Community organizing

Community organizing

Overview

Community organizing is a process where people who live in proximity to each other come together into an organization that acts in their shared self-interest. A core goal of community organizing is to generate durable power for an organization representing the community
Community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

, allowing it to influence key decision-makers on a range of issues over time. In the ideal, for example, this can get community organizing groups a place at the table before important decisions are made.
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Encyclopedia

Community organizing is a process where people who live in proximity to each other come together into an organization that acts in their shared self-interest. A core goal of community organizing is to generate durable power for an organization representing the community
Community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

, allowing it to influence key decision-makers on a range of issues over time. In the ideal, for example, this can get community organizing groups a place at the table before important decisions are made. Community organizers work with and develop new local leaders, facilitating coalitions and assisting in the development of campaigns.

Common aspects of community organizing groups


Organized community groups attempt to influence government, corporations and institutions, seek to increase direct representation within decision-making bodies, and foster social reform more generally. Where negotiations fail, these organizations seek to inform others outside of the organization of the issues being addressed and expose or pressure the decision-makers through a variety of means, including picketing, boycott
Boycott
A boycott is an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for political reasons...

ing, sit-in
Sit-in
A sit-in or sit-down is a form of protest that involves occupying seats or sitting down on the floor of an establishment.-Process:In a sit-in, protesters remain until they are evicted, usually by force, or arrested, or until their requests have been met...

s, petitioning, and electoral politics. Organizing
Organizing
Organizing is the act of rearranging elements following one or more rules.Anything is commonly considered organized when it looks like everything has a correct order or placement. But it's only ultimately organized if any element has no difference on time taken to find it...

 groups often seek out issues they know will generate controversy and conflict. This allows them to draw in and educate participants, build commitment, and establish a reputation for winning. Thus, community organizing is usually focused on more than just resolving specific issues. In fact, specific issues are often vehicles for other organizational goals as much as they are ends in themselves.

Community organizers generally seek to build groups that are democratic in governance, open and accessible to community members, and concerned with the general health of the community rather than a specific interest group. Organizing seeks to broadly empower
Empowerment
Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, racial, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities...

 community members, with the end goal of distributing power more equally throughout the community.

The three basic types of community organizing are grassroots
Grassroots
A grassroots movement is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures...

 or "door-knocking" organizing, faith-based
Faith-based
The term faith-based is a neologism , mostly current in US English, to describe any organization or government idea or plan based on religious beliefs, specifically Christian beliefs....

 community organizing (FBCO), and coalition
Coalition
A coalition is a pact or treaty among individuals or groups, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in their own self-interest, joining forces together for a common cause. This alliance may be temporary or a matter of convenience. A coalition thus differs from a more formal covenant...

 building. Political campaign
Political campaign
A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, wherein representatives are chosen or referendums are decided...

s often claim that their door-to-door operations are in fact an effort to organize the community, though often these operations are focused exclusively on voter identification and turnout.

FBCOs and many grassroots organizing models are built on the work of Saul Alinsky
Saul Alinsky
Saul David Alinsky was a Jewish American community organizer and writer. He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing, and has been compared in Playboy magazine to Thomas Paine as being "one of the great American leaders of the nonsocialist left." He is often noted...

, discussed below, from the 1930s into the 1970s.

Grassroots and "Door-Knocking" Groups


Grassroots
Grassroots
A grassroots movement is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures...

 organizing builds community groups from scratch, developing new leadership where none existed and organizing the unorganized. It is a values based process where people are brought together to act in the interest of their communities and the common good. Networks of community organizations that employ this method and support local organizing groups include National People's Action
National People's Action
National People’s Action is a network of metropolitan, regional, and statewide organizations that build grassroots power. NPA works to build the collective political will to advance racial and economic justice. National People’s Action has over 135 organizers and support staff working in...

 and ACORN
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues...

.

"Door knocking" grassroots organizations like ACORN organize poor and working-class members recruiting members one by one in the community. Because they go door-to-door, they are able to reach beyond established organizations and the "churched" to bring together a wide range of less privileged people. ACORN tended to stress the importance of constant action in order to maintain the commitment of a less rooted group of participants.

ACORN had a reputation of being more forceful than faith-based (FBCO) groups, and there are indications that their local groups were more staff (organizer) directed than leader (local volunteer) directed. (However, the same can be said for many forms of organizing, including FBCOs.) The "door-knocking" approach is more time-intensive than the "organization of organizations" approach of FBCOs and requires more organizers who, partly as a result, can be lower paid with more turnover.

Unlike existing FBCO national "umbrella" and other grassroots organizations, ACORN maintained a centralized national agenda, and exerted some centralized control over local organizations. Because ACORN was a 501(c)4 organization under the tax code, it was able to participate directly in election activities, but contributions to it were not tax exempt.

