Thursday, November 29, 2007

Economic organizing--hard work

[Lee Stuart worked with South Bronx Churches (an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation) before he became Director of Development for The Hunger Project. I find his insights in the quote below extremely interesting, not so surprising and somewhat alarming. Overcoming entrenched poverty in entire communities is extremely difficult. If Stuart is correct here, it will only grow more challenging in coming days. I often have the feeling that many folks who drop by this blog don't understand or think in systemic terms when discussing poverty. To miss this dimension is to miss a large portion of the harsh reality of living in poverty.]

In organizing terms, what is happening is that the power of organized money is more and more trumping the power of organized people. In New York City, as recently as fifteen years ago, we could organize enough people to counteract organized money. Now, that is increasingly difficult to do. Methods of organizing that were developed to deal with a dominant public sector are not tuned to dealing with a dominant market sector, and much less a non-localized market sector.

All politics is local, but increasingly, economic decisions are made on a global scale, and local politics can do little but sit and watch as a century old sugar warehouse closes on the Brooklyn waterfront to make way for luxury condos, as a seventy year old plant manufacturing pots and pans in the South Bronx moves to Mexico and when tax breaks to an automobile manufacturing plant bankrupt the Tarrytown school system and the plant closes anyway.

Traditional community organizing, relatively powerless even in the old days of government strength, is even more powerless when the stage is global. Effective organizing is based on relationships and the types of relationships that organizing has depended on so far are undeniably local. In global economics, local doesn’t matter much. It feels as if we’re on the edges – good edges, to be sure and certainly important in the day to day lives of people, but edges nonetheless. (64)

Lee Stuart, "Theological Challenges to Community Organizing," Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture 42 no 3 (Fall 2007).


kediger said...

This makes me think of Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger where he recommends promoting job development in other countries even if that means loss of work in the U.S. Though I agree with Sider on one hand, this post makes me realize that the jobs lost will be those among poor Americans, not those who could better handle the blow of unemployment. What we need is all-around job development and especially respect for developing communities in our own nation. I think that will only come with a healthy change in the political regime.

Larry James said...

kediger, thanks for the post. I understand your point and share your sense of being torn over the shifting benefits of outsourcing. While some do benefit from the transfer of jobs from the US to nations with emerging economies, like India or China, the % of persons in those nations remaining in severe poverty continues to remain very high. What is required to achieve effective "economic organizing" is leadership in public policy formation, which means high level leaders in the political sector crafting new ways of sharing the wealth and the power.

belinda said...

this isn't related to your current post, but . . .

your posts have made me much more conscious of others. I've discussed with my family the idea of no Christmas presents this year but rather donating to a favorite charity. I wondered if you were aware of any worthwhile projects in the Alabama area, specifically North Alabama.

Larry James said...

belinda, thanks for your kind words and for your actions. I'm not sure about N. Alabama. I suggest you visit the website of Chrisitan Community Development Association and search for Alabama projects. You'll likely find some good possibilities. Or, call your local United Way and see who they support. I know the Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa has an urban ministry underway as well.