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Walking the Edge of Immorality

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We organizers tend not to badmouth our colleagues in public. In some ways we protect our own. But the recent ACORN prostitution scandal has me worried about our profession. Prior to the uproar, I had hoped that President Obama's rise to power would make community organizing a respected sector of the workforce rather than some ill-defined stepping-stone for young people. But we seem to be losing ground again. Of course, many right-wingers were already belittling community organizing as a profession during the Obama campaign–to the chagrin of some conservative community organizers. But the recent attacks on ACORN are especially damaging. While we organizers have a responsibility to counter the misinformation of right-wing pundits and politicians who attack our colleagues (though Rachel Maddow probably did a better job of defending ACORN's work than any of us ever could), we must also be willing to clean house on our end. If we are going to survive the current tsunami of attacks, our own conduct, as Gandhi often said, must be above reproach.

To merely shake one's head in disbelief as groups like ACORN go down in flames is to be a victim. Community organizers must look inward at our policies, practices, and organizing culture. It should have been no surprise to us that ACORN became a target of the right. I know many organizers in Chicago who disliked ACORN because they often claimed turf in the communities they served. A long-time neighborhood leader told me he was derided for organizing in "ACORN's territory." A friend of mine who was once an ACORN leader complained that the organizers often organized ACORN meetings on community issues only to adjourn those meetings a few minutes later, telling people that "the ACORN meeting [was] officially over and anyone wishing to stay for the election campaign meeting of [X politician] could do so." Many of us found such tactics to be unethical and unfortunate, but we also felt it really wasn't our problem. Would I want ACORN meddling in my affairs?

To be sure, there are thousands of law-abiding, ethical, and effective organizations out there doing great work for little pay or recognition (the majority). In fact, despite the ineptitude of the workers in the sting videos and the above complaints, on balance ACORN does great work.   But there are others who are a heartbeat away from being the next national scandal. One such organization is the Gamaliel Foundation. You may have come across the organization thanks to the YouTube video of them supposedly praying to President Obama. I apologize in advance to my former colleagues who decided to stick it out in order to make the foundation a better place. The idea of an international, faith-based organization that brings together people of all colors and creeds is certainly a noble cause. But the organization's philosophy was flawed from day one. I worked for Gamaliel in the late 1990s up until 2001. This was about 8 years after Barack worked for them.

My former mentors, Greg Galluzzo and his wife Mary Gonzalez, took over the Gamaliel Foundation after breaking with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the organization founded by Saul Alinsky. Gamaliel's leadership system was built on notes obtained from the IAF. They eventually modified the system, but to my knowledge they have never credited the IAF even for the initial iteration of the so-called Gamaliel model.

I have never seen such a strange and warped culture anywhere. Staff were pitted against each other by Galluzzo and Gonzalez. Galluzzo told me that he wanted organizers to be tough bastards who could build power like the Conquistadors. His idea was not even Machiavellian (no virtù needed at all). He felt that organizers should fight fire with fire. In fact, Galluzzo used to give a cultish advanced training seminar titled "Walking the Edge of Immorality" where he repeatedly stated "the ends justifies the means" and nonchalantly told us that to have an impact on society we had to be willing to "lie, cheat, and steal for the greater good." His concept of doing the good was completely Platonic — we could be shady to get power but once we had enough power, knowing the Good would be enough for us to make the right decisions. Too bad Galluzzo, a former Jesuit seminarian, skipped the course on Aristotle where he would have learned that character is a function of habit — i.e. doing shady things makes you shady whether or not you grasp the Good. The final straw for me was when Galluzzo sent out a weekly report with a reflection that we organizers needed to promote a noble myth to our churches that our work was about justice, God, and peace even though we really knew it was about power.

I left Gamaliel disillusioned and disgusted by what seemed to me to be pure evil.  How could a faith-based organization operate under such a skewed, cynical view of the world? Where was God in that scheme? I should have exposed them then. I had a duty to do so. We can't content ourselves with feelings of moral superiority while people with corrupt principles are out there building power.  We ignore these bad apples to our own peril.   We have to be willing to shake the tree, letting the rotten ones fall where the may. If we don't do it ourselves, then the Media will surely do it for us!

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About Rey Lopez-Calderon

  • Tuffstuff

    Wow so I am a little late in the game here because I just now read this article. I also worked for Gamaliel at one point and still work in the field of community organizing but I am so glad that I got out of that organization. I wasn’t rejected or burned by the organization like they might think but I do feel bad for the organizers that work for this group and the people that they organize. And after getting out I realized they don’t have any power that they want soooooo bad. I think that the author of this article is on point with what she is saying and the comments from Ana just makes it more legit. My time with this organization taught me a lot about myself and how I dont want to be. It takes a lot longer time to build real power and its much harder than just using the bully approach. There are some groups that do real grass roots organizing and if you want to figure out how to get out of Gamaliel drop a note. I know this is probably not going to counteract all the things that you have been told but I still need to say it for the one time that you hear it and if you do listen then you might get out and the statement is “You are worth more than this.”

