Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Principles for social action

Something interesting showed up in my mail box today, courtesy of Frank McNeirney, who runs an excellent group called Catholics Against Capital Punishment.

Frank informs us that this Friday, August 27, is the 20th anniversary of the death of Geno Baroni (1930-1984), a Washington, DC-based Catholic priest who in the 1960s and 70s was a well-known activist in the fields of civil rights and community organizing, and who served as an assistant secretary of housing and urban development in President Jimmy Carter’s Administration.

A 1994 article by Fr. William Byron, S.J., listed 50 “principles for social action” that Baroni routinely cited in his talks. Here are a few of Franks's favorites, which may be of interest to others working to end the death penalty:

Social action begins in the individual heart.

Apathy and violence come from the same font: despair.

Events do not happen until they are duly reported in the newspaper; power feeds on news, and news feeds on power.

Politicians do not deal with problems until the problems are forced upon them.

“Try it” is a consistent principle; not all ideas that look good in theory work out in practice.

Surround yourself with strong people willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, and work with them as a team, not as an academic debating society.

An organizer must have deep respect for the ordinary in ordinary people.

Know where you come from; it’s part of what you are.

Tell stories, and listen to the stories of others.

Never rent a hall you can’t fill.

Talk to anyone, friend or foe; you can never tell when someone is ready to be won over.

Values are at the core of any organizing effort; respond to people’s deepest hopes and aspirations.

When you make a mistake, admit it; then pick up the pieces and move on.

It is easier to obtain forgiveness than to get permission.

For the full text of Fr. Byron’s article, which includes all 50 “Baroni principles,” go here.

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