In a conversation about people from rural South Dakota, where I used to serve:
Woman #1: They aren't ready for a woman president there.
Woman #2: They aren't ready for a black president either.
Woman #1: I hear he's Muslim, but he's not active in his faith.
Me: (Interjecting) He's not Muslim. His father is Kenyan, but he's not Muslim.
Woman #1: Well, he's not active.
Me: (Interjecting) Actually, he goes to the same church as Oprah Winfrey. He's a Christian.
Conversation with Brilliant Stepson #1, over birthday dinner:
Me: Let's ask Stepson. He's a young person.
Me: We've been talking about Barack Obama. What do you think of him?
Stepson #1: I think he's going to be the next president of the United States.
There's a lot of information, misinformation and general conversation going on out there about Barack Obama. (also, there are websites devoted to conversations about whether or not he is the Antichrist. I kid you not.) He has a fascinating story, which I think many people know: mother from Kansas and father from Kenya, he lived for a few years as a child in Indonesia. He was born and grew up mostly in Hawaii. He was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
For me, the most interesting part of his biography is the fact that he spent several years in Chicago as a community organizer. He trained with Gamaliel, a church-based community organizing group headquartered in Chicago, and worked under its founder Greg Galluzzo, a former Jesuit priest.
An interesting article in a book published by The Nation magazine calls him "The Agitator", and names Saul Alinsky (author of Rules for Radicals) as one of his "mentors", although they never met. (Alinsky would have been dead by then.) Church-based community organizing is called "church-based" because organizers recognize that in many poor communities, the church is one of the only places left where people gather. Community organizing is devoted to empowering communities of people for social change.
I was trained by Gamaliel organizers back in the fall of 2000. Even eight years later, I'm processing and learning from the experience. This is part of why I'm fascinated by Obama's story. Community organizing is deeply democratic. Listening is one of the valued skills. Developing people as leaders is also valued. (So is something called "agitation", which can be as scarey as it sounds. But, as organizers say and I have to keep reminding myself, nothing moves without friction.) I wonder if this is part of why he says, "We are the change we are waiting for." In community organizing, that is true. No one does it alone.
So, what do you think? I have to admit, that when I first heard about Saul Alinsky, I felt a little uneasy. He said things like "we should work within the system", and called himself a radical. It's hard to figure out what his final goal for society was. What kind of a system was he aiming for? (According to the essay above, he is was a "nonsocialist.") On the other hand, a fascinating article by Walter Wink called Jesus and Saul Alinsky, got me thinking about Jesus himself as a radical. And I heard that in 1969, Alinsky was awarded the Pacem in Terra Award, for his social justice work. (I wonder what he thought of that?)