Organizing Hope

Regardless of the outcome of the current presidential race, Sen. Barack Obama has become a central, defining figure in America’s political culture. He has raised a flag for a new kind of politics—aiming for common ground and consensus—and millions of Americans have saluted. In addition, Obama’s life story seems, to many Americans, to offer the possibility of new, bigger, and better vision of their country and its place in the world. He bridges black and white, global North and South, Muslim and Christian.

Another important, less-discussed element in Obama’s story is the three years he spent as a staff organizer on the South Side of Chicago for the Gamaliel Foundation. It was during those years that he found his home and his church, and it was as a faith-based community organizer that Obama developed his sense of what politics is about. When people respond to Obama on the campaign trail, they are, in no small part, actually responding to the political vision and political culture nourished and promoted by church-based community organizations.

Obama’s alma mater, Gamaliel, is one of several community organizing networks that have sprung from the original vision of Saul Alinsky and the organization he founded, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). As that vision has been adapted in recent decades, especially by Ed Chambers, Alinsky’s successor, it focuses on drawing people into active participation in the political and economic decisions that affect their lives through the vehicle of their religious congregations. This brand of community organizing is congregation-based and faith-based.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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