An alternative take on a community event...

NOTE:  In January one of the local peace and justice groups wanted to hold a "bank fair" in our building.  While I support the Occupy Movement on nearly every level, I am also eager to know the goals and objectives of their local actions.  For example, we served as a "helper" for the local Occupy event on May 1st - storing chairs, etc - because that's part of what it means to be a good neighbor. 

But the "bank fair" felt wrong to me from the start: not that local banks are exempt from accountability, but in these days of broken-hearted politics (to use Parker Palmer's words) I don't think we find common ground by starting with confrontation.  So, the more my church community wrestled with the proposed bank fair, the more two things emerged:  a majority of my leaders didn't like the "gotcha" nature of the proposed event, while a few felt strongly that we should stand in solidarity with our peace and justice allies.

My mind kept going to the biblical line about "not everyone who cries Lord, Lord..." but I mostly kept my mouth shut. I did suggest that we ask the sponsoring group some really hard questions before offering our endorsement - like did they do their homework re: local lending practices and have they lived into the protocol and hospitality of being good neighbors by actually having conversations with our local banking folk before going public? - but this was not to be. 

So eventually we chose not to endorse or support the event. And because we agree to disagree at times, some of my leaders will still act on their conscience and participate in the Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice bank fair this coming Saturday afternoon. (for more information about the actual event, please go to: http://bcpj.org/)

I still hope to find ways to partner with our local peace and justice allies.  Next week, for example, an emerging faith-based community organizer and I will meet to talk about building bridges to fight poverty in our city.  I look forward to this, having lots of experience doing the hard work of organizing communities towards the common good, and trust good things will come. 

What follows, however, is a public letter of critique re: this Saturday's bank fair. In the spirit of Wendell Berry - and the practices of community organizers since the days of Alinsky - I believe you first start any action with conversations and discernment of the issues. I don't sense that this has happened yet and so do not support participation in this action.

From the desk of James Lumsden

June 6, 2012

Dear friends of the Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice:

I send greetings to you in the name of all that is sacred and loving.  Earlier this week I was told that to date only one of the guests invited to participate in your “Bank Fair”would be attending.  There was some speculation at our meeting about why this might be the case – and even a mild sense of disappointment by a few.  But,it came as no shock or surprise to me. From the outset I have argued that what might be a creative and meaningful exercise in community organizing and local accountability will, however,likely be a waste of time. 

Months ago, I suggested to friends and colleagues in my congregation that I had reservations about the Bank Fair as it was presented to us.  I also offered some broad suggestions about how this event might be strengthened as well as a willingness to be in dialogue with BCPJ re: my concerns. As you know, my congregation eventually chose not to endorse or participate in the Bank Fair because we continue to see it as deeply flawed.  (Of course, individuals are always free to act upon their own conscience in our tradition and I know some of our members will be present.)

My concerns remain:

+ First, powerful organizations only respond to power and self-interest.  This is community organizing 101.  As virtuous and compassionate about the common good as BCJP might be – and that is not clearly expressed in your Bank Fair promotional materials – you are not yet an organization of power that is recognized in our region.  And that is the fundamental reason why institutional participation in the Bank Fair is likely to be so small:  there is no energy or pressing need that compels the financial community to the table.

Second, it appears to me that precious little study has gone into the creation of this event. To be sure, an extensive laundry-list of questions for the banks was created;but many of these questions strike me as unnecessarily confrontational and/or ideological.  To my knowledge, no one has yet done the hard homework that makes a community based public event a success.  Has BCPJ conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with local banking leaders? What does your research concerning local lending practices suggest about the integrity of our institutions? Have there been a series of community meetings throughout the region to determine whether or not a real issue even exists?

Please understand that I am not uncomfortable with taking a prophetic stand should injustice or avarice threaten the common good.  I have been a supporter of the Occupy Movement from its inception and celebrate the creative ways they have called our nation to conscience. My concern with the Bank Fair, however, is that a real “issue” has not been clearly cut for this event.  Rather,it appears to be more of a small public witness of frustration against a perceived danger than anything else – and consequently will go largely unnoticed.  To me, this is an opportunity lost.   

BCPJ has a long history of solitary public vigils that have their place in pursuit of democracy and social justice.  I am more interested in altering the power dynamics in the community. If you would like to explore these ideas further, or be in dialogue with me about where our paths may cross, I will look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully,
James Lumsden
The Reverend Dr. James Lumsden

We'll see where this leads...

Comments

Black Pete said…
No, just powerful...
RJ said…
Well, I felt strongly about this event. It isn't personal with any of the participants - and I hope they can grasp that - people of good will can and should disagree. But by remaining silent, it seemed like I was giving tacit approval - and I don't.

So, I both sent the letter AND posted it. Yes, it is controversial and provocative. My hope is that this might create a context for serious dialogue and exploration. In my experience, too often progressive people stay locked in their own little PC ghettoes. That creates self-congratulations about how insightful the group is but doesn't draw the wider community into the conversation.

I know some will be unhappy with my posting, but that is part of what blogging is all about, yes? Free speech and exploring where we can find common ground? We shall see...

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