2014 UUANI Congregational Organizing Training - Bill Rau, member, UU Church of Bloomington-Normal

On August 2nd, 22 members of 11 UU congregations (Bloomington, Chicago [Second], Deerfield, Evanston, Hinsdale, Mt. Vernon, Naperville, Palatine, Peoria, Quincy, and Urbana) met in Bloomington for a training session on how to more effectively actualize UU beliefs on social justice.  Rev. Jackie Clement urged us to remember that "sometimes David wins," and pointed us to Marshall Ganz's book with David v. Goliath as its subject (Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. 2010, Oxford University Press).

Sponsored by the UU Advocacy Network of Illinois (UUANI, pronounced "UU And I") the training was provided by Ryan Walker of the Community Renewal Society (CRS).  The CRS is an alliance of over 60 churches that was started by the United Church of Christ 132 years ago.

Ryan covered four topics: (1) charity & justice, (2) power, (3) relationships, (4) team building.

I. Charity & Justice

The distinction between charity (helping people in need; minimizing effects of inequality & injustice) and justice (transforming laws and institutions to eliminate or reduce the causes of inequality & injustice) were well understood.  Next Ryan asked whether congregations were more committed to and comfortable with charity work than justice work.  It appears that participants believe most congregants and congregations have committed most of their time, effort, and spare resources to charity work.

The issue was then stated as thus: we should continue, support and give praise to the important, ameliorative work of charity. However, can we also generate new sources of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to justice work?  Ryan says yes--if we develop a new understanding of power and a new method of relationship building that can generate and harness values-driven people power.

Quotes on charity & justice:

"Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt themselves from the great duties imposed by justice."  Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris , #49

"Quando dou comida aos pobres chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres chamam-me de comunista.("When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.")  Archbishop Dom Helder Camera

II.  Power

One way to counter and hopefully reverse the escalating inequality in American society, and the injustices that feed on inequality, is by organizing people power.  Money is already organized; so squeamishness about power, which some of us have, is simply to cede the field to organized money.

As noted by Ryan, power is neither good nor bad in itself; rather, it is shaped by the values of those who use it.  It is also a prerequisite to change the status quo to favor justice over injustice.

Ryan then presented a strategy to grow people power through the slow person-by person process of building increasingly dense networks of mutual relationships in our congregations.

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”   Dr. Martin Luther King

III. Relationships and One-On-Ones

Experience shows us that neither a "Lone Ranger Activist" nor a committed and effective social justice team of 8-10 people can achieve in the realm of social justice what traditional approaches can accomplish when seeking volunteers for a soup kitchen or monies for a designated charity.  A new approach is needed, and what Ryan recommended was to build people power by creating mutual and sustaining relationships through "one-on-ones."   A one-on-one has an initiator arranging a 30 to 45 minute meeting with another congregant to "discover shared interests, values, faith, and passion," to learn through shared stories the big things that have shaped another's life, and to seek answers to two fundamental questions: (1) who am I, and (2) what things will move me to action?  In terms of the process, here's what one-on-on-ones are and are not


are:                                             are NOT:

A one to one dyad                    A focus group or other group exchange

30 to 45 minutes                       Less than 30, more than 45 minutes

Face-to-face                              Telephone, email, or text

Intentional, by appointment      Ad hoc encounter or small talk

Mutual exchange                       One-sided interview or interrogation

Stories and sharing                    Selling issues or pushing an agenda

More generally, one of the purposes of one-on-ones is to intentionally construct a network of public relationships where the web is woven and strengthened through identified values and shared stories.  The point is to strive for authentic, deeper connections among our fellows, bonds that cut through superficial small talk and delve into the big things that have shaped our lives and the values and interests that call us to stand up and be counted.

According to Ryan, while a one-on-one has a clear structure and purpose, it cannot have an advanced, detailed script.  The questions we ask have to follow and grow out of the stories we tell each other.  Tailoring questions to the unfolding stories requires careful listening and alertness.

Quotes on relationships:

"No road is long with good company."  Turkish Proverb

"Human relationships always help us to carry on because they always presuppose further developments."  Albert Camus

I want relations which are not purely personal, based on purely personal qualities; but relations based upon some unanimous accord in truth or belief, and a harmony of purpose, rather than of personality. I am weary of personality. Let us… try to create a new life, a new common life, a new complete tree of life from the roots that are within us.    D. H. Lawrence

IV.  Building Teams

Building teams through one-on-ones allows congregations to mobilize large numbers of people on short notice when timely action on a social justice issue becomes desirable or necessary. Scott Aaseng cites Unity Temple of Oak Park as an example.  After much work with one-on-ones, Unity Temple has created the networks that can turn out 100 people to an event calling for social justice advocacy.  Through the slow building of values-driven networks, a social justice action team, now susceptible to burnout, can call on occasional but re-energizing help from an action alert network.  And, with the steady extension of one-on-ones, right across all of the pews, Social Justice Committees can call to action a growing number of congregants who, thus far in their lives, have been passive spectators in the social justice arena.

If a number of Illinois UU congregations prove up to the task of stitching together the small, informal groupings--where people in one pew often don't know people two pews removed--in much more densely interconnected networks, then we as a denomination can begin to turn out the numbers that can make a difference.    Should we not set as an attainable goal the ability to turn out 500 to 1,000 UUs to stand in Springfield for an increase in the minimum wage?