A New Year's Challenge
Across the political spectrum, widespread anxiety about people’s economic futures - combined with hopelessness and frustration with government's ability to improve the situation – laid the foundation for populist surges that challenged the establishments in both major parties in the recent US presidential election. At its worst, the campaign pitted Americans against each other, exposed race and gender prejudices, and further eroded people’s confidence in government.
In this context, the well refined relational organizing practices of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and its affiliates across the US and beyond are needed now more than ever.
An article by IAF leaders from the eastern US - that invites and challenges the new administration to join them in efforts to reform the country’s criminal justice system - raises the image of the prophet Nehemiah, rebuilding Jerusalem with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.
The sword – symbolizing defense – represents the work of IAF leaders and organizations across the country to fight against discrimination and to defend hard-fought gains related to health care, housing, workers’ rights, the environment and more. Whether it’s 2,600 people at a mosque in Boston pledging to work against bigotry and abuse, 20 parents here in Spokane addressing a surge in school bullying, or congregations across the Southwest rallying around immigrant families fearful about their futures, IAF organizations have taken swift and effective action against discrimination. And as always, regardless of the administration in power, IAF organizations are poised to defend policies and programs that have brought people dignity and opportunity - especially for those at the margins.
The trowel – a symbol of craftsmanship, initiative and creativity – represents the challenge of patiently rebuilding, taking the offense and seizing new opportunities. The rebuilding begins relationally – reaching out across great diversity, meeting other people where they are, suspending judgment, sticking with it, changing and being changed. Thousands of one-to-one and small group meetings are required to re-weave a social fabric that is reinforced by strong strands of respect, shared values, and carefully discerned mutual interests.
With proper tending, creativity and opportunities for action will emerge from these new, well-developed public relationships. And with effective action, people will rediscover their agency and have reason to be hopeful again.
In the IAF tradition, the actions that will be taken to seize new opportunities will emerge from the bottom up. They will start locally but inspire more broadly, as they did with living wage campaigns, Nehemiah housing projects, Project Quest workforce development initiatives and many others.
The biggest challenge for many in the New Year is to not be paralyzed by either despair or wishful thinking. The many institutions and people (labor unions, faith communities, schools and civic associations) connected to IAF affiliated organizations have a rich history to draw from and the brilliance of many talented leaders to light the way.
Like a sword and trowel, IAF’s tools for change and accountability – the organizing fundamentals that have well served generations of community leaders in many difficult times and situations – are at our disposal today.
The future of our communities – for better or worse – will largely be determined by the strength of our individual and collective resolve to pick up those tools to build what we want for our children and each other.
We hope you will take some time over the holidays to reflect on why you're involved with MACG and the role you want to play as a leader in the year ahead.
We look forward to seeing you in 2017!