A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy

A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy

by Richard L. Wood, Brad R. Fulton

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A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy by Richard L. Wood, Brad R. Fulton

Faith-based community organizers have spent decades working for greater equality in American society, and more recently have become significant players in shaping health care, finance, and immigration reform at the highest levels of government.

In A Shared Future, Richard L. Wood and Brad R. Fulton draw on a new national study of community organizing coalitions and in-depth interviews of key leaders in this field to show how faith-based organizing is creatively navigating the competing aspirations of America’s universalist and multiculturalist democratic ideals, even as it confronts three demons bedeviling American politics: economic inequality, federal policy paralysis, and racial inequity. With a broad view of the entire field and a distinct empirical focus on the PICO National Network, Wood and Fulton’s analysis illuminates the tensions, struggles, and deep rewards that come with pursuing racial equity within a social change organization and in society. Ultimately, A Shared Future offers a vision for how we might build a future that embodies the ethical democracy of the best American dreams.

An interview of the authors on the subject of faith leaders organizing for justice (Peace Talks Radio, copyright Good Radio Shows, Inc.) can be heard at this link: https://beta.prx.org/stories/190030

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226306162
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/02/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Richard L. Wood is professor and chair in the department of sociology at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Faith in Action, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Brad R. Fulton is assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

Read an Excerpt

A Shared Future

Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy

By Richard L. Wood, Brad R. Fulton

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-30616-2


The Scale of Organizing Today: The National Study of Community Organizing Coalitions

Despite the fact that community organizing has existed for decades, the broad field Saul Alinsky founded — drawing on strands of noncommunist labor organizing, the settlement house movement, the Chicago school of ethnographic research, and other preexisting forms of community engagement for promoting grassroots democracy — was not even really recognized as one field until recently. To the extent it was recognized at all, it was seen as a disconnected set of local efforts. The once high-profile work of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) continued under the leadership of Ed Chambers, but by the mid-1970s it no longer commanded widespread public attention.

Following Alinsky's death in 1972, the field had splintered into competing training centers. As the community institutions that had provided the organizational backbone for Alinsky's work declined, innovative extensions of his organizing model were being tested in new organizing efforts around the country. The most important innovation — building tighter links to religious congregations and traditions, and thereby linking faith communities in poor communities to grassroots democratic work, in part inspired by the movement for African American civil rights — was pioneered initially by the IAF organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) in San Antonio, Texas.

COPS's innovative approach in San Antonio spread across the Texas IAF under Ernesto Cortés and Christine Stephens, and to the rest of the IAF under Ed Chambers via work by Mike Gecan, Arne Graf, Gerald Taylor, and Dick Harmon. Elements of that approach were adapted into the emerging organizing models of the PICO National Network via the work of John Baumann, Scott Reed, Stephanie Gut, José Carrasco, and Ron Snyder; the Gamaliel Foundation via Greg Galluzo and Mary Gonzales; the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) via John Caulkins and Holly Holcombe; and to a variety of smaller regional networks or independent organizations via a variety of figures including Tom Gaudette, Shel Trapp, Moshe ben Aron, Lew Finfer, Ken Galdston, and later via Eugene Williams, Kim Bobo, George Goehl, James Mumm, and others. Each of these organizing networks further innovated on the basic Alinsky model, generally with greater emphasis on religious congregations as the core of the organizing infrastructure — in part because other institutions in poor communities were hollowing out.

Given this organizational innovation and proliferation and due to the thin academic writing on the field for three decades, by the turn of the century few people appear to have been aware that such a "field" existed, other than its participants and the foundation program officers who funded their work. Some wider awareness had been generated by the work of the IAF in educational reform in Texas in the 1980s and by PICO's work on public education and health care in California the late 1990s. But otherwise, knowledge of such a field rarely transcended the very local work of particular organizations. Not until the early 2000s did the field of faith-based community organizing begin to receive extensive scholarly attention.

