This post was written by Amanda Harrow, Montana Small Business Program Director
An energized diverse group of people came together this past weekend in Butte, Montana, to found the Montana Organizing Project. Seventy people from labor unions, faith communities, non-profit service organizations, and other interested communities around the state joined in committing to work for social, economic, and racial justice in Montana.
The Convention opened with a Native American prayer. Following the prayer, representatives from the different organizations involved in the Project came forward to share with the group an object that gave them hope for the future. Objects included an eagle feather, a prayer flag, a plant with a red balloon tied to it. Together, they represent a vision of strength, solidarity, shared community values–key ingredients for building a powerful organization.
Throughout the Convention, representatives from faith, labor, and non-profit organizations spoke to the reasons for–and importance of–their organization’s involvement. A labor leader reflected on the history of social change in our country, reminding us that social gains–women’s suffrage, civil rights, or better wages and working conditions–came about because people across the nation united and fought for them. The director of a non-profit organization spoke of the patterns he and other service providers see in the life experiences of the people they serve, and recognized that the work of non-profits is to make the systems that shape people’s lives more fair. A faith leader praised Christians for being Good Samaritans, while also pointing out that being a Good Samaritan is not enough. “It’s one thing to care for casualties of a system,” she said. “But sooner or later we have to change the system so we don’t have as many casualties in the first place.”
Building on the many discussion sessions held in the lead-up to the Convention, the group identified some of the top causes of casualties in the current system. In doing so, they agreed on the top three issues MOP will be working on in the coming year. Everyone came to the consensus that access to health care, the ability to obtain good jobs, and funding for public services are MOP’s top priorities, with particular attention to racial equity across all of these issues. The group also reached agreement on the Project’s mission and organizational structure.
Jim Fleischmann, former director of social justice organization Montana People’s Action, offered words of support and encouragement: “We can do better than this! The ongoing economic and environmental disasters make this the perfect time to organize for social justice”. People are ready for a big vision, and the MOP is well-situated to offer an alternate vision to the polarized political debates.
In his keynote speech, John Boonstra, a pastor from Washington State with a long history of involvement in the struggle for social justice, underscored why it is so important for all the different constituencies present in the room to work together towards our common goals:
If churches act alone, their ministry is theologically impoverished.
If labor acts alone, their obligation to members is pointlessly compromised.
If community groups act alone, their base is needlessly diminished.
If ethnic groups act alone, their rich tradition is sadly marginalized.
If urban and rural groups act alone, the realities of their connectedness become hopelessly forgotten.
So we must not act alone in our quest for a just community.
MOP believes that not having meaningful relationship with others diminishes our capacity for social change. By building our relationships with others who share our vision for a truly just community, we can build a movement that can accomplish those things we are unlikely to accomplish alone.
The conclusion of the Convention was more a beginning than an end, with everyone present voicing his or her commitment to the work of the Montana Organizing Project and stating what he or she would do to move that work forward. As Project Director Molly Moody said: “This is a movement, not a moment.”