“Democracy is dependent on the health of the mediating institutions of society. If those institutions are not functioning well, then neither will our democracy. In order for democracy to thrive, therefore, our mediating institutions must be constantly rebuilt.”
Last Fall, OTOC leaders and I initiated conversations with leaders in our local institutions to learn what effects the pandemic had on their communities. The stories we heard surfaced three concerns: 1) when the doors closed during quarantine, some folks went home and did not return when the doors opened back up; 2) the neighborhoods had changed around them and they no longer knew their neighbors; and 3) in search of relief from isolation, new people joined but they hadn't yet identified their interests. It was from these conversations that OTOC, together with IPL, organized a training for our members and friends to teach how the tools of relational community organizing can be used to rebuild our local institutions post pandemic.
This 2-day event comprised of 42 leaders from 15 local institutions was hosted by historic Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Omaha. Leaders reflected together on several stories from Jewish and Christian traditions about what it means to rebuild "a people", and how to develop the leaders in their institutions who are interested in rebuilding. We also learned where to find leaders and how 1-1 relational meetings and house meetings can help build stronger, more engaged members.
If our community institutions are not strong, then we are not developing leaders who can organize together, build power, and become agents of change in their own lives. We end up giving away all of our power and letting others make the decisions that result in the quality of our infrastructure, the equity of our schools, and the safety of our neighborhoods. We (and by we I mean me, the members and leaders of OTOC, and the greater IAF) believe it is our responsibility to commit to rebuilding institutions, so that we can develop in people their capacity to engage one another in the kind of reflection, relationships, and deliberation that are required for the functioning of a decent society. But rebuilding is only possible if there are leaders who are willing to invest in themselves and their communities. I was so impressed with the leadership that turned out for this training opportunity and we all left energized and committed to the action of rebuilding!!
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