“What a model to the world,” keynote speaker, Archbishop John R. Quinn said to the delegates of the founding convention, referring to SFOP’s distinctive work model: collaboration with others, non-violence and a focus on human dignity. Representing Feinstein was Deputy Mayor Hadley Roff, who described the convention as “a magnificent and impressive coalition” and “A formidable force that will have to be dealt with at City Hall.” “Clearly”, he continued, “You will be heard! We will keep the doors open and work with you.”
SF Chronicle and The Examiner: May 16, 1983
History & Vision
Since its beginnings, the San Francisco Organizing Project (SFOP) has worked to create leaders who put their faith into action to make positive change for all San Franciscans. SFOP was formed when people of different faiths, races, social and economic backgrounds began to organize, integrating their spiritual and democratic values towards changing unacceptable social conditions that existed in their communities. From those early days, SFOP has become a powerful force within neighborhoods and the City, working to improve the quality of life for all San Franciscans. The purpose of this section is to provide some historical background about the roots of SFOP.
The inspiration to organize faith communities came to San Francisco by way of Oakland, CA, where in 1972, Father John Baumann, a Jesuit priest, founded a regional organization to train faith-based community organizers. This office evolved into The PICO National Network, which offers an organizing model based on the belief that the power of faith transforms people, institutions and the culture, influencing the way organized faith-communities relate to public officials, the community and one another.
The San Francisco Organizing Project began in early 1981 as a coalition of faith institutions and labor unions. Labor, community and faith leaders, inspired by the work of Saul Alinsky and realizing the potential power of involving the faith institutions of local workers, launched an organization to combat local and citywide justice issues. The “Organize Training Center,” located at 1045 Market Street, housed a small staff made up of Mike Miller, a nationally recognized trainer, Larry Gordon, a rising organizer, and Josie Mooney, a local labor leader. The center trained clergy, union leaders and community residents in faith-based community organizing, using the teachings of Saul Alinsky.
In less than two years, churches, synagogues and union leaders had learned the basics of the model, and some were ready to put this into practice in the Southeast of the City. Local congregations began to gather for SFOP’s first actions in 1982. Congregations like St. Elizabeth’s, led by Father Rasmussen, implemented the organizing model by conducting research with over 250 families in their homes to discover community concerns and identify leaders. The spirit of these first actions was one of interfaith cooperation. At one large action, Fr. Rasmussen welcomed 400 delegates, Rabbi Asher of Congregation Emanu-El, the master of ceremonies, prayed with them for God’s wisdom, and the keynote speaker, Reverend Aurelious Walker from True Hope Church of God in Christ challenged the delegates with prophetic words: “We are a first, and as God is a foundation, we will build.”
The first major test of the new trained leaders was a campaign against the Housing Authority in 1982-83. Tenants of the Potrero Hill and Bayview Hunter’s Point housing developments had been ignored every time they requested Housing Authority remove the garbage dumpsters plaguing their neighborhoods. Housing Authority had removed individual garbage cans, without consulting the tenants, and had replaced them with large dumpsters, one for every 40 households. The tenants found that the dumpsters attracted rats, flies and other health hazards. SFOP and the tenants began to organize and started working with City officials, including Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who ordered Housing Authority to return individual trash cans to the tenants. SFOP and the tenants had their first victory and a taste of the power of putting their values of faith and American democracy into action!
“A New Vision: Integrity and Justice for All” was the theme of the founding convention of SFOP at Everett Middle School, on May 15, 1983. There were 1,200 delegates representing 19 churches, 3 synagogues, 12 labor unions, and Citizen’s Action League. The purpose of the convention was to elect its first officers and vote on 7 resolutions for implementation. The Reverend Arelious Walker, Pastor of True Hope Church in the Bayview, was elected SFOP’s first president. He summed up the work of SFOP as being a “voice for the voiceless and an arm for the clout-less.” The resolutions read like an agenda, with goals for the present and well into the future: safe neighborhoods, jobs for youth, affordable homes for low income people in the future Mission Bay, protection of immigrants, the rights of workers to organize, and fight against PG&E’s rate hikes. All the resolutions passed and the delegates confirmed their commitment to solve these problems by lighting a candle in the menorah after voting for each resolution.
“What a model to the world,” keynote speaker, Archbishop John R, Quinn said to the delegates of the founding convention, referring to SFOP’s distinctive work model: collaboration with others, non-violence and a focus on human dignity. Representing Feinstein was Deputy Mayor Hadley Roff, who described the convention as “a magnificent and impressive coalition” and “A formidable force that will have to be dealt with at City Hall.” “Clearly”, he continued, “You will be heard! We will keep the doors open and work with you.” (SF Chronicle and The Examiner: May 16, 1983)
Later in 1983, with Rev. Don Stahlhut as the director, SFOP joined the PICO National Network. With this move, SFOP began to focus its energy entirely on organizing faith institutions, working occasionally in partnership with local labor groups. From 1983 to 2009, the motto of the first convention, “The New Vision: Integrity and Justice for All,” has still been a driving force and inspiration for SFOP members. Integrity and justice have endured the test of time and have acquired concrete names and meanings in the numerous campaigns including ones focused on expanding health care, increasing safety in neighborhoods, building more affordable housing, and more recently (beginning in 2000) on improving San Francisco’s public schools and protecting local immigrant families. “A City for All “ has become SFOP’s battle cry expressing leaders desire to insure that all San Francisco residents are able to thrive in a city that respects their right to live with dignity and with ample opportunity. Looking forward to the next 25 years, SFOP will remain true to its roots.