Faith-Based Community Organizing (FBCO)



Faith-based community organizing (FBCO), also known as Congregation-based Community Organizing
Congregation-based Community Organizing
Community organizing describes a wide variety of efforts to empower residents in a local area to participate in civic life or governmental affairs. Most efforts that claim this label operate in low-income or middle-income areas, and have adopted at least some of the tactics and organizing...

, is a methodology for developing power and relationships throughout a community of institutions: today mostly congregations, but these can also include unions, neighborhood associations, and other groups. Progressive and centrist FBCO organizations join together around basic values derived from common aspects of their faith instead of around strict dogmas. There are now at least 180 FBCOs in the US as well as in South Africa, England, Germany, and other nations. Local FBCO organizations are often linked through organizing networks such as the Industrial Areas Foundation
Industrial Areas Foundation
The Industrial Areas Foundation is a national community organizing network established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky. IAF provides training and consultation, furnishes organizers, and develops national strategy for its affiliated broad-based community organizations. There are currently 57 IAF...

, Gamaliel Foundation
Gamaliel Foundation
Gamaliel Foundation provides training and consultation and develops national strategy for its affiliated congregation-based community organizations. As of 2008, Gamaliel has 60 affiliates in 21 U.S...

, PICO National Network
PICO National Network
PICO National Network provides training and consultation and develops national strategy for its affiliated congregation-based community organizations. As of 2007 PICO had 53 local and regional affiliates, representing 150 cities in 17 states, with 1000 member institutions claiming to represent a...

, and Direct Action and Research Training Center
Direct Action and Research Training Center
The Direct Action and Research Training Center provides training and consultation for its 18 affiliated congregation-based community organizations. Founded in 1982, DART is headquartered in Miami, Florida. As of 2011, DART has 18 affiliated organizations in five states. John Calkins is the...

 (DART). In the United States starting in 2001, the Bush Administration launched a department
White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, formerly the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is an office within the White House Office that is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.-Under George W. Bush:OFBCI was...

 to promote community organizing that included faith-based organizing as well other community groups.

FBCOs tend to have mostly middle-class participants because the congregations involved are generally mainline Protestant and Catholic (although "middle-class" can mean different things in white communities and communities of color, which can lead to class tensions within these organizations). Holiness, Pentecostal, and other related denominations (often "storefront") churches with mostly poor and working-class members tend not to join FBCOs because of their focus on "faith" over "works," among other issues. FBCOs have increasingly expanded outside impoverished areas into churches where middle-class professionals predominate in an effort to expand their power to contest inequality.

Because of their "organization of organizations" approach, FBCOs can organize large numbers of members with a relatively small number of organizers that generally are better paid and more professionalized than those in "door-knocking" groups like ACORN.

FBCOs focus on the long-term development of a culture and common language of organizing and on the development of relational ties between members. They are more stable during fallow periods than grassroots groups because of the continuing existence of member churches.

FBCOs are 501(c)3 organizations. Contributions to them are tax exempt. As a result, while they can conduct campaigns over "issues" they cannot promote the election of specific individuals.

Power vs. Protest


While community organizing groups often engage in protest actions designed to force powerful groups to respond to their demands, protest is only one aspect of the activity of organizing groups. To the extent that groups' actions generate a sense in the larger community that they have "power," they are often able to engage with and influence powerful groups through dialogue, backed up by a history of successful protest-based campaigns. Similar to the way unions gain recognition as the representatives of workers for a particular business, community organizing groups can gain recognition as key representatives of particular communities. In this way, representatives of community organizing groups are often able to bring key government officials or corporate leaders to the table without engaging in "actions" because of their reputation. As Alinsky said, "the first rule of power tactics" is that "power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have." The development of durable "power" and influence is a key aim of community organizing.

“Rights-based” community organizing, in which municipal governments are used to exercise community power, was first experimented with by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF.org) in Pennsylvania, beginning in 2002. Community groups are organized to influence municipal governments to enact local ordinances. These ordinances challenge preemptive state and federal laws that forbid local governments from prohibiting corporate activities deemed harmful by community residents. The ordinances are drafted specifically to assert the rights of “human and natural communities,” and include provisions that deny the legal concepts of “corporate personhood,” and “corporate rights.” Since 2006 they have been drafted to include the recognition of legally enforceable rights for “natural communities and ecosystems.”

Although this type of community organizing focuses on the adoption of local laws, the intent is to demonstrate the use of governing authority to protect community rights and expose the misuse of governing authority to benefit corporations. As such, the adoption of rights-based municipal ordinances is not a legal strategy, but an organizing strategy. Courts predictably deny the legal authority of municipalities to legislate in defiance of state and federal law. Corporations and government agencies that initiate legal actions to overturn these ordinances have been forced to argue in opposition to the community’s right to make governing decisions on issues with harmful and direct local impact.

