Why and how should individuals effectively organize for political change? These were the central questions at the center of a discussion led by renowned labor organizer, Gerald Taylor, Tuesday in the beautiful York Chapel at Duke’s Divinity School. The event, hosted by the faculty working group on race, religion, and politics (supported by an Intellectual Community Planning Grant from the Duke University Office of the Provost) and co-sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics, provided an intellectual oasis in the Durham summer heat this week for grateful community members.
Taylor, former regional director for the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in the Southeast, talked about the need to check corporate power in the United States through institution-building and reconnecting with faith-based groups, rural communities and military veterans.
During Taylor’s time at the IAF, the organization pursued a similar strategy of investing in communities and neighborhoods in cities such as San Antonio, Baltimore, and New York. He singled out the Durham CAN network of congregations, associations, and neighborhoods as pursuing such a strategy in the Triangle.
Left unchecked, Taylor warned, corporate power can lead to abuses that can ruin an individual’s financial credit, jeopardize their personal information on social media, and destroy the historic fabric of the communities they live in.
Taylor regretted that the progressive liberal establishment today no longer invests in relationship-building with churches, unions, or rural communities, which was common during the height of the historical populist movement that peaked in the 1890s, before corporate power was concentrated in the steel, railroad, and oil industries. Pointing to this historic, if short-lived example of Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and other white and black churches organizing together for policies to benefit all citizens, he emphasized the importance of understanding faith communities’ influence on all aspects of their members’ lives, and finding ways to work together for the common good.
Duke faculty and students, coming from multiple departments, Religious Life, and the Duke Faculty Union joined members of various local faith communities, schools, and nonprofits for the conversation. Participants continued to talk and make connections with one another informally even after the event ended, and expressed appreciation for this dynamic discussion.