Wednesday, January 4, 2006
'Coalition of compassion' has clout on Beacon Hill.
Forget about the symbolic politics on the religious right and the religious left for a minute. Here's a story about a local coalition of religious organizations that crosses denominational, theological, and political lines and that is exerting real political pressure on the Massachusetts legislature to bring healthcare to more people.
Scott S. Greenberger wrote last week about the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization's push to expand health coverage in the state. He focuses on the Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, minister of a Presbyterian church in Roxbury, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, from the largest Reform temple in Boston. The story plays up several cliches about religious communities — the religious leaders are "waging their fight to expand healthcare coverage on a different, higher plane," for example — but it also points to the Industrial Areas Foundation-style community organizing that is at the heart of GBIO's efforts:
Hamilton and Pesner . . . are leaders of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, which has used moral suasion to become an influential force in Beacon Hill's healthcare debate. Inside the velvet glove, though, is a real threat: If legislators don't pass a healthcare bill to their liking, the group and its allies will push a 2006 ballot measure that would force the state to cover everybody. Backers of the ballot effort have collected more than 112,000 signatures.
The key to GBIO's work is helping diverse religious communities identify real community needs that their members are personally invested in addressing. The interfaith group's organizers help focus and coordinate that personal investment into political power. At its heart, GBIO helps religious communities recognize that they have political clout, and that they have more political clout when they work together.
What I'd especially like to emphasize is that the coalition of religious communities involved in GBIO isn't "left" or "right," theologically or politically — and that the battle lines are not partisan. They don't get involved in "culture war" fights.
One could argue the merits of a particular healthcare proposal — but I'm not praising or disputing the specific proposal GBIO is pushing for. Instead, I'm pointing to this single, significant fact: In our democracy these days, very few groups actually represent the needs or interests of everyday people. Many represent business interests; others represent so-called interest groups, from the Sierra Club to the Christian Coalition — but few of these lobbying agencies actually mobilize local forces around issues that the local people themselves have identified as important.
Because congregations are among the "thickest" local groups around, however, they can play a significant role in democratic life. The GBIO-IAW model shows one way this can be done, and it's a model that helps congregations reach across denominational, socioeconomic, and ethnic lines. I cheer for that.
A few years ago, Rosemary Bray McNatt reviewed some books about community organizing for UU World and observed that the IAW model of community organizing has often been difficult for Unitarian Universalists to embrace. Don Skinner profiled some UU congregations involved in community organizing back in 2002.
I'd love to hear recent stories about ways UU congregations have successfully — or unsuccessfully — tried to participate in programs like these.
("Interfaith leaders invoke morality in healthcare debate," Scott S. Greenberger, Boston Globe 12.29.05, reg req'd; "Power, religious faith, and social change," Rosemary Bray McNatt, UU World Mar/Apr 2003; Grassroots work joins UUs, others," Donald E. Skinner, UU World Mar/Apr 2002)
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 4 January 2006 at 9:27 PM