The first rights-based municipal laws prohibited corporations from monopolizing agriculture (factory farming), and banned corporate waste dumping within municipal jurisdictions. More recent rights-based organizing, in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, Virginia and California has prohibited corporate mining, large-scale water withdrawals and chemical trespass.

Political Orientations


Community organizing is not solely the domain of progressive politics, as dozens of fundamentalist organizations are in operation, such as the Christian Coalition. However, the term "community organizing" generally refers to more centrist or progressive organizations, as evidenced, for example, by the reaction against community organizing in the 2008 US presidential election by Republicans and conservatives on the web and elsewhere. The New Black Panthers use of intimidation and threats of violence against of white voters during the 2008 presidential election is an example of what can go wrong with community organizing.

Fundraising


Organizing groups often struggle to find resources. They rarely receive funding from government since their activities often seek to contest government policies. Foundations and others who usually fund service activities generally don't understand what organizing groups do or how they do it, or shy away from their contentious approaches. The constituency of progressive and centrist organizing groups is largely low- or middle- income, so they are generally unable to support themselves through dues. In search of resources, some organizing groups have accepted funding for direct service activities in the past. As noted below, this has frequently led these groups to drop their conflictual organizing activities, in part because these threatened funding for their "service" arms.

Recent studies have shown, however, that funding for community organizing can produce large returns on investment ($512 in community benefits to $1 of Needmor funding, according to the Needmor Fund Study, $157 to 1 in New Mexico and $89 to 1 in North Carolina according to National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy studies) through legislation and agreements with corporations, among other sources, not including non-fiscal accomplishments.

History of community organizing in the United States


Robert Fisher and Peter Romanofsky have grouped the history of "community organizing" (also known as "social agitation") in the United States into four rough periods:

1880 to 1900


People sought to meet the pressures of rapid immigration and industrialization by organizing immigrant neighborhoods in urban centers. Since the emphasis of the reformers was mostly on building community through settlement houses and other service mechanisms, the dominant approach was what Fisher calls social work
Community practice
Community Practice is a branch of social work in the United States that focuses on larger social systems and social change, and is tied to the historical roots of United States social work...

. During this period the Newsboys Strike of 1899
Newsboys Strike of 1899
The Newsboys Strike of 1899 was a youth-led campaign to force change in the way that Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst's newspapers compensated their child labor force. The strike lasted two weeks, causing Pulitzer's New York World to reduce its circulation from 360,000 to 125,000...

 provided an early model of youth-led organizing
Youth activism
Youth activism is when the youth voice is engaged in community organizing for social change. Around the world, young people are engaged in activism as planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, social workers, decision-makers, advocates and leading actors in the environmental movement, social...

.

1900 to 1940


Community organizing was established distinct from social work, with much energy coming from those critical of capitalist
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 doctrines. Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel
Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for The Good War, and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.-Early...

 documented community organizing in the depression era, perhaps most notably that of Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert; she advocated the Catholic economic theory of Distributism. She was also considered to be an anarchist, and did not hesitate to use the term...

. Most organizations had a national orientation because the economic problems the nation faced did not seem possible to change at the neighborhood levels.

1940 to 1960


Saul Alinsky
Saul Alinsky
Saul David Alinsky was a Jewish American community organizer and writer. He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing, and has been compared in Playboy magazine to Thomas Paine as being "one of the great American leaders of the nonsocialist left." He is often noted...

, based in Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, is credited with originating the term community organizer during this time period. Alinsky wrote Reveille for Radicals, published in 1946, and Rules for Radicals, published in 1971. With these books, Alinsky was the first person in America to codify key strategies and aims of community organizing. He also founded the first national community organizing training network, the Industrial Areas Foundation, subsequently led by one of his former lieutenants, Edward Chambers.

The following quotations from Alinsky's 1946 "Reveille for Radicals" give a good sense of his perspective on organizing and of his public style of engagement:
  • A People’s Organization is a conflict group, [and] this must be openly and fully recognized. Its sole reason in coming into being is to wage war against all evils which cause suffering and unhappiness. A People’s Organization is the banding together of large numbers of men and women to fight for those rights which insure a decent way of life. . . .

  • A People’s Organization is dedicated to an eternal war. It is a war against poverty, misery, delinquency, disease, injustice, hopelessness, despair, and unhappiness. They are basically the same issues for which nations have gone to war in almost every generation. . . . War is not an intellectual debate, and in the war against social evils there are no rules of fair play. . . .

  • A People’s Organization lives in a world of hard reality. It lives in the midst of smashing forces, dashing struggles, sweeping cross-currents, ripping passions, conflict, confusion, seeming chaos, the hot and the cold, the squalor and the drama, which people prosaically refer to as life and students describe as “society.

