Ugly racial and ethnic divisiveness has defined our political season. In this current climate, breaking down barriers and creating connections is vital for our country. The fifth cohort of Bend the Arc’s Community Organizing Residency (COR) has spent the last six months doing just that by bringing community organizers together nationwide across lines of race, class, and faith.
The interfaith COR program started in 2010 as an innovative initiative at the intersection of faith and social justice, creating a space where community organizers from diverse backgrounds and faith traditions could come together, learn from each other, and develop their professional skills as changemakers. Now in 2016, the need for COR is greater than ever.
COR’s fifth cohort recently ended with a gathering at Aldersgate Retreat Center in Los Angeles on August 25-28. The retreat consisted of trainings on leadership development, faith sharing, and community building for the 21 COR participants from across the nation, including Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Twin Cities, Chicago, and New York.
The importance of holding the program in a political cycle marked by cynicism and divisiveness was not lost on those who attended. As one resident reflected, “The importance of connecting in times of crisis: I gained so much insight connecting with people both in and outside my faith tradition, my city, my race, and my gender. We need each other! I’m leaving more grounded, oriented, ready.”
One of the most powerful outcomes of creating this COR community is the collaboration that can be sparked among residents. Sahar Pirzada, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Traci Ishigo, of the Japanese American Citizens League, worked together over the past six months on their co-created “Vigilant Love” coalition. This coalition brought together Los Angeles communities, including the Muslim Community and Japanese American Community, to fight together against anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant politics. A beautiful result of their collaboration was a vigil held in December at the Japanese-American History Museum in Los Angeles to protest the growing wave of Islamophobia.
Bend the Arc’s COR program continues to be one-of-a-kind in the U.S., creating a space for organizers working on issues that include immigrant rights, living wages for workers, and affordable housing around the country. The program continues to provide rejuvenation and inspiration to its residents, whose work for justice we need now more than ever.