ought to bless one another.

What a transformation grace can bring in a human being! What a transformation grace can bring to a community! God made us in the divine image, and when we deny our true character and nature by sins of greed, hatred, selfishness, and indifference, God is not satisfied to leave us there. So in the midst of a sinful world system, God comes to deliver us. God wants us to be free of the oppression of others and free of the oppression we impose on ourselves through our sins. God is a gracious God. God loves us too much to let us stew in our own juices. God is a gracious God. God wants us all to know the love that is possible in human community, the love God created us for. God is a gracious God. We are made to love one another. We are made to love one another. We are made to love one another, and in loving one another we are the image of God. In loving one another, God’s grace flows through us, and God’s glory shines forth from us. Let the glory of God shine forth through you. Let the love of God flow to the ones who are struggling with debt, without health care, who are losing their homes. Stand up as a witness of God’s grace in creation that usury is wrong and must be stopped.

Does anybody want to live in the image of God? Does anybody want to receive and give grace as a way of life?

Maybe you are one of the people being swept away in the tide of economic troubles. Powerful forces in the world are dragging you out into deeper waters, and you feel out of control. You aren’t sure what your destiny will be. The God of grace wants to deliver you. After the service, we will collect names and contact information for people who would like to get some guidance in dealing with their financial situations. Both Mount Level Missionary Baptist Church and the Durham County Extension Office will be offering financial training to help with budgeting and indebtedness, to help you work toward financial freedom. We want to facilitate this because we believe that the God of grace wants to deliver you.

Maybe you are struggling with temptations to be selfish and tightfisted. Maybe you are fighting feelings of looking down on people who are in financial difficulty and in need of help. God wants to restore you to your true loving nature. God wants to give you grace to grow into the true divine image, to be a beacon of God’s glory and a vessel of God’s grace.

Open your hearts to God and to one another now. Open your hands to the people in need whom God sends your way. Open hearts mean open hands. May the grace of God be with you all.

Open Hearts Mean Open Hands, Part 2

This is the text of a sermon continued from the previous post.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11
Acts 4:31-35

But this is not the kind of economic system intended for the world that God loves. Deuteronomy 15 has a different idea of how to deal with hard times. The Bible teaches us another way of thinking about borrowing and lending. God has a bailout plan called the Sabbath year and the Jubilee. There is a time for bailing out people who have bad debts, but it is not just for the benefit of insurance companies, banks and brokerage firms. No, it is especially for making sure that people who fall on hard times don’t have to stay there forever. Verse 1 says, “Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts.” You shall grant a remission of debts. You must not let debts pile up year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, until a large mass of people and their descendents can never escape them. When things get out of hand, there has to be a collective setting things back aright.

The deeper purpose of this economic practice is stated in verse 4, which says, “There will be no one in need among you.” There will be no one in need among you. It is not a prediction that needs and difficulties will not arise. It’s not saying that God will magically put money in your bank account whenever you want it. It is a statement about maintaining a society of care for one another. If Israel would follow these economic practices, they could keep from creating a class of perpetual poverty, of permanent debtors, of unending wage slavery.

Verses 7 through 11 expand on the way that Israel could be a people who have no need among them. They must not be “hardhearted or tightfisted” toward their neighbors. Instead, they should open their hands with generosity, not grudgingly thinking about the year of remission and not getting paid back. Verse 11 recognizes that misfortunes, mistakes, bad decisions, poor judgment, health setbacks, loss of a loved one and provider, business closings, weather disasters, and many other reasons may push some people into poverty. It says, “There will never cease to be some in need on the earth.” Hard times may come. Poverty may break out. Then Deuteronomy follows this observation with a command about how to live every day: “Open your hand to your poor and needy neighbor.” Open your hand. Don’t close it up. Don’t harden your heart. Don’t become cold and indifferent. Open your hand. Open it. Open it, and keep it open.

Maybe some of you recognized that Jesus quoted from this passage when some people were complaining about the cost of a jar of ointment which a woman had used to anoint his feet. They claimed it was a waste of money. They postured that such extravagance should instead be directed toward helping the poor.

You probably also have heard people use Jesus’ words to teach the opposite of what Deuteronomy is saying. We have to realize that sometimes elements of our culture which do not conform to the gospel have become so powerful in shaping our thinking that we do not read the Bible very well. The heritage of white supremacist interpretations of the Bible led many who called themselves Christians to believe that God wants people of certain skin color to rule over people of another skin color. In a similar fashion, people often quote Jesus’ words from John 12, “The poor are always with you” to give a reason why it is useless to help the poor. They act like Jesus is saying that we can’t really do anything to solve poverty, so we should just quit trying.