1960 to present


The American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war
Anti-war
An anti-war movement is a social movement, usually in opposition to a particular nation's decision to start or carry on an armed conflict, unconditional of a maybe-existing just cause. The term can also refer to pacifism, which is the opposition to all use of military force during conflicts. Many...

 movements, the Chicano movement, the feminist movement
Feminist movement
The feminist movement refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment and sexual violence...

, and the gay rights movement all influenced and were influenced by ideas of neighborhood organizing. Experience with federal anti-poverty programs and the upheavals in the cities produced a thoughtful response among activists and theorists in the early 1970s that has informed activities, organizations, strategies and movements through the end of the century. Less dramatically, civic associations and neighborhood block clubs were formed all across the country to foster community spirit and civic duty, as well as provide a social outlet.

The Loss of Urban Community and Its Effect on Organizing


During these decades, the emergence of an ongoing process of white flight
White flight
White flight has been a term that originated in the United States, starting in the mid-20th century, and applied to the large-scale migration of whites of various European ancestries from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions. It was first seen as...

, the ability of middle-class African Americans to move out of majority Black areas, and the professionalization of community organizations into 501(c)3 nonprofits, among other issues, increasingly dissolved the tight ethnic and racial communities that had been so prevalent in urban areas during the first part of the century. As a result, community organizers began to move away from efforts to mobilize existing communities and towards efforts to create community, fostering relationships between community members. While community organizers like Alinsky had long worked with churches, these trends led to an increasing focus on congregational organizing during the 1980s, as organizing groups rooted themselves in one of the few remaining broad-based community institutions. This shift also led to an increased focus on relationships among religion, faith, and social struggle.

The Emergence of National Organizing Support Organizations


A collection of training and support organizations for national coalitions of mostly locally governed and mostly FBCO community organizing groups were founded in the Alinsky tradition. The Industrial Areas Foundation
Industrial Areas Foundation
The Industrial Areas Foundation is a national community organizing network established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky. IAF provides training and consultation, furnishes organizers, and develops national strategy for its affiliated broad-based community organizations. There are currently 57 IAF...

 was the first, created by Alinsky himself in 1940. The other key organizations include ACORN
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues...

, PICO National Network
PICO National Network
PICO National Network provides training and consultation and develops national strategy for its affiliated congregation-based community organizations. As of 2007 PICO had 53 local and regional affiliates, representing 150 cities in 17 states, with 1000 member institutions claiming to represent a...

, Direct Action and Research Training Center
Direct Action and Research Training Center
The Direct Action and Research Training Center provides training and consultation for its 18 affiliated congregation-based community organizations. Founded in 1982, DART is headquartered in Miami, Florida. As of 2011, DART has 18 affiliated organizations in five states. John Calkins is the...

, and the Gamaliel Foundation
Gamaliel Foundation
Gamaliel Foundation provides training and consultation and develops national strategy for its affiliated congregation-based community organizations. As of 2008, Gamaliel has 60 affiliates in 21 U.S...

. The role of the organizer in these organizations was "professionalized" to some extent and resources were sought so that being an organizer could be more of a long term career than a relatively brief, mostly unfunded interlude. The training provided by these national "umbrella" organizations helps local volunteer leaders learn a common "language" about organizing while seeking to expand the skills of organizers. The Midwest Academy
Midwest Academy
The Midwest Academy is a community organizer training institute committed to "advancing the struggle for social, economic, and racial justice," founded in 1973 and based in Chicago, Illinois, USA. From local neighborhood groups to statewide and national organizations, Midwest Academy has trained...

, based in Chicago, provides week-long training in organizing nationally to organizers and leaders who are not part of these established national organizations. The Center for Third World Organizing provides training focused on "change efforts in communities of color."

The distinction between an "organizer" who staffs a community organization and "leaders" who make decisions and provide the public face of their groups was increasingly standardized over these years, even in many organizations not linked to "umbrella" training groups as the Alinsky tradition became increasingly influential.

Examples of Community Organizers


Many of the most notable leaders in community organizing today emerged from the National Welfare Rights Organization
National Welfare Rights Organization
The National Welfare Rights Organization was an American activist organization that fought for the welfare rights of people, especially women and children. The organization had four goals: adequate income, dignity, justice, and democratic participation. The group was active from 1966 to 1975...

. John Calkins of DART
Direct Action and Research Training Center
The Direct Action and Research Training Center provides training and consultation for its 18 affiliated congregation-based community organizations. Founded in 1982, DART is headquartered in Miami, Florida. As of 2011, DART has 18 affiliated organizations in five states. John Calkins is the...

