Network of grassroots organizations working to bring about social change
Models its tactics after those of the radical Sixties activist Saul Alinsky
The Gamaliel Foundation (GF) was established in 1968 to support the Contract Buyers League, an African-American organization that advocated on behalf of black Chicago homeowners who had been discriminated against by lending institutions. GF derived its name from a Pharisee who, according to the New Testament, chastised the Jewish Sanhedrin (rabbinical court) for seeking to execute Jesus's apostles.
When former Jesuit priest Gregory Galluzzo became the foundation's executive director in 1986, Gamaliel was restructured as a community-organizing leadership institute that focused on training activists “to build and maintain powerful organizations in low-income communities.” GF has since grown into a network of faith-based community-organizing affiliates with branches in 18 U.S. states, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Like the Gamaliel Foundation itself, GF's affiliates carefully select non-threatening names that form biblical acronyms. Michigan, for instance, has the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community (ISAAC); a Wisconsin affiliate is called Joining Our Neighbors, Advancing Hope (JONAH); and a New York affiliate is named Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH).
In the mid-1980s, Galluzzo served as a mentor for a young Barack Obama during the latter's organizing days in Chicago. The Developing Communities Project, where Obama first worked as an organizer, was (and still is) part of the Gamaliel network. By early 1988, Obama had become a consultant for, and a trainer of, GF community organizers; he would maintain his ties to Gamaliel throughout his years in the U.S. Senate. As Galluzzo said shortly after Obama was elected President in 2008: “Barack has acknowledged publicly that he had been the director of a Gamaliel affiliate. He has supported Gamaliel throughout the years by conducting training [and attending] our public meetings.”
In 2001, Dennis Jacobsen, director of Gamaliel's National Clergy Caucus, published Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing, a handbook/ideological guide for GF's religious organizers. Depicting the U.S. as a “sick society” in need of radical transformation, this text derides America's free-market system for allegedly harming the poor. The author affirms that GF's goal is to foment public anger and “shake the foundations of this society.” Though he never mentions socialism explicitly, Jacobsen praises the communal property arrangements of the early Christians and the “radical sharing” practiced by various African groups. A self-described “radical Christian,” Jacobsen acknowledges that he has “deep prejudices ... against wealthy people.” He contends that Christians who view America as a just society are plagued by “false consciousness” -- a Marxist construct.
Gamaliel today offers more than 100 training events per year, teaching “techniques and methodologies that have worked in rural, urban, suburban, white, Black, Hispanic and working-class communities.” The foundation's seven-day residential training events use the “Socratic” method to promote an “agitational” approach to community organizing, modeled on the tactics of the late Saul Alinsky. GF has also developed training programs geared specifically toward clergy and women.
According to Rutgers political scientist Heidi Swarts, who has studied GF extensively, Gamaliel's organizers engage freely in ideological talk when speaking privately among themselves, but they carefully avoid such talk during their trainings so as not to alienate working-class people. In those settings, the organizers present their ideas as pragmatic, “commonsense solutions” for “working families.”
GF and its affiliates focus their training and activist efforts on the following major issues:
Civil Rights of Immigrants: Lamenting the inequities of America's “broken immigration system” that “has separated [i.e., split apart] countless families and compromised the dignity of millions of decent people,” GF calls for expanded rights and ultimately a path to citizenship for all illegals currently residing in the United States. In January 2010, GF launched a "National Prayer Vigil Campaign to win Comprehensive Immigration Reform," an initiative where activists held weekly public prayer vigils in front of the offices of members of Congress.
Health Care: Citing Jesus's call for his apostles “to cure diseases” and “to heal” the sick, GF contends that government-financed “health care Is a God-given right” that “should be guaranteed to everyone living in the United States.” “Economic and racial disparities in access to health care,” adds GF, are a particular affront to “the will of God.”
Transportation Equity Network: Asserting that “inequities in transportation create barriers to opportunity, access, and full participation in the life of the community,” GF has launched a project called the Transportation Equity Network consisting of more than 350 community organizations in 41 states. This initiative lobbies for “increased [government] funding for mass transit” and the creation of “more transportation-related jobs for disadvantaged people” in “underserved, low-income communities.”
Jobs and Economic Development: GF and the Transportation Equity Network created the JOBS NOW campaign, which “aims [to] get thousands of high-paying jobs” for “low-income people, minorities, women, and ex-offenders through workforce development agreements and policies.”
Opportunity Housing: Challenging “the entrenched system of separatism and segregation of the poor in America,” GF promotes “fair share housing,” whereby “all communities within a metropolitan area should include their fair share of the region’s low income housing and affordable housing.”
GF's modus operandi is to bring local, inner-city churches into its fold, and then to pressure political and corporate leaders to support Gamaliel's goals vis à vis the foregoing issues.
Former GF community organizer Rey Lopez-Calderon reports that Gamaliel's “culture” is exceedingly “strange and warped.” “[Gregory] Galluzzo,” says Calderon, “told me that he wanted organizers to be tough bastards who could build power like the Conquistadors.” Calderon further reveals that Galluzzo, in seminars, would teach trainees to be “ruthless” in actualizing the premise that “the ends justify the means.”
GF receives much of its funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Yet according to the Roman Catholic Faithful website, the foundation's “goals and philosophies are at fundamental odds with Church teaching.” In March 2010, David Ricken -- the Roman Catholic bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin -- said that certain “principles of the Gamaliel Foundation are inconsistent with the tenets of our Catholic Social Teaching.” Vicar general and chancellor Father John Doerfler of Northeast Wisconsin specified one particularly problematic GF doctrine: “The end,” he said, “does not justify the means.”