We now know a great deal more about the field, thanks to much broader scholarly attention and recent writing by key professional organizers. But other than one 1999 study (see below), we have lacked a comprehensive look across all such organizing efforts. That has now changed as a result of a recent comprehensive census of the entire field, the National Study of Community Organizing Coalitions. This chapter draws on that census and the wider literature to portray the full terrain of faith-based community organizing in the United States, including its organizational infrastructure, leadership, strategic capacity, and the organizational cultures within it. In the concluding section, we argue that the field today occupies an impressive strategic position within American civil society and yet as a whole falls short of its potential role in helping to build ethical democracy by confronting the challenges facing American political culture and institutions.


The National Study of Community Organizing Coalitions, conducted in 2011, extends and improves upon a 1999 national census of the field that was conducted by funders. The 1999 study provided the first systematic national data on the field and thus offers a baseline for understanding changes in the scope and scale of this organizing model and its evolution over the last decade and a half.

In that period, both the national context and the field of community organizing changed substantially. Economic inequality rose dramatically, money flowed into electoral campaigns virtually uncontrolled following the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, and national political institutions grew more polarized. Furthermore, the three religious sectors that composed the membership core of the field in 1999 — urban Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and historic African American churches — each experienced stagnant or declining memberships and in some cases significant institutional crises. All these changes had important implications for community organizing efforts. Meanwhile, as documented below, the field evolved and grew by extending its geographic reach beyond the urban core and into new states and cities, by developing a broader base of member institutions, by increasing its collaborative work with other kinds of organizing efforts, and by leveraging its power beyond the local level to more systematically address issues at state and national levels.

In recognition of these changes — and the opportunity they presented to study significant strategic and organizational shifts in a dynamic social movement sector with reasonable baseline data — we collaborated with Interfaith Funders in 2011 to conduct a major census of the entire field.

On Nomenclature: Faith-Based or Institution-Based or Broad-Based Organizing?

The field under study here has been known by various names, with some organizations believing "congregation-based" or "broad-based" community organizing best represents their work. Both are appropriate in particular contexts, but neither quite characterizes the field as a whole. The shift in the composition of member institutions described above, along with the differing mix of congregations and noncongregational institutions in different networks, suggests that the term congregation-based community organizing no longer represents the field. Yet all these organizations have significant congregational memberships, and most rely heavily on religious worldviews in constructing their organizational cultures. Due to the cultural centrality of religious discourse and meaning in the field, and what we show elsewhere to be the important role of religious practices in how the field sustains its racial, ethnic, and class diversity, we use the term faith-based community organizing throughout the book to refer to the field as a whole and highlight its core cultural dynamic: the continuing centrality of faith communities, prayer practices, and religiously tied ethical framing of issues in most organizing work. We refer to individual local organizations as faith-based community organizing coalitions to highlight their diverse base of member institutions.

Research Design

The National Study of Community Organizing Coalitions was designed to replicate and build upon the 1999 study by surveying the entire field of faith-based community organizing. Wood, Fulton, and key collaborators from within Interfaith Funders formulated the goals and contents of the study in consultation with local organizers, national organizing staff, foundation program officers, denominational funders, and scholars of the field. In addition to asking identical questions from the 1999 study, several new items were added to better assess the work on specific issues, collaborative relations, and religious practices within the field. The final survey instrument was designed and implemented by Fulton, and it has two parts: an online survey that gathered extensive data on each faith-based community organizing coalition's history, constituents, collaborators, activities, finances, and issue work; and a set of customized spreadsheets that respondents used to provide detailed demographic information about their coalition's member institutions, board members, and paid staff.

The study defined a faith-based community organizing coalition as a local organization that practices the institution-based model of organizing (that is, its membership is composed of institutions rather than individuals), has an office address, and has at least one paid organizer on staff. Based on these criteria, 189 active coalitions were identified using databases from every national and regional faith-based community organizing network, databases from fourteen foundations that fund faith-based community organizing, and archived IRS 990 forms. The survey was distributed electronically to the director of every local faith-based community organizing coalition during the second half of 2011. The directors were informed that their responses would be kept confidential and that nothing would be published that identifies specific characteristics of their coalition unless they provided consent. The survey achieved a response rate of 94%, gathering data on 178 faith-based community organizing coalitions and demographic information on the 4,145 member institutions plus 2,939 board members and 628 paid staff affiliated with those coalitions.