, Ernesto Cortes
Ernesto Cortes
Ernesto Cortés, Jr. is the Industrial Areas Foundation co-chair and executive director of the West / Southwest regional network. The IAF provides leadership training and civics education to poor and moderate-income people across the US and UK...

 of the Industrial Areas Foundation
Industrial Areas Foundation
The Industrial Areas Foundation is a national community organizing network established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky. IAF provides training and consultation, furnishes organizers, and develops national strategy for its affiliated broad-based community organizations. There are currently 57 IAF...

, Wade Rathke
Wade Rathke
Wade Rathke is the founder of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and Service Employees International Union Local 100. He was ACORN's chief organizer from its founding in 1970 until he stepped down June 2, 2008...

 of ACORN
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues...

, John Dodds of Philadelphia Unemployment Project and Mark Splain of the AFL-CIO
AFL-CIO
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL–CIO, is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 56 national and international unions, together representing more than 11 million workers...

, among others.

There are many other notable community organizers: Heather Booth, César Chávez
César Chávez
César Estrada Chávez was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers ....

, Lois Gibbs
Lois Gibbs
Lois Marie Gibbs is an American environmental activist.Gibbs's involvement in environmental causes began in 1978 when she discovered that her 7-year-old son's elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York was built on a toxic waste dump. Subsequent investigation revealed that her entire...

, Ella Baker
Ella Baker
Ella Josephine Baker was an African American civil rights and human rights activist beginning in the 1930s....

, Huey P. Newton
Huey P. Newton
Huey Percy Newton was an American political and urban activist who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.-Early life:...

, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the...

, Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader is an American political activist, as well as an author, lecturer, and attorney. Areas of particular concern to Nader include consumer protection, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government....

, Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

, and Paul Wellstone
Paul Wellstone
Paul David Wellstone was a two-term U.S. Senator from the state of Minnesota and member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which is affiliated with the national Democratic Party. Before being elected to the Senate in 1990, he was a professor of political science at Carleton College...

.

Youth Organizing


More recently has come the emergence of youth organizing groups around the country. These groups use neo-Alinsky strategies while also usually providing social and sometimes material support to less-privileged youth. Most of these groups are created by and directed by youth or former youth organizers.

Barack Obama and the 2008 Presidential Election


Prior to his entry into politics, President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 worked as an organizer for a Gamaliel Foundation
Gamaliel Foundation
Gamaliel Foundation provides training and consultation and develops national strategy for its affiliated congregation-based community organizations. As of 2008, Gamaliel has 60 affiliates in 21 U.S...

 FBCO organization in Chicago. Marshall Ganz
Marshall Ganz
Marshall Ganz is a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He worked on the staff of the United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions and nonprofit groups...

, former lieutenant of César Chávez
César Chávez
César Estrada Chávez was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers ....

, adapted techniques from community organizing for Obama's 2008 presidential election.
At the 2008 Republican National Convention
2008 Republican National Convention
The United States 2008 Republican National Convention took place at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, from September 1, through September 4, 2008...

, former New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 mayor Rudolph Giuliani questioned Obama's role as a community organizer, asking the crowd "What does a community organizer actually do?", and was answered with resounding applause. This was seconded by the Vice Presidential nominee, Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 governor Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin
Sarah Louise Palin is an American politician, commentator and author. As the Republican Party nominee for Vice President in the 2008 presidential election, she was the first Alaskan on the national ticket of a major party and first Republican woman nominated for the vice-presidency.She was...

, who stated that her experience as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska
Wasilla, Alaska
Wasilla is a city in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, United States and the sixth-largest city in Alaska. It is located on the northern point of Cook Inlet in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley of the southcentral part of the state. The city's population was 7,831 at the 2010 census...

 was "sort of like being a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." In response, some progressives, such as Congressman Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen
Stephen Ira Cohen is the U.S. Representative for , serving since 2007. He is a member of the Democratic Party. Tennessee's 9th district includes almost three-fourths of Memphis. Cohen is Tennessee's first Jewish congressman....

 (D
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

-TN
Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

) and liberal pundit Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile is an American author, professor, and political analyst affiliated with the Democratic Party. She was the first African American to direct a major presidential campaign, for Al Gore in 2000...

, started saying that "Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilatus , known in the English-speaking world as Pontius Pilate , was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, from AD 26–36. He is best known as the judge at Jesus' trial and the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus...

 was a governor", a phrase produced on bumper stickers and elsewhere. Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilatus , known in the English-speaking world as Pontius Pilate , was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, from AD 26–36. He is best known as the judge at Jesus' trial and the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus...

 was the Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 Prefect who ordered the execution of Jesus.

