In congregation-based community organizing (CBCO), existing institutions, mostly religious congregations, are recruited to join a citywide or regional organization. CBCO affiliates organize existing groups, as opposed to individuals, since existing groups already have leaders, interpersonal relationships, resources, a shared culture that facilitates group action, and community connections and commitments.
The local affiliate and the national networks train leaders in creating winnable campaigns on local issues that affect the day-to-day lives of their members. In focusing on the "winnable," CBCO blends idealistic values with pragmatic self-interest.
While CBCO avoids direct participation in electoral politics, organizations position themselves to become power players by thoroughly researching issues, building alliances, developing strong relationships with leaders in the public and private sectors, and staging large, dramatic public meetings to demonstrate grassroots support to targeted decision-makers.
Step #1 - Investigate what's happening locally
There are four international CBCO networks:
On each network's website, there is a listing of local affiliates, organized geographically. There, you can investigate whether there already is one in your area ...
Step #2 - Make contact
After you've determined that there is a community-organizing group in your area, you can use the online directory to contact the community organizer associated with the local affiliate. The organizer will probably want to schedule an initial "one-on-one" conversation with you, or with someone else from your synagogue.
During this in-person conversation, lasting from 30 minutes to an hour, the initial focus will be on each person learning something about the other. A more "nuts and bolts" discussion about the CBCO affiliate and the potential process for becoming involved, will likely only occur towards the end of the meeting, or at a subsequent follow-up.
Organizers spend a good part of their time meeting with clergy and key leaders of prospective congregations in order to discover their perceived self-interest and determine how that might fit with the self-interest of the other member organizations and the affiliate.
The organizer may subsequently invite you to have a similar conversation with members or clergy of other congregations that belong to the affiliate, and/or invite you to observe a local event or "action" occurring in the near-future. Both of these would be excellent strategies for learning more about the organization, and for making personal connections with others who are already involved.
If there is not a local CBCO affiliate in your area, the first step towards establishing one, would be the creation of a sponsoring committee made up of interested clergy, lay leaders, and other members of the community. This would typically happen in coordination with an organizer from one of the four CBCO networks.
Step #3 - Laying the groundwork
Formally joining an CBCO affiliate involves an substantial annual financial commitment, dependent on the size of your institution. Since this model of organizing teaches that the power to make change comes from organized people and organized money, paying dues represents a congregation's seriousness of commitment. Affiliates are expected to raise at least two-thirds of their money from member dues and fundraising events, and only one-third from foundations and other large donors. Some affiliates offer a reduced-cost "initial" or "provisional" membership.
Especially due to the degree of financial and human resource commitment, the entire board of the congregation, not only the tikkun olam committee, should be involved with this ongoing process at this stage, if not earlier.
Many congregations engage in an internal "one-on-one" or house-meeting campaign within their congregation before formally joining an affiliate. Regardless of the ultimate decision whether or not to join a CBCO affiliate, one-on-ones and house meetings can be extremely valuable tools. One-on-ones connect disparate segments of the congregational community, re-integrate alienated and unengaged community members back into the life of the community, and help leaders learn how best to meet the varying needs of the community.
For these reasons, the membership and programming committees of the congregation should also be involved in this process by this stage.
Step #4 - Moving into action
Once you've joined an affiliate, things do not necessarily begin with issues or ideologies -- but with the idea that if organizers train leaders not just in political skills but also in how to build relationships of mutual understanding and trust with each other, they will find ways to identify and act on common problems effectively. The CBCO networks have developed a very deliberate and skilled process for doing so. This occurs locally or at regional trainings sponsored by the network.
Through this process, often in conjunction with community "house meetings," issues emerge that can be acted upon publicly within the CBCO context.
Step #5 - How JRF can help
In partnership with your congregation, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation can help with your community organizing efforts through providing:
For all of these areas and more, please contact Rabbi Shawn Zevit at JRF, 215-782-8500, ex.24.