  • I don’t have one particular place to start for there is so much reading on this subject so let me begin with where I stand.

    I am a staunch believer in the teachings of Pope Leo XIII and for most of what John-Paul stood for (see “God And Money” sorry, I forgot the author but I believe he’s a professor at Baylor University). I could go on with my ideological beliefs but to make a long story short Alinsky was anti everything that that made my faith strong. Perhaps you should Google the following and other such readings to formulate an opinion:

    “All of these organizations nowadays are forces that exist in opposition to the moral authority of the Church in regard to marriage and the family, and eugenics, and abortion, etc. The Church’s teachings in this regard are presumed to be hopelessly bourgeois. Alinsky’s whole career was dedicated to a nihilistic pulverization of the bourgeois social order. This comes directly out of his writings and is embodied in the Chicago community organizations. You may try to deny this in your book, but Alinsky’s hatred of the bourgeois social order is an essential aspect of his own words. ”

    Remember this, each ideological viewpoint is ‘right’ in the mind of the beholder of such ideologies. Would you believe that beheading a human being is ‘right’, probably not…but it is ‘right’ in the midset of certain Islamists. So humanity will always be in conflict until one of the ideological mindsets wins over the other. Alinsky knew this and since he was an aetheist he used his power of persuasion to persuade the weak minded theists (he knew that most people were born into their religions and didn’t have a firm grasp as to who they are theologically. So he used this weakness to draw them away.)
    I could go on I suppose indefinetly, but I’m in the middle of several projects and some pretty hefty decision making moments and do not know if I can get back to this conversation anytime soon. God bless

  • Norm, I don’t think you meant “oxymoron,” but I still get your point about contradiction.

    I don’t have any reference point for what you say about Alinsky–that’s why I said this above: “Even if Saul were as shady as the Gamaliel folk (can’t really say, I’m not old enough to have interacted with him), it doesn’t follow that the behavior is ok.”

    If you can point us to some credible source that proves as much (something above and beyond ideological talking points [right or left]), then it certainly could help this discussion along.

  • Ref:”In any case, there’s a difference between believing that people are primarily motivated by self-interest (Saul) and actively stabbing people in the back, advocating blatant lying, and telling organizers to misrepresent things to church leaders.”

    Is this the oxymoron of oxymorons? Saul Alinsky did all of these things, “…actively stabbing people in the back, advocating blatant lying, and telling organizers to misrepresent things to church leaders.”
    Saul Alinsky was an anti-Christ but knew how to manipulate minds…especially the weak minded minds.

  • Speaking of Catholics (bishop pulls churches out of Gamaliel)

  • Ana, thanks for commenting. Since you pasted the message you sent me on Facebook, originally, I am also pasting my response that I made there. Again, I did not mean to say Gamaliel is exactly the same as it was ten years ago, nor do I mean that everyone there is the same as the founders of Gamaliel. That said, not everything is in the past–my response, I hope will give you more perspective:

    Ana, in the article I did apologize in advance to all those who stayed to make Gamaliel a better place. But seriously, aren’t Galluzzo and Mary and Juan still there? Currently (as in NOW, not ten years ago), there are people from Gamaliel raiding churches on the Southeast and Southwest Side that are members of SWOP and ASE (both IAF) then they go around claiming to the Archdiocese that they have a project or claim churches as members (smoke and mirrors, Sun Tzu style ). This is the exact same m.o. from ten years ago. It’s an ends justifies the means mentality.