Since Obama's election, the campaign website, formerly part of "Obama for America," has been renamed "Organizing for America
Organizing for America
Organizing for America is a community organizing project of the Democratic National Committee. Founded after the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, the group seeks to mobilize supporters in favor of Obama's legislative priorities.-History:...

," and has been placed under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee
Democratic National Committee
The Democratic National Committee is the principal organization governing the United States Democratic Party on a day to day basis. While it is responsible for overseeing the process of writing a platform every four years, the DNC's central focus is on campaign and political activity in support...

 (DNC). This rebranded organization promotes the president's legislative agenda items, such as health care reform, which was a key focus of the new "OFA" during 2009, but as an arm of the DNC engages in little that resembles independent "community organizing."

History of community organizing in the United Kingdom


Citizens UK has been promoting community organising in the UK since 1989 and has established the profession of Community Organiser through the Guild of Community Organisers teaching the disciplines of strategy and politics. Neil Jameson, the Executive Director of Citizens UK, founded the organisation after training with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the USA. Citizens UK (formerly the Citizens Organising Foundation) established citizens groups in Liverpool, North Wales, the Black Country, Sheffield, Bristol, Milton Keynes and London. TCC (Together Creating Communities) in North Wales is longest established beginning in 1995. It has been independent of COF since 2001. London Citizens' forerunner TELCO was formed in 1996. Milton Keynes Citizens began in 2010. The others had a brief and glorious start lasting roughly 3 years when COF was unable to finance them any longer.

Together Creating Communities in North East Wales is remarkable in community organising in that its area of operation includes substantial rural areas. Its current membership of 40 groups includes churches, schools and the Wrexham Muslim Association as well as community groups. Amongst its actions,it has successfully prevented a waste incinerator being built in Wrexham, and in 2010 secured the appointment of a specialist nurse for Parkinson's Disease sufferers. It has held accountability meetings for Westminster and Welsh Assembly Elections in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Manchester Changemakers was formed in 2007 and is independent of Citizens UK.

London Citizens


London Citizens began life in East London in 1996 as TELCO (the East London Communities Organisation) subsequently expanding to South London, West London and by 2011 into North London. London Citizens has a dues paying institutional membership of over 160 schools, churches, mosques, trade unions, synagogues and voluntary organisations. In the beginning small actions were undertaken to prevent a factory from contaminating the area with noxious smells and prevent drug dealing in school neighbourhoods. Over time larger campaigns were undertaken. Before Mayoral elections for the Greater London Authority in 2000, 2004 and 2008 major Accountability Assemblies were held with the main mayoral candidates. They were asked to support London Citizens and work with them on issues such as London Living wage; an amnesty for undocumented migrants; safer cities initiatives and development of community land trust housing. South London Citizens held a citizens enquiry into the working of the Home Office department at Lunar House and its impact on the lives of refugees and migrants. This resulted in the building of a visitor centre.

Political Analysis


Community organising in the UK is distinctive because it deliberately sets out to build permanent alliances of citizens to exercise power in society. The UK analysis is that to understand Society it is necessary to distinguish Civil Society from the State and the Market. In a totalitarian Society all three may virtually coincide. In a fully democratic society the three will be distinct. Where the state and the market become predominant, even in a democracy, civil society is reduced on the one hand to voting and volunteering and on the other to consuming. This is very dangerous for democracy because the sense of citizenship and agency becomes feeble and ineffective. In other words Civil Society becomes powerless.
Community organising and the role of the professional Community Organiser is working out how to take back power from the State and the Market by holding them accountable. The state and the market cannot operate without moral values and direction. It is not the role of the state or the market to determine those values. In a democratic society there has to be a genuine public discourse concerning justice and the common good. Problems with the global banking system in 2008 in large part arose because “light touch regulation” meant that there was no underlying moral system. The market was left to its own devices with disastrous consequences for the global economy.

Intermediate Institutions


Community organising works because it organises people and money through the institutions which have the potential to engage in the public discourse about what is the common good. These are the institutions which can mediate between the family and the State – such as faith organisations, cooperatives, schools, trades unions, universities and voluntary agencies. Community organising builds these institutions into permanent citizens membership alliances which work together to identify issues and agree ways of introducing solutions. Community organising teaches the art of non partisan, democratic politics. Because community organising brings together diverse institutions which do not normally work together it is sometimes referred to as Broad Based community organising.

Community organising starts with the recognition that change can only come about when communities come together to compel public authorities and businesses to respond to the needs of ordinary people. It identifies and trains leaders in diverse communities, bringing them together to voice their needs and it organises campaigns to ensure that these needs are met.
“Our answer is to organise people through the places where they have regular contact with their neighbours – faith institutions and workplaces and educational establishments. Our experience of practising broad based community organising across the UK has confirmed for us that the threads that once connected the individual to the family, the family to their community and the community to the wider society are fraying and in danger of breaking altogether. We believe these strands, connections and alliances are vital for a healthy democracy and should be the building blocks of any vibrant civil society.