But that is the opposite of what Jesus was saying. He was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11 in order to remind the people in the room that acting upset about this woman’s gift to Jesus was hypocritical when they were tightfisted toward the poor every day. These were the same kind of people who declared their possessions Corban, or devoted to God, so that their poor aging parents would not be able to make a claim on their wealth. They were the ones who tithed their mint and cumin but ignored the weightier matters of the law concerning justice and mercy. So when they hear Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, they knew the rest of the verse condemned them for not opening their hands to the poor and needy who came their way.

An economic system which exploits and uses the average worker so that a wealthy elite can become richer and richer has turned away from the ways of God. Economic systems are not strictly rational and unhindered free markets. Economic systems do not operate independently of power, and lots of money translates into lots of power. If a society is to be beneficent, just, and prosperous, it must be organized in ways to see that all of its members can have a share in the good, a share of justice and a share of prosperity. But far too often, people and institutions with great wealth use their power to benefit only themselves and to the detriment of the poor and the worker.

There are many forms that economic inequity and injustice can take. Many examples of inequity in the economy are addressed in the Bible. One which was often addressed is called usury. U-S-U-R-Y, usury. Usury describes the practice of charging inordinate interest on loans. The Bible generally looks down on the practice of charging interest, but it does not seem to ban it absolutely. However, it is very clear in saying that charging interest on people who are in economic distress is wrong. By biblical standards, usury is one of the worst forms of sin, often listed along with lying, bribery, dishonoring parents, robbery, adultery, rape, and murder.

But nowadays we live in a different economic system, and charging interest has become a standard way of doing business. We don’t like high interest rates, but we are used to seeing them. We accept it as the way business works. Of course, it is the way that people who have plenty of money can use their money’s power to gain even more money. I accept and agree that there are reasonable ways of loaning with interest which do not go against the biblical view of economic justice, but there are also many common practices which blatantly offend God’s justice.

Part of the problem is that we have been trained to think in a modern way that is different from the Bible’s teaching. We don’t usually think of interest as potentially falling into the same category with rape and murder. Most of us keep trying to get more credit so we can borrow more and get more stuff. Certainly all of us need to learn how to be careful and responsible in the way that we borrow money and go into debt. Many of our bad choices have put us in the mess we are in. But let’s not be turned away from the heart of this problem. The issue at hand is usury. While there are appropriate ways to borrow and loan money with interest, there are also many inappropriate, wrong, even downright evil ways of doing so, called usury.

We all need to learn a little history to understand the present. Until the late 1970s, there was a federal usury law in the U. S. which set a limit on interest rates that banks could charge. That law was repealed during a time of high inflation when the economy was in turmoil. While it may have helped get business through one set of problems, it gave rise to a whole new set of problems. Those problems have been steeping and stewing for thirty years. Those of us who have been trying to make a living since that time have seen how interest rates have gotten higher and higher, payday loans have taken a foothold with astronomical rates, and banks have offered credit with teaser rates only to jack interest rates up again and again with little or no warning.

Consumer credit has become such a growth industry because the banks are taking a subscription on our future income. Just like you subscribe to a magazine and it keeps coming for a year or several years, they are subscribing to a piece of your paycheck. They adjust their lending practices to try to make sure that you keep having to pay them for years and years, even if you didn’t borrow very much. Low monthly payments mean plenty of interest is paid and very little of the principal. Their business plan is to keep your monthly payments coming indefinitely, almost infinitely. I know what I’m talking about, because Visa has had a long-time subscription to my paycheck. But an economy based on predatory practices is not sustainable. The overextended, high-risk, no tomorrow credit economy has reached the limits of its irrationality and recklessness. A reckoning has come.

Continued into final section in next post . . .

Open Hearts Mean Open Hands, Part 1

During the early summer I was working with a group of scholars to prepare a theological reflection on the economic crisis. I posted the resulting document in several parts. This document was distributed to bank executives, along with a document prepared by a muslim scholar from North Carolina which explains the economic commitments of Islam and its opposition to usury.

Another purpose of the "Theological Reflection on the Economy" was to create conversation in churches and provide encouragement to pastors to preach on economic issues. As part of that purpose, I prepared a sermon on the economic crisis which I have had several opportunities to preach in the past month. The last occasion was a Service of Prayer and Public Witness hosted by my church, Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church, at the instigation of Rev. Dr. William C. Turner, Jr. A number of other churches and ecumenical groups joined with us on Wednesday, Sept. 23 for the service. A Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim Imam were on the program to read from their scriptures and bring remarks concerning the economy and usury.

