Monday, January 15, 2007

Social Action

I've been thinking a lot lately about why people should organize to help other people.

Two nights from now, I will attend an organizing meeting, sponsored by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). IAF's goal is to help create an ecumenical, interfaith coalition to agitate for social justice in Northern Virginia, as it has done in communities throughout the U.S.

I trace my own commitment to social justice to growing up in the Reform Movement of Judaism, which has taken the traditional Jewish concept of a Jew's obligation to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) and interpreted it as a broad mandate for collective action on behalf of our least fortunate brothers and sisters. (For more on this, check out the website of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.)

I've posted here before about mobilizing to stop the genocide in Darfur. I also posted a Jewish prayer for Darfur.

That post included links to prayers for Darfur in the language of many other faith traditions (Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, Shinto, Sikh, Jainist and Zoroastrian.)

In response to these prayers, Imaginary Conversations said this:
I have nothing against prayers and stuff. Just wanted to add one thing: you posted a Jewish prayer and linked to all the other ones. As a very convinced atheist, I don't pray for Darfur.

But I care, as much (or more) as believers. And our responsibility is simply the responsibility of those with the power in this world to help people without that power. It's kind of like the abolishment of slavery in the States a few centuries ago. Every white person could say "I am not responsible". And he/she would be right, to a degree. But cooperation and altruism for those who aren't our children is what makes us different from animals.
As she usually does, IC makes a lot of sense. You don't have to believe in G-d, or in a particular way of worshipping G-d, to love your fellow men and women enough to want to improve their lot.

Another denizen of the blogosphere who usually makes a lot of sense is Steven I. Weiss, the Canonist. And today, Steven writes that social justice IS NOT the soul of Judaism.

Between IC and Canonist, I have a lot more to think about between now and Wednesday night.

My commitment to social action is undiminished, but in light of the informed and intelligent comments of these two tutors, I'm left looking for new language to describe from where else that commitment might spring.

Because I want to help organize a coalition of faith communities that has room in it for traditional religious activists for peace and justice, but one whose principles are broad enough to attract non-believers too. And believers whose commitment to social justice does not necessarily spring from religious roots.

The IAF was founded by the late Saul Alinsky, a legendary organizer, and one of the few whose work survives him. He wrote one of the best books I was ever assigned to read in college, Rules for Radicals.

Alinsky had little use for any tactic that was not intensely practical. And he had a wicked sense of humor. As I'm typing this, I'm reminded of one of the opening epigraphs to Rules for Radicals.
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins --- or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom --- Lucifer.

I'm guessing that's not the first quote we'll use as we woo Christian churches to join the coalition.


Rachel said...

Do you find that by trying to be all inclusive that it dilutes what you are trying to achieve?
I seem to have that problem.

David in DC said...

We're not there yet. We're still at the point of trying to assemble a critical mass of congregations.

But we've already discussed the fact that some issues are not going to be possible to advance collectively, because we won't be able to achieve consensus.

My guess is that we'll find ourselves in synch about issues of economic justice (like a livable wage law or land development policy that provides for affordable housing) a heckuva lot easier than on issues of, for instance, reproductive choice.