“We believe in building for power which is fundamentally reciprocal, where both parties are influenced by each other and mutual respect develops. The power and influence that we seek is tempered by our religious teachings and moral values and is exercised in the fluid and ever-changing relationship with our fellow leaders, allies and adversaries. We value and seek to operate in the public sphere. We believe that UK public life should be occupied not just by a few celebrities and politicians – but also by the people themselves seeking a part of the action.”

The Institute for Community Organising


Citizens UK set up the Institute for Community Organising (ICO) as part of its Centre for Civil Society established in 2010 in response to growing demands for its training. The ICO is the first operating division of the Centre and was established to offer a series of training opportunities for those who wish to make community organising a full or part time career and also for Community Leaders who wish to learn the broad philosophy and skills of community organising and who are in a position to put them into practice in their institutions and neighbourhoods. The Institute provides training and consultancy on a commercial basis to other agencies which wish to employ the skills and techniques of community organising in their institutions. The ICO has an Academic Advisory Board and an International Professional Advisory Body drawn from the global network of Community Organising Institutes in the UK (CITIZENS UK), USA (Industrial Areas Foundation) and Germany (DICO).

Citizens UK General Election Assembly


In May 2010 Citizens UK held a General Election Assembly at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster with 2,500 people from member institutions and the world media present. This event was three days before the election and proved to be the most dynamic and electric event of the election campaign. Citizens UK had negotiated to have David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown as the leaders of the three main political parties attend. Each candidate for Prime Minister was questioned on stage concerning their willingness to work with Citizens UK if elected. Each undertook to work with Citizens UK and come to future assemblies to give account of work achieved. In particular they agreed to work to introduce the Living Wage and to end the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention.

Living Wage


In 1994, the city of Baltimore passed the first living-wage law in the USA. This was to change the working and living conditions of Baltimore's low-wage service workers and become the example for other cities in the USA. In London it was a campaign launched in 2001 by London Citizens, the largest civil alliance in the Citizens UK network.
The Living Wage Campaign calls for every worker in the country to earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life. Launched by London Citizens in 2001, the campaign had by 2010 persuaded more than 100 employers to pay the Living wage and won over £40 million of Living Wages, lifting 6,500 families out of working poverty.
The Living Wage is a number. An hourly rate, set independently, every year (by the Greater London Authority in London). It is calculated according to cost of living and gives the minimum pay rate required for a worker to provide their family with the essentials of life. In London the 2010-11 rate was £7.85 per hour.
London is now being copied by other cities around the UK. As a result Citizens UK set up the Living Wage Foundation in 2011 to provide companies with intelligence and accreditation. It also moderates the hourly rate applicable for the Living Wage outside London.

People’s Olympic Legacy


When London announced it would bid to be the host city for the Olympic Games in 2012, London Citizens used their power to gain a lasting legacy for Londoners from the billions that was to be spent. Following on from hundreds of one-to-one meetings and a listening campaign across member institutions, in 2004 London Citizens signed an historic agreement with the London 2012 bid team, which set in stone precisely what the people of east London could expect in return for their support in hosting the Olympic Games.
The People’s Promises, as they are known, demanded:
1) 2012 permanently affordable homes for local people through a Community Land Trust and mutual home ownership;
2) Money from the Olympic development to be set aside to improve local schools and the health service;
3) University of East London to be main higher education beneficiary of the sports legacy and to consider becoming a Sports Centre of Excellence
4) At least £2m set aside immediately for a Construction Academy to train up local people;
5) That at least 30% of jobs are set aside for local people;
6) That the Lower Lea Valley is designated a ‘Living Wage Zone’ and all jobs guaranteed a living wage
The Olympic Delivery Authority, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the Olympic Legacy Company work with London Citizens to ensure that these promises are delivered.

Independent Asylum Commission


Citizens UK set up the Independent Asylum Commission in order to investigate widespread concern about the way refugees and asylum seekers were being treated by the UK Borders Agency. The report made a series of over 200 recommendations for change which are still being negotiated. This resulted in the ending of the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention by the Coaltion government elected in 2010.

History of community organizing in Australia


Since 2000, active discussion about community organizing had begun in Sydney. A community organizing school was held in 2005 in Currawong, involving unions, community organizations and religious organizations. In 2007, Amanda Tattersall, a union and community organizer, approached Unions NSW to sponsor the initial stages of a new community organizing coalition called the Sydney Alliance. She had learned about community organizing from interest in coalitions between unions and community organizations, reading Saul Alinsky and spending time with a variety of community organizations in the US and UK.

