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Citizens' movement

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On Saturday mornings, I'm not thrilled to get out of bed before 10 a.m., much less to find myself in a meeting. But here I am, perched on a folding chair in the gym of Durham's Immaculate Conception Catholic School, helping plan a grassroots campaign.

Standing by a flipchart, marker in hand, Chris Bishop is plying the crowd. "We're going to build a better future for our families, for our neighborhoods, for Durham," he proclaims. "Working together, we can really get people to listen to us."

Bishop is lead organizer for the Triangle Sponsoring Committee, which convened the meeting. The committee is an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, or IAF, founded by renowned labor organizer Saul Alinsky. The IAF specializes in building interracial networks of organizations, many of them faith-based, to mobilize for change. There are 50 of these networks across the United States.

Now there's a move afoot to build such a network in the Bull City. Forty Durhamites have rolled out of bed to hear Bishop's pitch. It's an interesting crowd: Duke professionals, prominent African-American preachers, members of El Centro Hispano. Their first goal is to establish an agenda of four or five top priorities for Durham.

With all the jockeying politicians, civic boosters, and competing nonprofits, it seems that agendas are one thing Durham's not lacking. But the principle at work here is deceptively simple. Bishop makes clear that Durham's interfaith network, will be entirely unique.

First, leaders will hold a series of "house meetings," where 10 to 15 people will talk about common challenges--crime, a livable wage, securing transportation, childcare. More than 1,000 people will participate. From there the leaders will draft a consensus statement to be ratified by all the participants.

Local leaders will be asked to endorse this Agenda for Durham. Moreover, they'll be held accountable at mass meetings, where their performance will be graded. A politician, the thinking goes, can discern morality a lot faster in a room full of registered voters.

Among the audience, the plan is greeted warmly, and folks agree to move forward. The house meetings will start immediately, and the Agenda for Durham will be complete by mid-April. People munch sandwiches and potato salad and savor a productive Saturday morning.

--For more information on the Triangle Sponsoring Committee, call 530-8515

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