What follows here and in the next two posts is the text of the sermon preached that night.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11
Acts 4:31-35

If you take some time to read a newspaper, listen to the news on the radio, or watch the news on the television, you can’t help but hear people talking about hard times. Or maybe I should say, you can’t help but hear people arguing about what we ought to do in these hard times. The latest version of the argument is about health care and health insurance reform. Different interest groups and political camps have different views of how to organize the system of access to health care, and they are calling each other idiots and Nazis. On a recent Saturday outside the Capitol in Raleigh, hundreds gathered to demand health insurance reform now. Across the street, people tried to shout us down, saying, “No ObamaCare.”

Stretching the truth and even flat-out lies are daily fare in this shouting match because billions of dollars and millions of lives are at stake. At the rally I mentioned at the Capitol in Raleigh, Rev. Dr. William Barber, known to many of you both as a preacher and for his work with the North Carolina NAACP, delivered one of the best lines on this matter. He said it in response to the disinformation an fear campaign that is claiming government committees will be deciding which old people can live and which must die. Barber said, “There is not a death panel in the current proposal; there is a death panel in the current system.” Right now, corporate insurance managers make decisions to deny claims, drop coverage, and delay payments that can mean life or death, work or disability, survival or bankrupty in the lives of people like you and me. Some of you may have heard about another great big lie. After a rally in Washington, DC, a few days ago, the rally’s promoters intentionally put out a press release with a photograph of crowds on the Capitol Mall from another event, an event held in 1997, to give the impression that their crowds were 10 times as great as they really were. Everyone who has been on the gravy train in the out-of-control health system wants to keep that train rolling.

People whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the exploding costs and inequities of the current health system have had enough, but these people have trouble getting their voices heard. They are too busy working extra jobs to stay ahead of the bill collectors. Or they have become homeless and are just trying to figure out how to recover from losing their home to foreclosure by the bank. Or they are too sick with an untreated illness to speak up. Some are just too discouraged by the number of hard-hearted, tight-fisted people they have run into.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this health care access mess we are in, starting with insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, then moving on to various institutions, health professionals, and government officials. And the economic problems of health care are just one part of our economic woes. Bad thinking, bad leadership, bad values, and bad morals have spread like the untreated cancers of the uninsured throughout our economic system. The current recession was directly caused by loose, shady, exploitive practices in credit and finance, and by lots of wishful thinking that it would all work out even if the risks people were taking were far beyond what prudence would allow.

Hard economic times place people and institutions in jeopardy, whether it be from health care costs, credit crises, pay cuts, or layoffs. Not only is there plenty of blame to go around, today there is also plenty of pain to go around. You and I have seen the results up close. People are losing their homes. Banks are closing. Businesses are failing. Workers are losing jobs. Families are uprooted. People are crying out for a solution. This week, some people say the recovery has arrived, but we sure don’t see it in our neighborhoods and workplaces.

What kind of a economic recovery leaves giant banks standing while the average worker’s life gets harder and harder? That is not a solution. It smells like collusion. Whose money bailed out the banks? Every taxpayer’s money. But who is an economy supposed to benefit? (I’ve got a lot of questions, folks. May I ask some questions here?) Who says billions can bail out executive jobs but nothing can bail out the jobs of common laborers and clerical workers? Who says tax dollars can pay off banks’ bad debts, but the average taxpaying citizens are on their own to dig their way out of debt? Debt relief for millionaires and homelessness for working people—that’s not the kind of economy we believe in. That is like saying Jesus came to announce the Jubilee, to proclaim the Year of Remission, to offer the forgiveness of debts, BUT . . . BUT . . . but then qualified the announcement by telling us only bankers and brokers and insurance executives are eligible. All I can say is that this topsy-turvy, smoke-and-mirrors, hocus-pocus economy is messed up.

I want to spend a few minutes recollecting the route we took on the way to this economic train wreck.Is it all right to break things down tonight?