    While I always respected you personally, my critique of the model goes deep into the philosophy behind quasi-Alinskyian organizing above and beyond Greg and Mary. Even more recently, the splintering of Chicago (JACOB, MAC, etc.) is a symptom of that cut-throat attitude that encourages division. I also hear that a large part of Gamaliel on the East Coast has or is separating from the foundation. The positive parts of the trainings–for example dealing with one’s oppression as in Path to Power–are also problematic. On the one hand, a master trainer like you or Kruglik can deliver it well and build people up when they go to deep into the psychologically dangerous territory, on the other hand one bad step can cause great harm. I personally saw name removed fumble through a confession about a rape incident and destroy a woman so much that her church and another one nearby it pulled out of Gamaliel here. This kind of breaking down and building up borders on brainwashing and, in fact, the only thing like it is Landmark Education which comes out of the EST (Erhard) trainings. The week-long stuff is not so obviously bad–again the EST style stuff is very powerful if you get the right trainer–the flaw in my mind is the reinforcement of dominant conceptions of wealth and power with a twist toward building individual power to impact the collective (again this is classic EST/Landmark or a distorted version of some business management theories that go back at least to the eighties with folk like Steven Covey and the “7 habits”). As for the church hierarchy who like these trainings–for every one of them there is someone else who hates them. I can name these people. I have had priests and other pastors react strongly when they find out I once worked for Gamaliel. I even had one call them a cult. This is what pissed me off about Acorn. They do things that make it bad for the rest of us. And, Ana, you know very well that Gamaliel has similarly made it hard for the rest of us in some parts or at least here in Chicago. It’s as if my hood-rat cousin was staying with me and ripped off half my neighbors. Everyone thinks I’m going to rip them off too! And, I hear, the “walking the edge of immorality” training no longer exists. Is that true? That training is abominable. You can’t tell me that telling people that they have to be willing to “lie, cheat, and steal” for the greater good is God’s work. You know the prophecies of Micah and the teaching of the Apostles; there is no excuse. These thoughts are legions to be cast out.

    I am happy that you have attempted to counteract a Eurocentric model. I hope that you have dealt with the fundamental Eurocentrism that plagues the old Gamaliel model: Self interest. That is an extremely eurocentric way of positing the self that requires one to favor a rational homo-economicus which is not the way most cultures including Latin-Americans start with. Again this is a cultural nuance. I don’t mean to say that one should not have hopes, dreams, plans, or even an agenda but this is quite different from promoting a particular concept of the self. While Gamaliel went overboard in this realm, Alinsky’s original self-interest philosophy naturally leads to the manipulative (btw, do you still teach that “manipulative” is a good word?) hyper-Machiavellianism I witnessed. Jacques Maritain warned Alinsky of this tendency. Galluzzo fulfilled Maritain’s prediction.

    Speaking of philosophy, I understand that Gamaliel’s stated belief is that “all people are part of a sacred community, intended by God to realize their own dignity, worth, power and voice.” Why the heck else would I have wanted to work there in the first place? The whole point of what I wrote is that the actual practices and what the key leaders like Greg and Mary and others were preaching behind closed doors were diametrically opposed to that mission. Had I not become so close to Greg and Mary I might not ever have seen what I saw. The truth was hidden quite well from the churches and the organizers on the bottom like me (I guess Greg was trying to pull me close as an ally since there was a coup going on involving names removed to kick Mary out of MAC). I also had recruited churches at the time which no one else in MAC had done since the founding (name removed was trying to get me to take a side in the coup referring to the churches I was working with as an “insurgent power base”). This is not the face that Gamaliel puts on (or used to put on if this is truly in the past) to churches, Bishops, et. al. This sort of hierarchy of truth is what scared me the most. Isn’t that a bit like Scientology?

    BTW, I really held back in that article; there is so much more that you might or might not know. In fact, at the end of the day that is the problem. You and Cheryl and even Pete da Silva (I think) representing Gamaliel were different than Greg or Mary or names removed or….should i keep going? There were some honest folks who always felt that they were trying to achieve the ideal of God-based organizing DESPITE all the shenanigans (e.g. Fr. Len Dubi) yet they themselves got caught up in the Shakespearean goings-on in order to combat Greg and Mary. But this is exactly what Galluzzo expected. The whole point about Machiaveliianism is that the ends justify the means. Greg knows that all his shady crap such as pitting the staff against each other, is going to work itself out one day no matter how many people get screwed in the process (including me, Fr. Chuck Dahm, Cheryl Spivey-Perry, David Hatch (sort of), Josh Hoyt, and even Barack from what I hear). The idea of Gamaliel is noble and good; so many of you are willing to fight for it. At the end of the day, Greg and Mary can go to their deathbeds knowing that their corrupt philosophy worked and that the end in itself of Gamaliel was worth their absolutely evil tactics.

    I appreciate your experience in the DR. because of that, you of all people should be able to recognize the roots of violence. As someone who comes from a family with generations of gang-members (including me for most of my adolescence), I am very familiar with violence. The culture perpetuated by Gamaliel’s director and his wife and others was VIOLENT in every way save physicality.

    Ana, as I told you when we first linked on FB, you are one of the few people that I respected at the Foundation. You are strong person with a strong soul. You are certainly someone who can overcome the evil that spawned Gamaliel. Yes, you will probably make it a much better place (even more than you have already done). But that doesn’t change history. In addition, as long as you have people like names removed (somehow involving a prominent Catholic whose name has been removed in the process) who go around creating divisions in churches and pissing off people here, then that is the face of Gamaliel those of us in Chicago will know. if you were here, then perhaps it would be quite a different story. When that happens, and things change, I will gladly proclaim that change loud and clear.

