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I and my congregation are active in faith-based community organizing through Peninsula Interfaith Action, a member of the PICO network. I went to Sacramento this spring as part of a PICO CA meeting of faith leaders with Governor Jerry Brown. He really wants to pass Prop 30, without which automatic cuts kick in that will be even more crippling than our current state of affairs. After much study about which of the three original revenue-raising initiatives we should support, PICO had promised him that we’d do voter registration and get-out-the-vote among new and less-than-likely voters, bringing thousands of people into the process who are likely to vote for Prop 30. We had already helped with the negotiations that took one of the competing proposals off the ballot. Unfortunately, the sponsor of the third, Molly Munger, flatly refused to compromise or take her initiative off the ballot, which reduces the chances of either it or Prop 30 to something of a long shot.

So Governor Brown really, really needs our organizing. And it was a buoyant meeting. We asked some tough questions, and he answered them with grit and ended with a passionate call to action. He spoke our language, literally–we all know he went to seminary, just like us, and he spoke to us about being the state’s prophetic voices. I knew he was a skilled politician who knew how to tailor his message to the audience, but I also felt a warm sense of connection. I was fired up to help get out those votes.

So when I learned today that he’d vetoed another piece of legislation strongly supported by PICO, the TRUST Act, I felt betrayed. The thought of working for Prop 30 made me feel like a sucker. He let us down and he’s still going to count on us to hold up our end? He probably calculates that we’ll work our butts off for Prop 30 anyway because our communities need it. The hell with him. Let him get it passed without me.

Then I realized I was thinking in terms of friendship instead of alliance. My US history teacher in school loved to quote whomever-it-was and say, “Nations have no friends, only allies.” Organizing, also, for all it is about relationship-building, is also clear-eyed about self-interest. People and politicians are guided by their perceptions of their own interests, and when they unite, it’s because they think it will further those interests. PICO isn’t working for the governor’s ballot initiative because we’re pals with the governor; the relationship we have with him is an alliance. Aside from wanting the initiative to pass because it’s necessary, we have made a promise to the governor because if we make this promise, and we deliver on it, and it makes a difference, then we will have more influence the next time we try to get something through. (We’ll also have more voters on the rolls who are affected by draconian immigration policies.) The trust we are building is not the trust between friends, but the trust between allies: you help me reach my goals and I’ll help you reach yours. To make the alliance stick, we need to show that we’re powerful enough to be of real help.

So I’m going to pull myself out of my snit and work harder to pass Prop 30. I’m just not going to feel as warm and fuzzy about it. That’s probably just as well, as the warm fuzzies were always an illusion. And if we register lots of voters who not only help pass Prop 30, but are exactly the people who wanted the TRUST Act to pass, then next time, maybe we’ll have the clout to say, ” . . . and if you don’t back this other piece of legislation that we want, the deal is off.”


I’m off to the PICO National Gathering of Clergy, in New Orleans. I’m hoping they will make specific reference to the Occupy movement and ways clergy and faith communities can work either directly with it or pulling alongside in the same direction. Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA), the PICO-affiliated faith-based-community-organizing group to which my congregation belongs, has been working on economic justice issues since its founding, and they often overlap with the issues raised by this movement.

Just last summer, PIA leaders were putting together a presentation on the banking crisis and its connection to our communities, including actions we could take, such as asking our cities to take their money out of the bailed-out banks unless those banks agreed to certain behavior toward the people of the city. We could see the connections, but we were really worried that others wouldn’t and therefore wouldn’t be interested enough to show up. I mean, banks. Yawn. Now people are talking about banks all the time. Several weeks ago, I was in line at a grocery store in Palo Alto and the woman ahead of me and the checkout clerk were chatting about moving their money into a credit union. Interesting cross-section of classes, there: chances are, as it’s a pretty upscale grocery, the woman in line has a lot more money than the checker, but they were united.

So the community is concerned about these issues, and making connections between their money as depositors and what banks do as lenders, and likewise, between what banks do as lenders and the housing misfortunes of their neighbors and communities (and maybe themselves). Part of what PIA does for me is help me see myself and members of my congregation as community organizers. That implies a lot of skills that I’d like to hone.

The most exciting social justice idea I’ve come across in ages is happening right here in San Francisco. It’s called Carrotmob, as in carrot as opposed to stick, because the basic idea is to reward businesses for socially responsible behavior. Specifically, the organizer engages businesses in a bidding war–e.g., which one will commit the biggest percentage of one day’s proceeds to making environmental improvements to the property?–and promises to send a crowd of shoppers to the highest bidder on that day. In the first campaign:

[Brent Schulkin] went to 23 convenience stores in San Francisco and identified the store willing to make the strongest environmental improvements in exchange for a large number of new customers coming and spending money. Carrotmob was born when hundreds of people came to the store at the same time to buy anything they wanted. The “mob” more than tripled the store’s daily revenue in a few hours, and that revenue is how the store financed an energy efficiency retrofit of their lighting system.

I’m joining, but that’s not enough. I want to organize a Carrotmob. How about a congregation-based Carrotmob group?

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