One major part of the problem had to do with a collapse of home prices. Loans had been written with the assumption that housing values would rise steadily and without interruption. Some people borrowed more than they could afford, but there were others who actually could afford their mortgages, only to find that the crashing market in home values left them paying double the value for a house that had originally been overpriced in an inflated market. The accumulating effects of a weak economy led to workers losing jobs, and without jobs they also could no longer meet their mortgage payments. In other cases, because of adjustable rate mortgages or balloon mortgages, many people found their payments increasing at the very time when they were taking pay cuts, losing work hours, and even losing their jobs. Now the total number of mortgages in trouble was relatively small compared to all the ones that were doing fine, but the fear of bad loans and bad debts began to spread like a panic.

People became concerned about many other forms of debt, from the high finance of hedge funds to the average person’s credit card debt. A crash in the stock market followed up the crash in home prices, and many people who had thought they were in good financial shape now saw their pensions and retirement funds, their homes, and their investments lose a third or a half of their value, not to mention the ones who lost everything to swindlers running Ponzi schemes. Add to those the people who have lost health insurance coverage and built up mountains of debt for medical care.

When the economic situation became too severe to ignore, government officials recommended a massive bailout of major financial institutions, with the claim that saving them would save us all. Institutions who had operated in an ethereal world of trading worthless paper for empty promises were treated as the foundation and backbone of the economy. For millions of Americans, however, the recovery of these institutional Leviathans has not had the intended ripple effect. We have not been warmed by the glow of their cash-burning recoveries.

The idea was to stabilize the financial system by providing cash to banks and other financial institutions who were threatened by bad loans. However, the banks and financial institutions took our money and held on to it, or they used our money to prop up only their executive bonuses and stockholder profits. The cash infusion to financial giants did not slow down the pace of foreclosures on home mortgages that keep putting hardworking families out of their homes. Again, I have to quote from Rev. Dr. William Barber, who said, “You can’t break the bank, then rob the bank, then say there ain’t no money in the bank.” In other words, that bailout money was not intended for a small, smug, self-important group of financial genius posers who believe they are entitled to bonuses even when they fail miserably. It should be for the lenders and the borrowers who are in trouble. The bailout did not pump up the economy or reverse the plummeting employment statistics. It did not ease the pressure of indebtedness on the wage-earning public. To the contrary, credit card companies pressured their small borrowers with new and harsh credit terms and fees, and consumer interest rates soared to loan-shark heights.

So I’ve taken a little time to recall how the economic situation got so bad. We are all very capable of making a mess of our lives, and sometimes a few people can bungle things up for the rest of the people. Our collective failures can accumulate to the point that it sometimes seems there is no way out of our trouble. One solution may seem to introduce a whole new set of problems.

Continued in next post . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Community Organizing Process

The following is a speech I gave recently at a community organizing meeting. It is a brief description of the cycle through which our community organizing work moves periodically as we reorganize to address new issues.

Good Afternoon, and welcome to this Du
rham CAN Internal Assembly. I am Rev. Mike Broadway, associate minister at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church and a member of the Durham CAN strategy team.

As we begin today, I want to answer two questions: “Why are we gathering today?” and “What will we be accomplishing in this meeting?”

Durham CAN does its work on a flexible timetable, but according to an intentional process. As a system of discernment, planning, action and evaluation, it can be thought of as a circular process, what we theologians might call a hermeneutical circle.

By following this purposive process, our organization is able to reorganize and re-energize ourselves. As has been said before, “All organizing is REorganizing.” So that is why we are here.

At least three, if not more, times Durham CAN has been at this point in our process. We have achieved significant victories, accomplished the goals we had set in education, crime prevention, youth services, living wages, housing improvement, health care access, environmental cleanup, and more. That is why we are here today, to keep the wheel turning, to move on in our work toward new goals, new growth, new maturity, new actions, and new community-building.

Take a look at the image projected on the wall. It is one way of describing our process.

Everything begins with building relationships. You are here because of your relationship to people in an organization, congregation, or neighborhood, and because your group has built relationships with these other groups present. We don’t start by reading the headlines or answering the mass mailing about politics. Issues we take up come from our relationships. We listen to one another in relational meetings, in house meetings, in planned listening sessions.

The house meetings give us new
institutional priorities. Watts Street Baptist Church, Monument of Faith Church of God, Nehemiah Christian Center, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Watts-Hillandale Neighborhood Association, Judea Reform Congregation, Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center, and all of our member organizations have arrived at a new set of priorities based on listening to one another. We also learn where the energy of our people lies in these meetings. To what are we ready to give ourselves? Who is ready to lead on these priorities?

These institutional priorities cover a wide range of issues. They may have started as a laundry list of issues, then were narrowed down by each institution. Then these narrowed-down institutional issues must be brought into a collective vision for the broad-based organization of Durham CAN. It is a process of conversation and even debate at times. It requires compromise, and it guides our collective action. That discussion is part of what we are doing here today.