The structure of the study allows the data to be analyzed at two levels. The field level demonstrates patterns as a whole; the coalition level assesses similarities and differences among individual faith-based community organizing coalitions. In addition, the fact that we replicated items from the 1999 study and included the coalitions surveyed in 1999 means we can assess changes in the field (and in individual coalitions) over the last decade. This offers a more dynamic view than possible with only a one-time snapshot.

As a result of these factors, this chapter presents the only available comprehensive data on the entire field of faith-based community organizing. The quality of data collection and the high response rate allow us for the first time to confidently portray the broad profile and specific characteristics of the field in ways scholars could only speculate on previously. We think our ability to do so is especially important in a context wherein some professional organizers seek to position themselves and their allies as doing the only good work; thus, a person's perception of the field may be highly distorted by working solely with any one coalition or network. Through the new study, we can describe and analyze the field more accurately.

Organizational Infrastructure: The Changing Field of Organizing

Overall Growth in Organizing Infrastructure at the Local Level

Comparing the 1999 snapshot with the current state of the field reveals dramatic growth over the last decade in some key dimensions, including geographic reach and strategic depth. At the coalition level, the overall field grew by 42% from 1999 to 2011, with 102 new coalitions established and forty-six that had become inactive. In most areas where a coalition had become inactive, another one has arisen to replace it. Among the inactive coalitions, twenty-three had dissolved, eight are rebuilding but did not meet our criteria, fourteen had merged into another coalition, and one had stopped using the institution-based organizing model.

The overall growth of the field corresponds with its significant geographic spread. In 1999, thirty-three states had active faith-based community organizing coalitions; today, faith-based community organizing coalitions are active in forty states. New coalitions have been established in nine new states (Alaska, Alabama, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Vermont) — states characterized by dramatically different dynamics within the partisan political system, including reliably Democratic, reliably Republican, and "swing" states. The number of faith-based community organizing coalitions at least doubled in Hawai'i, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. While the field has spread to new states and beyond its original base in core urban areas, it remains concentrated in metropolitan areas and in populous states with a long history of this kind of work. Half of the coalitions reside in California, Illinois, Florida, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Most faith-based community organizing coalitions are formally affiliated with a national or regional organizing network, and from 1999 to 2011 the number of local coalitions coordinated by each of these networks increased. The largest relative growth occurred among three networks that were comparatively smaller in 1999, most significantly the PICO National Network but also Gamaliel and DART. As a result, the field has become more evenly distributed among the various organizing networks. The number of coalitions not affiliated with any formal organizing network also increased during the same period but remains relatively small (fifteen coalitions, or 8%).

Expansion and Diversification of Mobilizing Structures

The foundation of the faith-based organizing infrastructure lies in its member institutions, which social movement scholars refer to as its "mobilizing structures." The profile of the field's member institutions has shifted in important ways that collectively add up to a diversification of local mobilizing structures. In 1999 the field was comprised of roughly four thousand member institutions — of which 88% were religious congregations and 12% were noncongregational institutions. Even though the number of organizing coalitions increased by 42% over the last decade, the total number of their member institutions increased by only 12.5% (to approximately 4,500). As a result, the median number of member institutions per coalition declined from twenty-three to twenty-one. The composition of member institutions shifted as well. Since 1999, the number of member congregations has remained the same (approximately 3,500, or 78% of member institutions), while the number of noncongregational members has doubled (increasing from approximately five hundred to one thousand, or 22% of member institutions).

Thus noncongregational community institutions — mostly made up of public schools, faith-based nonprofit agencies, labor unions, and neighborhood associations — now make up between a quarter and a fifth of all member institutions, and 70% of faith-based community organizing coalitions have at least one noncongregational member institution. Schools represent 18% of these noncongregational institutions (4% of all member institutions), faith-based nonprofits represent 16% (3.6% of all), labor unions 15% (3.4% of all), and neighborhood associations 13% (2.9% of all).

