Thursday, December 15, 2011

Report From The Bigger Picture

As I’ve mentioned in this space, several weeks ago I went to the National Gathering of clergy hosted by PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) in mid-November. I’ve been meaning to report back to you all on it ever since.

SF CARE sent me so I could connect with other clergy doing advocacy, learn what PICO is up to these days, and learn some more about community organizing since I’m pretty new to that part of this job.

A number of old friends were there and I got to connect with a lot of new people among the over 500 (mostly) clergy who were there. They had some great workshops on community organizing and I’m eager to put what I learned into practice in the new year. We attended a local action en mass (along with about 1500 other folks organized by the local PICO affiliate) to ask the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, to cap the number of beds on a prison that is planned to be finished in 2014 and to push the Recovery School District superintendent, John White, to bring better options for the community to choose from to run the Phillis Wheatley School when it re-opens as a charter school. PICO had invited Eric Holder to the event, but he didn’t come. One of his Assistant Attorneys Generals did send a video and promised to arrange a face to face meeting with Mr. Holder and the PICO leadership at a later date. I took this as a good sign that PICO is starting to have some national pull.

I also took the chance to put on a collar and walk the French Quarter Night Ministry style from about 11p.m. until about 1a.m. the last night we were there. It was a lot like walking the Mission here at home. I had a couple of great conversations, bought food for one person, got to meet some of the Occupy New Orleans folks and it was my only chance to get up close to the Mississippi.

Probably the most important thing to tell you about, though, is PICO’s national agenda for next year. Normally, PICO works through local affiliate organizations on local issues, but they have set a bold national agenda for 2012. The overall theme was ‘Land of Opportunity’ and the goals are focused around creating better opportunities for everyone. The initiatives PICO is putting forth are reform of the incarceration, education and healthcare systems; a push to move money out of irresponsible and predatory banks; and initiatives to reduce community violence. The lens used to look at and discuss these topics was racism (yes, I know we all wish we were done with that topic, but there is a lot of hard evidence that says we are not). The details of how they plan to accomplish this are still coming out. Many PICO federations (regional groups of local affiliates) made some pretty bold commitments to further these goals. I am glad to see these issues being addressed by a national organization with the good track record PICO has.

Our local PICO affiliate is the San Francisco Organizing Project. They are working on immigrant issues as well as economic justice issues and a safe streets initiative. To learn about what they’re up to and see how you can get involved, check out If you want to learn more about PICO at the national level, you can at

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