Long Island CAN (or LI-CAN) is a diverse, non-partisan citizens’ organization rooted in dues-paying religious congregations and other institutions in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Founded in 1996 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, LI-CAN works to strengthen communities on Long Island by teaching and practicing the fundamentals of democracy:
- Building relationships: LI-CAN's most important tools are one-to-one and small-group meetings where people can exchange stories, concerns and perspectives face to face. This is a core activity of democracy for which there is no electronic substitute.
- Building and using power: LI-CAN is a vehicle for participating institutions to multiply their power through new relationships. We use that power (def.: the ability to act) for the common good in our communities. We do it collaboratively and accountably, mindful of Lord Acton’s warning that “power tends to corrupt" -- but also mindful of the equally corrupting force of powerlessness.
- Finding common ground: We identify and act on concerns that are widely shared among the families and institutions in our communities, across lines of race, faith and ideology. LI-CAN isn’t part of the religious right or the progressive left; we tend to disappoint ideologues of all kinds.
- Researching issues and formulating solutions: We don’t just “raise awareness” or dump problems in the laps of the powerful; we study them and develop strategic approaches that will make a real difference. We’re not interested in symbolic victories or whining about how bad things are.
- Power analysis and action: For each issue we take on, there are key power players – corporate or governmental leaders who can say “yes” to a solution. We work at relating to them, understanding their interests, and moving them to act. This takes power, persistence, creativity and focus – and the ability to tune out distractions.
What are the products of all of this work? What do individual leaders and their institutions get out of it?
- Stronger institutions: Churches, synagogues, mosques, service and civic organizations get a practical, concrete, local way to act on their values and impact their communities. They use LI-CAN to develop new leaders and form interesting and useful relationships with other institutions and power players.
- Skilled leaders: The training and experience available through LI-CAN in the practical know-how of public life is unavailable in colleges, seminaries or anywhere else. The Industrial Areas Foundation network of which LI-CAN is an affiliate has been been called a “university of public life.” Hundreds of Long Islanders have learned how to get things done in the public arena through LI-CAN and IAF training courses.
- Stronger communities: We win victories that improve the lives of people and that make our communities more equitable, safe and livable. Some of LI-CAN’s accomplishments since 1996 can be found here.
The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) provides training and consultation to LI-CAN. In addition, LI-CAN often draws upon the experience of IAF’s 60+ affiliates nationwide to learn how similar groups have approached issues relevant to Long Island. (Likewise, LI-CAN has been called upon to share our experiences on certain issues with others in the IAF network.) We work together with five other IAF affiliates in New York through Metro IAF-NY to bring combined power to our common concerns.