What’s Happening in NC? Faith-Rooted Organizing is Bearing Fruit

What’s Happening in NC? Faith-Rooted Organizing is Bearing Fruit March 7, 2014

A few times a week these days I get a call or email from friends around the country who all ask me the same question: so, what’s happening down there in North Carolina?

I’ve taken to telling them that the Civil Rights Movement is getting born again.

Most of them have read a news story or seen coverage of protests against the extremist takeover of NC government in the past year. (If you have an hour, Bill Moyer’s “State of Conflict” is probably the most informative intro.)

But big business is funding quiet extremism everywhere. What my friends want to know is what happened to inspire over a hundred thousand people to rally at the NC Legislature last summer. How in one summer did half as many people (945) get arrested in one state as were arrested nationwide in 1960’s sit-in movement. And how, many have wondered over the past few weeks, did more than 80,000 people march on a state capitol to demand change?

I wrote a report for Sojourners Magazine last summer, briefly chronicling how a coalition led by a dynamic African-American preacher began to organize seven years ago for Historic Thousands on Jones Street.

But I think this photo taken by my buddy Franklin Golden captures it best. Like Dr. King, Rev. Barber is a great preacher, skilled at bringing the best of the Afro-American preaching tradition together with policy analysis and an appeal to the moral center of the common good in Western political thought. But Rev. Barber isn’t just a good preacher. He’s also a student of NC’s greatest organizer, Ella Baker, who insisted that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” They called Ella Baker the “Fundi” because she held the wisdom of ages while putting the young people out front, gentling whispering in their ears that they too could lead. I love this picture because it captures the fire of the prophet in the background while foregrounding the strong image of a child who’s been empowered.

Is there a name for this kind of leadership? Where does it come from and how is it sustained?

Peter Heltzel and Alexia Salvatiera have written a book, Faith-Rooted Organizing, that gives language to the revival we’ve been experiencing in NC. I’ve been encouraged over the past decade to witness the beginnings of a justice revival among white evangelicals in the US. Annual gatherings like CCDA and the Justice Conference regularly bring together thousands of young people who know that a personal relationship with Jesus demands a personal relationship with the poor. In this beloved community, they are learning to hunger and thirst for justice.

But what wells do we have to draw from once our thirst for justice has been whetted? Alexia and Peter have given us a great primer for introducing young folks to the world of organizing. Those who are not already familiar with Saul Alinsky’s ground-breaking work may not immediately understand the polemic for “faith-rooted organizing” as a distinctive model in the early chapters. (If not, they would do well to read his Rules for Radicals alongside this work.) But the key components are sound, the stories inspiring, and the elder’s voices wise and worth listening to.

The Foreword Together Movement in North Carolina is preparing now for a Freedom Summer Project. 50 young people from across the state are going to follow Rev. Barber’s lead and the legacy of those who gave so much in MS 50 years ago. They’re going into communities across our state to build up the new world that they know is possible. I want to get a copy of Faith-Rooted Organizing into each of their hands. But not just theirs. I hope every person of faith who prays “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” will use this tool to learn how they can pray that prayer with their hands and feet.




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