Possum Progressives in Kalamazoo: The Michigan Organizing Project

Small steps, Master Kung tells us, incremental progress; anything more, and you'll break your heart.

Michigan is seeing some small progressive successes in places like Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Muskegon. A group of liberal-to-moderate church congregations, homeless shelters and community NPOs called the Michigan Organizing Project are networking "to assist in the development of strong, congregation-based, grassroots community organizations committed to democratic principles and values of justice and fairness". They've been careful to define themselves as "non-partisan" while leaning towards social justice projects beloved of the left.

One key element seems to be choosing three (3) specific legislative changes every six months or so, a deliberate decision to avoid the scattershot laundry list of issues I see at other demonstrations. MOP stays tightly focused on small issues: changing local dental care rules for the poor, changing new development projects to include 1/3 low income housing. The member associations then pester hell out of our local politicos, and every three months or so, the congregations get the warm bodies in the seats for a public declaration of intent ("will you vote Yes or No on projects one, two and three?") from our representatives.

This end run is making progressive changes in local politics, while completing ignoring the Democratic party, still trying to get its thumb out of its ass. Michigan Republicans are too busy honking "no taxes! taxes no!" (in a state with an infrastructure already on life support) to pay any attention to MOP; Republicans have a tendency not to show up at MOP rallies, sensing an unsympathetic audience, perhaps. While it's true there's no one there with a purse worth kissing up to, I want to think there's one or two of them willing to go where the people are in pain. The Presbyterians are there; the Catholics are there. The Mayor, the city council, and our state representatives are there. The Kalamazoo Homeless Action Network is there, which allows me to nudge my hipper friends and whisper, "KHAN...!" in an effort to make them snort or giggle during the prayer.

History and a mercurial nature compel me to spend my activism on grandiose, more quixotic projects, chipping away at the obtuse mountain we laughingly call public education-- but that's a fight the gods contend against in vain, gnawing away at the Old Enemy though you know you're going to lose. There is much to be learned from these almost imperceptible notes of grace won by the Michigan Organizing Project. If the next national election is stolen, if it makes no difference who's in charge at the top (though I think ordinary people have it a tiny bit better under the Democrats), this kind of grassroots attention to detail might prove a successful adaptation by the Progressive species to an unfriendly environment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the MOP note and words of encouragement, Michael! I'd just like to add that there has been excellent support from local Republicans on several of MOP's issues, including opposition in Michigan to the federal REAL ID Act, which would make driver's licenses very expensive, vulnerable to privacy invasion, and impossible for immigrants to get. Business people realize that immigrants are a vital part of our local community, and it doesn't increase our "homeland security" to have immigrants working and driving and paying taxes here but unable to get car insurance or open bank accounts. Republicans also came around fairly quickly on the affordable housing fund--the Kalamazoo County Commission's vote in December 2006 was unanimously in favor, back when the Republicans had a majority. And EVERYONE has supported a county dental clinic, almost from the moment MOP brought up the idea. Anyway, just to point out that justice can definitely be a bipartisan concern. Thanks again for the shout-out! --Pat