Friday, May 24, 2013

WHY DO BROAD BASED COMMUNITY ORGANIZING IN A PLACE LIKE LAS VEGAS


We have more social problems than we can count here in the Las Vegas Valley. But there is one core problem that causes or contributes to all of them. That same problem keeps us powerless to do anything effective about the other problems.

This is our core problem: We are disconnected. So many people come to Las Vegas intending to be here only a couple of years that they don’t make connections. They don’t join anything. They don’t know anyone very well and no one knows them very well. 20 years later, they are still here, but they still plan to move on in a year or two. So they still don’t connect.

When people do connect, it’s in relatively small groups, like our congregations. But the congregations don’t cooperate with each other. They don’t cooperate across interfaith lines. They don’t cooperate across ecumenical lines. They don’t even cooperate with congregations of their own denomination. I won’t name any denomination other than my own. But even around Nevada, even around this state where fragmentation and alienation abound, they talk about Las Vegas. They say, “Those Episcopal Churches in Las Vegas don’t work together. They don’t even know each other.” Now I won’t name any other denominations that have this problem. But I do talk to your leaders and I can say this: We Episcopalians are not the only ones who are disconnected, living in our own little congregational silos.

What comes of this? People here are disconnected from each there. Because they are disconnected, they are disempowered. Acting alone, they cannot change their environment. They cannot influence the government, the schools, the businesses. They have no influence over the forces around them that shape the quality of their lives. Because they are disconnected, they are disempowered. Because they are disempowered, they are in despair. Because they are in despair, they drink, drug, gamble, commit domestic violence, get divorced, drop out of school, run away, etc. etc. etc. Disconnection may not cause all of our social problems but it contributes to them. It exacerbates them. And it paralyzes us to do anything about them.

Nevadans for the Common Good is engaging some of the social problems. And that’s good. The issues are important and we are doing good, effective work. We are making a difference. But that’s not the main thing. The main thing is the relationships we are forming in the process of addressing particular problems.

Our core project is to build a network of relationships. We call them” public friendships,” which means we may or may not be personal friends, but we know each other and are able to work together for shared goals. We are building a network of relationships that will reconnect and re-empower people, lifting us out of our collective despair, our “what can I do about it?” sense of helplessness.

The human network of relationships we are building is like an energy grid to deliver power where it’s needed to make positive change for people living in this Valley. 20 years from now, when new social problems arise, problems we cannot now foresee, this network of relationships will be in place. It will be in place to share stories and identify the problems as the affect our members. And the network will be already up and running, ready to act constructively and creatively to improve the situation.

But there’s more to be gained even than the building of a network among our congregations. There is strengthening the network inside our congregations. There are skills and methods we use to build the network, to construct this power grid we call Nevadans For The Common Good. The people we train can take those skills and methods back into their congregations to build relationships there. Congregations who engage in this work grow stronger within themselves. And that in itself will make a better community.

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