    En hora buena,

  • Gamaliel Foundation Associate Director Ana Garcia-Ashley responds:

    Hola Rey,

    I understand that things didn’t work out for you during your time at the Gamaliel Foundation a decade ago, and when I read the article on your blog, “Walking the Edge of Immorality,” I was struck by how deep your sense of rejection and hurt were. Even more than that, I was surprised to find a portrait of Gamaliel that I, as its Associate Director, did not recognize.

    As you know, I am a fourth-generation Catholic, and I believe that organizing is a ministry of my faith. I believe that God worked a miracle 40 years ago to deliver me and my family through the crossfire of the Dominican Republic into the safety of the United States so that I could organize for justice. My work at Gamaliel involves empowering ordinary people to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. I believe that this is my divine purpose.

    You wrote that Gamaliel’s philosophy was “flawed from day one.” Gamaliel’s philosophy is that all people are part of a sacred community, intended by God to realize their own dignity, worth, power and voice. Gamaliel’s philosophy is my philosophy. Wouldn’t you agree that empowering people to shape their own destiny is a vital philosophy for advancing freedom, liberty and equality?

    I applaud your efforts to start an organizing network for people of color. When you and I spoke in July, you said that you were also trying to create a model of organizing that was not oppressive to people of color. This model exists, because Gamaliel created it. My whole life I have worked to build alliances across race and class lines, as Gamaliel does. Gamaliel has been a pioneer in expanding and evolving the methodology of community organizing for the 21st century. We have transformed what was once a Eurocentric model into a model of racial inclusion and equity, and our work has had an incredibly powerful impact on communities of color—especially in the Latino community.

    We have doubled the number of organizers of color within our network over the past five years. Our central staff and leadership reflect the communities we serve. Fifty percent of our board of directors are people of color, as are nearly 80 percent of our Council of Presidents. We are also the only national community organizing network that has an immigrant woman of color as associate director.

    Rey, it is unfortunate that your experience at Gamaliel ten years ago did not bring you what you were looking for, but Gamaliel is a vital part of my life. I know that many other organizers and leaders also feel the same way. It was faith that led Gamaliel’s founders build an organization that was their answer to the Catholic Church’s call to lift up the less fortunate. The same training that you seemed to be offended by has been given to Catholic cardinals, bishops, and priests on three continents. The overwhelming majority of them have found it to be invaluable to doing God’s work. Gamaliel’s leaders have answered a call from Cardinal Bernadin to help defend of the Church at a time of need, and they have fought alongside Cardinal George to win millions of dollars for low-income neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago.

    I regret that your time with Gamaliel so long ago left you with such negative feelings, but it has had a powerful effect on the hundreds of anointed Church leaders who have trained and organized with us—as well as on the thousands of lay leaders who have worked with us, and the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives our work has touched.

    Like any organization, we are always looking for ways to improve, and we appreciate feedback on how to do so. We will continue to live out our faith and values to collectively transform our society and bring about justice in our communities, in our country and around the world. We will continue to call people of all races and faiths to join us in the work our God calls us to do on this earth. I personally hope that you will find what you are looking for in your own work.


  • BTW, I am not IAF staff I just work with them through our local project in case the previous comment was misleading. Our model is unique.

  • Jim,

    I never said the IAF folks were saints.

    I didn’t mean cynical in my piece about Greg–I meant shady. Ed is closer to cynical.

    In any case, there’s a difference between believing that people are primarily motivated by self-interest (Saul) and actively stabbing people in the back, advocating blatant lying, and telling organizers to misrepresent things to church leaders.

    Even if Saul were as shady as the Gamaliel folk (can’t really say, I’m not old enough to have interacted with him), it doesn’t follow that the behavior is ok. Does it? Alinsky has great stuff to offer but nothing should treated as gospel.

    Having been both at Gamaliel and at IAF I recognize many similarities (duh, Gamaliel copied IAF initially) but also significant differences. But that wasn’t the point of the article.

  • Jim

    What is your problem? Greg Galluzzo is no devil and IAF folks aren’t saints. Greg talks like his mentors, Saul Alinsky and Tom Gaudette. You have a problem with Saul and Tom. How about Ed Chambers who sound every bit as cynical as you are trying to make Greg out to be?

  • Thanks Bill.

  • Bill

    I admire your honesty Rey. And your commitment to real community service.

    This organization will get exposed for what it is.

  • Thanks Ruvy.

  • Nice article. It’s extremely important for those of you in the field who actually attempt to do some good (whatever your political orientation) to seek to be like Caesar’s wife – above reproach.

    Good luck to you in your efforts!