Working with Durham CAN

This academic year I will be working and organizing with Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods (CAN). CAN is an organization that organizes and consolidates the institutional power of Durham’s congregations, associations, and neighborhoods as a means of inciting structural changes that will make Durham a more just and equitable community. CAN identifies as “a broad-based organization that works to coalesce, train, and organize the communities of Durham across religious, racial, ethnic, class, and neighborhood lines for the public good. Our primary goal is to develop local leadership and organized power to improve the conditions of low and moderate income families.”

I was first introduced to CAN’s work at Duke Divinity School through our certificate program in Faith-based Organizing, Advocacy, and Social Transformation. Since Covid had forced much of the world online last year, our certificate cohort was encouraged to attend CAN’s virtual community trainings on power, relational meetings, listening sessions, and organizing to supplement our classroom discussions on organizing and social change. It was my time with other trainees learning about how CAN uses shared relational power to overcome the injustices created by more hierarchal forms of power that left me with a desire to try broad-based organizing for myself. I was intrigued at the possibility of being able to organize coalitions of people that transcended social and cultural boundaries, boundaries that are often used to divide us and keep us from mobilizing. CAN’s approach to social transformation seemed intent on including those left out of the decision-making process and empowering them to create lasting change in their own communities, which I found to be a great model to imitate for my own professional plans. I was, and continue to be, drawn to this form of politics that is inherently relational and participatory, as opposed to the forms of politics that are overly technocratic and perpetuate inequality. In CAN and broad-based community organizing, I have discovered a way to overcome common needs and problems by cultivating a community of shared resources and power. Simply, organizing has become a way for me to practice my belief that we have more reasons for cooperation with and for each other than we do for competition against those with whom we may find difference.

My personal role within CAN will mostly consist of assisting our Affordable Housing Team and Eviction Team. Both teams are currently working on issues created by Durham’s affordable housing crisis. At this stage of our work, we are focused on research actions, meaning that we are gathering data and stories from our court-watching campaigns, relational meetings with Durham tenants, and listening sessions with Durham landlords. The findings from our research will ultimately inform our ongoing strategy of how best to agitate and apply pressure to key players in the Durham housing situation.

CAN’s current work in affordable housing and evictions is indicative of our overall approach of listening so we can organize, organizing so we can act, and acting so we can incite meaningful change. Having had previous experiences in listening campaigns and research actions, I am looking forward to partnering in the work of organizing our institutions around a specific issue and then helping in the process of planning and implementing a public action. The opportunities for growth I see in our upcoming organizing and agitating efforts are exciting, as these are areas of organizing I have yet to experience. As a person who has generally been hesitant to welcome conflict of any sort, I am optimistic I can learn to see some forms of conflict as a constructive means of social transformation. My hopes for my year with CAN are to grow as an organizer who practices radical solidarity well and learns how to best transform the conflict caused by institutional violence into the communal conditions whereby social justice can flourish.