In 1999, 13% of faith-based community organizing coalitions had at least one union as a member institution; by 2011 that had grown to 23%. In addition, roughly one-quarter had a school, faith-based organization, or neighborhood association as a member institution. The mix of congregations versus noncongregational member institutions varies considerably. For instance and as a broad generalization, coalitions affiliated with the PICO National Network and DART tend to be more heavily based in congregations (with some still having significant noncongregational members), whereas coalitions affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation and Gamaliel tend to have more noncongregational members (while still being primarily based in congregations). Coalitions affiliated with National People's Action tend to have both institutional and individual members, and some of the other networks have recently experimented with such an institutional/individual membership structure in an effort to adapt to declining institutions in poor communities.


Excerpted from A Shared Future by Richard L. Wood, Brad R. Fulton. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents Introduction: Exorcising America’s Demons, Building Ethical Democracy Democracy and Multiculturalism: Dilemmas of the Democratic Public Sphere Universalist and Multiculturalist Democracy in Action: The Scale and Strategic Ambition of Today’s Faith- Based Community Organizing The Other Democratic Dilemma: Religion in the Public Sphere Outline of the Book’s Argument Part I: The Strategic Infrastructure, Ambition, and Racial/Ethnic Diversity of Faith-Based Community Organizing 1. The Scale of Organizing Today: The National Study of Community Organizing Coalitions Background On Nomenclature: Faith-Based or Institution-Based or Broad-Based Organizing? Research Design Organizational Infrastructure: The Changing Field of Organizing Scale and Scope of Organizing: The New Political Imagination Emerging Federated Structures: State and National Mobilizing Resources: Funding in the Field of Faith-Based Community Organizing Summary: Dynamics Underlying the Growth of Faith-Based Community Organizing 2. Leadership and Diversity Governing and Leading: Board Members, Clergy, and Leaders Organizing the Terrain: The Makeup of Professional Staff Retaining Professional and Diverse Staff: Salaries, Meaning, and the Shared Work of Multiculturalism Conclusion Demographics of Institutional Diversity: Racial and Ethnic Diversity of Member Institutions And Yet . . . Is Diversity in Faith-Based Organizing on the Decline? The Strategic and Institutional Origins of Changing Diversity Better Measures? Capturing the Complex Diversity Picture Brief Contrast Case: Religious Diversity in Organizing Conclusion Part II: Ethical Democracy on the Ground- Organizing, Democracy, and the Challenges of Diversity Introduction to Part II 4. Transforming Institutions: The Strategic and Ethical Dynamics of Commitment to Racial Equity Getting Real: Building a Culture of Engagement on Racial Equity, Preserving Political Effi cacy How Hard It Is: The Intellectual Work behind PICO’s Transformation Conclusion: Envisioning and Rebuilding a “Land of Opportunity” in America: Can Americans Deal with America’s Racial Legacy? 5. Lifelines to Healing: Betting Resources and Reputation on Racial Equity A Campaign for Racial Equity: “Targeted Universalism” in Action The Symbiosis of Structure, Culture, and Leadership: Campaigns within a Network Change over Time: The Institutional, Strategic, and Cultural Origins of Commitment to Racial Equity Conclusion: Risks and Rewards of Ambitious Organizing 6. Challenge to America: An Interview with Rev. Michael McBride, Lifelines to Healing LiveFree Campaign, PICO National Network 7. Strategic Innovation and Democratic Theory The Fire of Faith in Organizing Creativity: Strategic Innovation in Faith-Based Organizing Reprise: The Theoretical Stakes behind Real-World Democratic Struggles Conclusion Conclusion: A Shared Future—Ethical Democracy, Racial Equity, and Power Building Ethical Democracy by Reanchoring Democratic Life in Society Real-World Work for Ethical Democracy: Insights for Democratic Movements Conclusion Acknowledgments Abbreviations Notes Bibliography Index Racial Diversity in Faith-Based Organizing

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