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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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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.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Thanks for this, Mike. I've started working with an IAF org here in San Antonio and it's interesting to read how other orgs are processing through their work together.

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