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Can Organizing Save Democracy?

Richard Wood, co author of the Interfaith Funders report on 130 FBCOs, has a book called FAITH IN ACTION: RELIGION, RACE, AND DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZING IN AMERICA. (2002), He is a sociologist from U of New Mexico. His study is a comparison of a FBCO in Oakland with a race based organization in Oakland. He includes a section reporting spending time in congregations which are members. The FBCO is a PICO related organization.  Here are some quotes from his book.

From Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing In America, University of Chicago Press, 2002


"Faith-based community organizing holds significant potential as one aspect of efforts to reconstitute American public life so that it engages the voices and addresses the concerns of people currently left out of institutionalized political debate, namely those of low-income and moderate-income residents of American cities." (p. 268)


"I do not argue that grassroots organizations or movements alone can renew American democracy, but rather that they are one crucial source for such renewal. They will require collaboration from allies in the political world, foundations, academic and cultural institutions, the media, labor and the corporate world, and form ordinary citizens. (p. 5)


"The structural symbiosis between faith-base organizing federations and religious institutions provides the key to understanding both the promise and limits of this kind of organizing. That symbiosis allows faith-based organizing to draw on the trust, reciprocity, and relational networks that are constituted through the worship experience, shared symbolic worlds, and social relations promoted by religious congregations. In this way, it allows these federations to project power into the public realm more effectively. Evidence for the success of this symbiosis comes not only from the testimony of both pastors and organizers, but from the increasing political capacity those faith-based federations that have come to operate more and more as institutions of political society, mediating between civil society and the state. The very strongest federations across the country and in several faith-based organizing networks now carry sufficient muscle and voice in the public realm that they aspire to help reshape institutional politics and redefine policy on local and statewide levels.

Thus, faith-based organizing straddles the divide between civil society and political society. Being anchored in religious institutions of civil society and their ethical traditions, as well as in the power logic of political society, directs the attention of leaders, pastors, and organizers to both ethical and political pressures. If handled well, this same tension may allow faith-based organizing to augment its projection of democratic voice and political muscle into the public realm, while at the same time staying firmly anchored in, guided by, and in critical conversation with religious ethical traditions. religion may once again contribute in dramatic ways to reinvigorating democracy in America. (p. 276-7)


"Sustaining participation from lower socioeconomic strata and assuring they have equal voice within the organization will be a permanent challenge in any organization that crosses class boundaries as dramatically as many faith-based organizing federations do. Institutionalizing reliable ways for the organization to keep a critical social perspective in a time of increasing economic polarization in America. Only this kind of diversity will help faith-based organizing keep a critical perspective on issues, such as police conduct, that affect the poor and the middle class differently." (p. 278

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