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Learning to Play the “Ground Game”

August 12, 2010, 5:09 pm | Posted by John Gehring

Kim Bobo, the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, has an instructive piece up at Religious Dispatches about the effective organizing “ground game” run by the Unitarian Universalist Association during recent actions responding to Arizona’s draconian immigration law.

She highlights the UUA’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign as a model for faith-based activism – some of the only notable denominational organizing muscle on the scene. Bobo points out that the flurry of prayer vigils and demonstrations that were quickly organized in Arizona – events that earned significant media attention – were led by justice groups on the ground, not from institutional church bodies.

The religious community was engaged and integral to most of the local organizing, but the leadership didn’t come from denominational structures. Rather, it came largely from immigrant rights and worker justice groups, which invited religious leaders to participate. Although most faith bodies and denominations have very strong statements on immigration reform, those same denominations did not activate people. With one glaring exception – the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Of the several hundred religious leaders who showed up, only the Unitarian Universalist Association seriously committed staff, money, and organizing talent to the struggle.

It’s exciting to think about what could happen if more denominations started developing similar programs. Well-crafted statements and policy positions are important, but the most eloquent words are not enough to affect lasting social change. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved a nation with his soaring rhetorical grandeur, but the sweat and blood and block-by-block movement building at the local level played a crucial role in bending the arc of history toward justice.

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