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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, June 21, 2007
    A day with Bob Linthicum
     
    A day in Manchester being taught by Bob Linthicum, in the UK to launch his umpteenth book on community organising, Building a People of Power. Now it's about 27 years since I first had my mind blown by the concept of Shalom as taught by the late Jim Punton [classic Punton paper in pdf format here]. And many a time since then numerous good teachers have held up to me the book of Nehemiah as a fine example of how to rebuild a broken community. But it felt quite fresh hearing it all again today.

    In the car crawling back home through the M62 rush hour, Jim and I agreed being disappointed that Bob had studiously neglected to tell us of the failures and disappointments he must have had in his fifty years of doing this stuff, instead choosing to focus on the successes: a pensioners group who stopped a crime wave (he didn't say quite how) and the tenants group who averted evictions by successfully challenging their community bank's redlining strategy (now that was good).

    I'd wanted Bob to acknowledge the great risks attached to standing up against those who use their power unilaterally - the risk of being crushed by the dominators, but also the risk of being rejected by the community being dominated, if they don't think their problem is being articulated properly, or if they don't like the people doing the articulating (something I heard later in the day when someone in the audience at a performance of the Asylum Monologues afterwards said, "When's someone going to do The Working-Class Monologues?", and I know what they mean).

    But we got close to the complexities in a morning session when we broke into pairs and spoke quite rawly about some of the 'inarticulate cries of the heart' we and our communities are feeling today. And it was good to be reminded of fundamentally simple things, like when people approach you with a problem you don't ask "What can I do for you?", you ask, "What is your problem?" followed by "What are you going to do about it?", and how the community organiser aims to set people off on a journey of empowering activity during which at some point the organiser disappears - because the people are doing it all for themselves. For community organiser, in this case, read priest. The church isn't particularly comfortable with designing obsolescence into its schemes but I'd be quite happy to disappear into obscurity if it left a positively-powerful group of local people behind.