Saul Alinsky, Frances Butterfoss, and Advocacy for Christians, I

I never like to be too specific here...because the last thing I need is for a potential committee member or employer to stumble across my attempts to explain the universe, faith, sickness,hope, and change to myself. In this particular conversation, there are things I'm trying to leaving out, because they would make me too identifiable, and if these musings are a bit more scattered than usual, that's probably why.

I'm a Dr.P.H. student. In theory, a Dr.P.H. is different from a Ph.D. Bluntly put,a Dr.P.H. is not supposed to lead to jobs in academia. The accrediting agency for schools of public health has been tweaking the requirements for the two degrees, so that they're more different. Parts of these changes have resulted in a number of schools of public health (including mine) launching courses in public health advocacy, in order to better prepare Dr.P.H. graduates for community work.

Conversations about change, advocacy and leadership, in public health (at this university, at least) seem to end up almost always including two people: Saul Alinsky and Frances Butterfoss. These are two very opposite approaches, and they've both yielded major positive impacts. Alinsky's work has been around longer, and he's inspired people like Barack Obama, Hilary Rodham Clinton, the Tea Party, and the Occupy Movements (Though, I think Obama's work also expresses some of Butterfoss's approaches...which probably means the two are not as mutually exclusive as I feel).

I think the recent Fluke-Limbaugh interactions have provided a decent example of some of the  differences between  consensus-based organizing (Butterfoss) and  conflict-based organizing (Alinsky) .

This is even more interesting to me, because both identify as Christians- specifically, as Methodists. It's an election year, and it's fascinating to see how our civil discourse seems to have become more and more "Alinskian" (based on threats, ridicule, fear, and personal attacks) in the almost ten years I've maneuvered this country as a voting adult. When I see people who openly identify as Christians operating in an Alinsky-dominated  framework (e.g. focused on negative messages about opponents, and "ends justify the means") to accomplish change, it hurts me. Personally, the vast majority of my Christian  acquaintances supporting these approaches are Conservative, Evangelical, Tea Party identified - this probably is just a reflection of living in the Southeastern United States. One of these friends once remarked "I don't care if someone votes against Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon (or Hillary Clinton because she's a woman), because they're doing the right thing, and the reason doesn't matter if the end result is a better candidate being elected....." I found myself floored, because in my world, it matters a heck of a lot if people are voting out of prejudice. I have a dear friend who is a conservative Mormon - if people are not voting for Romney because of his religion, well, that tells me that my incredibly smart, talented, compassionate friend is going to face this same discrimination throughout her career. Likewise, ( I (like many of my friends) am a woman who is part of an ongoing fight for justice around the world- if Hillary Clinton is disregarded because of her second X chromosome, this shapes my life. Because of this context,  I want to carve out some time to explore my own thoughts around conflict vs consensus based organizing and advocacy, particularly in light of the Gospels.


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