Campaign Community Organizers as the Foundation for Future Change

By Mary Nelson 11-11-2008

As a volunteer in the Obama campaign, I was constantly amazed at my fellow volunteers of all ages, races, and economic groups. Especially exciting for me as a Boomer Plus was experiencing the next generation of young people with the gleam in their eye for justice and community; they give me hope for better communities, a nation, and a world.

Camp Obama trained paid organizers (mostly young people) and local volunteer teams all through the summer. Their value clear mantra was: RESPECT, EMPOWER, INCLUDE. Developing relationships and local volunteer leaders was the priority. The push for traditional voter contacts came later. That existing relational network is a legacy of the campaign and an opportunity for our communities, our nation. Some of the 3 million volunteers (active citizens) with the campaign will want to focus on working with Obama and his administration's platform. Others are concerned about a specific issue (like health care or environment), and they need to be connected to our local and national groups focusing on that. And others found out that they were leaders and could be a major injection and resource for our community-based efforts. We need to reach out and connect with them. Perhaps, too, that training as community organizers with a clear set of shared values could be modified to help energize and move our churches and local communities into action. What is needed, though, is to move beyond "service" to empowering and enabling people to be a part of the change in our institutions, communities, and government that is so sorely needed. We have a great model in the way Jesus functioned ... creating relationships beyond class and geographic lines, calling for and embodying a different set of values and kind of community. Respect, Empower, Include. What an opportunity.

Mary NelsonMary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners.

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