The smart gun angle included in President Obama’s package of gun violence actions emerged from the gritty realities of the mostly below the radar work of the Industrial Areas Foundation’s Do Not Stand Idly By campaign grounded in hundreds of community based institutions over a period of two years. Metro IAF organizations and leaders gained attention in part because they remained outside the usual DC issue mastication while engaging accessible power players - like Senator Chuck Schumer, mayors, police chiefs, religious leaders - and risking confrontation with the President and his top people. IAF gained attention because they fought hard over time for a fresh approach to a gridlocked system.
There’s a lesson here that I think that is important for anyone interested in change beyond selfies, posturing, White House invitations and voter turnout angles. It’s both encouraging and daunting.
The fact is you can’t get there from here without organizing for enduring power. Time, talent, energy, some money and a ton of sustaining local ownership are all requirements.
There are attractive seeming shortcuts. Political seductions. Big donor money, a gargantuan database, slick promos, a hyped progressive candidate here and there, diverse consultancies, strategists, celebrities, a blizzard of selfie actions. But none of the above - not on guns, not on immigration, not on equality, not on criminal justice reform, not on climate change - produces the real action which requires generational commitments and accountability.
President Obama will leave the national political stage in a year. With him the formulaic “movement efflorescence” of response to the gun violence plague may sink into obscurity as fast as attention wanes, growing numbness sets, donor dollars evaporate and the NRA with allies goes about systematically breaking political legs.
So what’s left is what’s always been left. The hard, tough work of organizing that sticks in long enough, builds power big enough, visualizes change clearly enough to take on seasoned adversaries and win - not everything but something that pushes the needle in the right direction.
President Barack Obama got some things right yesterday. HIs grief was real, his anger rooted in grief articulate, his moves incremental, doable and defensible. He was smart to include a smart gun plank pressed by Metro IAF because IAF is in it for the long haul. And as the President himself noted the long haul is the name of the game.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org