When we have set our
collective priorities, we do so because this is where we are ready to generate energy for action. These will be our next issues. We will work on these first.

That does not mean that other issues which emerged from a congregation or neighborhood are unimportant. It only means that for now, we will narrow our focus so that we can accomplish something for the good of our community. If we try to do everything at once, we will surely fail. But when we succeed, we build energy to move on to the things we have not yet done.

Another part of what we are doing today is activating leaders. We will begin the formation of action and research teams around the priorities we set. If we want to make a difference, our priorities must be linked to a group of people committed to making a difference. These action teams will do research and make recommendations to the larger membership of CAN through the Metro Council. They do not work in isolation or set the policies, but they guide the rest of us in identifying our action agenda.

These teams help turn a priority into an
issue. That means that it becomes actionable—it becomes something we can act on by being specific, measurable, and achievable. It becomes winnable. We can rally behind an issue. We can take it public and negotiate for its achievement.

These teams then move from research to
action by identifying targets through a power analysis. Who has the power to make a difference for our issues? Whether it be elected officials, business leaders, public administrators, or someone else, we plan actions in order to get a reaction.

One of the ways we seek a reaction is in a public assembly. We do our homework and preparation so that we can bring our targeted public officials before CAN delegates to react to our proposals. When all has gone well, we know that they will support our issues even before they arrive. Sometimes, it gets a bit uncomfortable at an assembly when they are not sure they want to do what we ask. But either way, we have gotten the reaction we need, and we proceed to hold them accountable and if they are reluctant, find ways to get them to change their minds.

When we have received the commitments we asked for, we follow-up and make sure that it all comes to pass. And when we have achieved victory on our issues, we
evaluate our progress. We look over how we did our work and find what we did well and what we did not do very well. It is kind of like digestion, as we break it down and make use of what we can learn. As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We want to know how to do things better, and not to repeat our mistakes. We want to learn as an organization. We want to grow.

This internal meeting today is all about getting us from our institutional priorities to be almost ready for our Delegates Assembly with the candidates for City Council and Mayor on October 18. Today we will be sharing stories, setting priorities, bringing leaders into teams, and making agreements in a way that will get us ready and moving for a new cycle of successful organizing.

So let’s get busy reorganizing to make a difference in Durham today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Health Priorities

Saturday morning the Laymen's League at my church, Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church, asked me to lead a discussion on health insurance reform. The people there were quite knowledgeable and had convictions about how these matters should be settled. We agreed on a list of priorities, which we put into a letter, signed, and sent to Representative David Price and Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr. If you agree with these priorities, why not contact your Congressional representatives, too. Here is a copy of our letter.

Members of the Laymen’s League

Mount Level Missionary Baptist Church

316 Hebron Road

Durham, NC 27704

September 19, 2009

Rep. David Price

411 W. Chapel Hill Street

NC Mutual Building, 9th Floor

Durham, NC 27701

Dear Rep. Price,

Today we met to discuss health insurance reform as part of our Laymen’s League Men’s Breakfast. Many of us are concerned about this issue because of its direct effects on our families. We want to make clear to you what we believe is important to include in any legislation that will set out to reform health insurance and health care access.

  1. Everyone should have access to quality health care, regardless of income or age.
  2. Young people should be able to continue longer on their parents’ insurance policies.
  3. Insurance companies should not be able to exclude pre-existing conditions, drop coverage, deny benefits, and other forms of discrimination against the sick.
  4. Insurance coverage should be fully portable regardless of whether a person gets a new job, loses her or his job, retires, or experiences other changes in employment.
  5. Medicare should remain strong for senior citizens.
  6. There should be caps on out-of-pocket expenses for any person or family, both annually and for a lifetime.No one should have to go bankrupt over health care costs.
  7. Large employers should continue to contribute to health insurance costs.
  8. Small businesses should have opportunities for the same affordable health insurance plans that large businesses have.
  9. There should be prescription drug coverage without gaps.
  10. People should be able to keep health insurance they like.
  11. People should be able to choose their doctors.
  12. Big insurance and health care monopolies should have to face real competition to bring prices down.
  13. Health disparities affecting minorities should be addressed.
  14. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure, and others should be priorities for affordable treatment.

We would appreciate hearing back from you concerning our priorities. Thank you for your hard work on our behalf.


Robert Crouch, Chair (signatures on attached page)
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