Organizing Can Help Free Baltimore & Palestine
11 years ago this month, I was in Palestine/Israel with an Eyewitness Palestine delegation because I wanted to see for myself what was really going on there. I wasn't satisfied with the religious justifications that I had heard growing up in church or the simplified narratives that were shown on the news. I had a hunch that more was going on and my visit to Palestine/Israel confirmed my suspicions.
When I returned to the United States, I continued trying to make a difference on the community issues that I was active with before the trip - confronting the systems of policing, incarceration, redlining and more. However, now I had a deeper understanding of how what I saw in Palestine connected with the difference I was trying to make in Baltimore. (Like the fact that Israeli surveillance technology was being used in former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's Blue light "community safety" program in Black neighborhoods.)
Without connecting the dots of all of the injustices that we're seeing on the news and watching in the world, it can feel like we're being pulled in many different directions. Eventually, this gets emotionally overwhelming and anxiety and "compassion fatigue" can set in. People can become frozen in inaction, numb to the suffering of others, or take on a lone-ranger approach - thinking that heroic individual action or charity is enough.
I'm so glad that I had (and have) mentors/teachers that helped me to understand the discipline of organizing and how it can anchor me in the marathon of sustainable action against oppression. Marching, "Buy Black" campaigns, social media posts, voting, and boycotts can be important and have a place; however we can't do that everyday and expect lasting change. Community organizing has allowed me to find a realistic pace that remains just as consistent as the oppression we face. It's like the difference between running a 40-yard-dash (activism) and a marathon (organizing).
Through studying Jesus, I've learned so much about community organizing. The people that we call his "disciples" were actually trained by him to be organizers in their communities. I believe that people like Ella Baker, Kwame Ture, Claudia Jones and so many more embraced the practices that Jesus also found to be helpful in bringing people together to organize their power in order to usher in a radically different vision for their lives.
I'm wondering if there are Pleasant Hope members that are curious to learn more about community organizing; members that see what's going on in the world (or at their job, in their neighborhood, etc.), want to do something more than post, march, or pray...but don't quite know what to do. Perhaps becoming a community organizer would bring deeper satisfaction as you help to make a lasting different in the world.
If community organizing is something you are interested in learning more about, let me know so we can learn, grow, and pace ourselves in this marathon together.
Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III