In this and the final episode of this second series I discuss the relationship between the Bible and organizing. The turn to Scripture to imagine and narrate politics is often assumed to be the preserve of authoritarian theocrats. But since the formal development of community organizing in the 1930s, and long before that, texts from the Bible are consistently used to both teach democratic organizing and envision the need for radical, democratic change. The use of Scripture in this way builds on long standing Jewish and Christian traditions of thought and practice.
I begin this episode by talking to Ernesto Cortes who was featured in episode 7 of the first series. In that episode he discusses his own formation as an organizer. Here he reflects on why he consistently turns to Scripture to frame the task of organizing and to train others in the work of building a more democratic society. The passage he unpacks is the story of Jethro and Moses in Exodus 18, which he reads as a way of envisioning democratic forms of leadership. In doing so, he self-consciously builds on Saul Alinsky's (S2.E2) use of Moses as a model for the role of the organizer.
In the second part of this episode I talk to Marshall Ganz, another hugely influential figure in the contemporary development of grassroots democratic organizing. Marshall currently teaches at Harvard in the Kennedy School of Government. But he has a much storied career in organizing before that. He tells me about his involvement in various democratic movements as a way of narrating the role of Scripture and religion in his own life and the movements he contributed to. These include his involvement in the Civil Rights movement (and the role of the Black Church) and the United Farm Workers movement (and the role of the Catholic Church). He begins by reflecting on his Jewish upbringing. Later he talks through his re-engagement with Judaism and how this shaped the development of his influential public narrative approach which involves telling a story of self, us, and now. As a complement to Ernesto Cortes’s meditation on leadership through the story of Jethro and Moses, Marshall reflects on the story of David and Goliath as a way of teaching strategy.
Ernesto Cortes, Jr. - for details see season 1 episode 7.
Marshall Ganz is Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He began organizing with the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (see S2.E3). He then joined Cesar Chavez in his effort to unionize California farm workers, working with the United Farm Workers for 16 years (see S1.E3). During the 1980s he worked with grassroots groups to develop new organizing programs and designed innovative voter mobilization strategies for local, state, and national electoral campaigns. He eventually completed a PhD in sociology and came to teach at Harvard. His book, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement was published in 2009, earning the Michael J. Harrington Book Award of the American Political Science Association. In 2007-8 he was instrumental in design of the grassroots organization for the 2008 Obama for President campaign. In association with the Leading Change Network he coaches, trains, and advises social, civic, educational, health care, and political groups on organizing, training, and leadership development around the world.