By November 2007, thirteen organizations had agreed to sponsor the building of an Alliance in Sydney, including the Uniting Church Synod, the Jewish Board of Deputies and six unions. By November 2008, twenty two organizations had joined, including the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church. But mid-2010 it was 28 organizations. The Sydney Alliance launched on the 15th September 2011 with 43 organisations and is supporting the establishment of other community organizing coalitions across the country.

What community organizing is not


Understanding what community organizing is can be aided by understanding what it is not from the perspective of community organizers.
  • Activism: According to Edward Chambers, community organizing is distinguishable from activism if activists engage in social protest without a coherent strategy for building power or for making specific social changes.

  • Mobilizing: When people "mobilize" they get together to effect a specific social change, but have no long term plan. When the particular campaign that mobilized them is over, these groups dissolve and durable power is not built.

  • Advocacy: Advocates generally speak for others who are unable to represent their own interest due to disability, inherent complexity of the venue such as courts and hospitals, or other factors. Community organizing emphasizes the virtue of trying to get those affected to speak for themselves.

  • Social Movements: A broad Social movement
    Social movement
    Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change....

     often encompasses diverse collections of individual activists, local and national organizations, advocacy groups, multiple and often conflicting spokespersons, and more, held together by relatively common aims but not a common organizational structure. A community organizing group might be part of a “movement.” Movements generally dissolve when the motivating issue(s) are addressed, although organizations created during movements can continue and shift their focuses.

  • Legal Action: Lawyers are often quite important to those engaged in social action. The problem comes when a social action strategy is designed primarily around a lawsuit. When lawyers take the center stage, it can push grassroots struggle into the background, short circuiting the development of collective power and capacity. There are examples where community organizing groups and legal strategies have worked together well, however, including the Williams v. California lawsuit over inequality in k-12 education.

  • Direct Service: Americans today often equate civic engagement with direct service. Organizing groups usually avoid actually providing services, today, however, because history indicates that when they do, organizing for collective power is often left behind. Powerful groups often threaten the "service" wings of organizing groups in an effort to prevent collective action. In the nonprofit world there are many organizations that used to do community organizing but lost this focus in the shift to service.

  • Community Development: Consensual community development
    Community development
    Community development is a broad term applied to the practices and academic disciplines of civic leaders, activists, involved citizens and professionals to improve various aspects of local communities....

     efforts to improve communities through a range of strategies, usually directed by educated professionals working in government, policy, non-profit, or business organizations, is not community organizing. Community development projects increasingly include a community participation component, and often seek to empower residents of impoverished areas with skills for collaboration and job training, among others. However, community development generally assumes that groups and individuals can work together collaboratively without significant conflict or struggles over power to solve community challenges. One currently popular form is Asset Based Community Development that seeks out existing community strengths.

  • Nonpartisan Dialogues About Community Problems: A range of efforts create opportunities for people to meet together and engage in dialogue about community problems. Like community organizing, the effort in contexts like these is generally to be open to a diverse range of opinions, out of which some consensus may be reached. A Study circle
    Study circle
    A study circle is a small group of people who meet multiple times to discuss an issue. Study circles may be formed to discuss anything from politics to religion to hobbies...

     is a good example of this. However, beyond the dialogue that also happens inside organizing groups, the focus is on generating a collective and singular "voice" in order to gain power and resources for the organization's members as well as constituents in the broader community.

  • Power gained and exerted in community organizing is also not the coercion applied by legal, illegal, physical, or economic means, such as those be applied by banks, syndicates, corporations, governments, or other institutions. Rather, organizing makes use of the voluntary efforts of a community's members acting jointly to achieve an economic or other benefit. As opposed to commercial ventures, gains that result from community organizing automatically accrue to persons in similar circumstances who are not necessarily members, e.g. residents in a geographic area or in a similar socioeconomic status, or persons having conditions or circumstances in common who benefit from gains won by the organizing effort. This may include workers who benefit from a campaign affecting their industry, for example, or persons with disabilities who benefit from gains made in their legal or economic eligibility or status.


While these distinctions are useful, in actual practice the boundaries are often less clear.

Community organizing for international development


One of Alinsky's associates, Presbyterian minister Herbert White, became a missionary in South Korea and the Philippines and brought Alinsky’s ideas, books and materials with him. He helped start a community organization in the Manila slum of Tondo in the 1970s. The concepts of community organizing spread through the many local NGO and activists groups in the Philippines.

Filipino community organizers melded Alinsky's ideas with concepts from liberation theology
Liberation theology
Liberation theology is a Christian movement in political theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions...

, a pro-poor theological movement in the developing world, and the philosophy of Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire
Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was a Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical pedagogy.-Biography:...

. They found this community organizing a well-suited method to work among the poor during the martial law era of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos
Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, Sr. was a Filipino leader and an authoritarian President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. He was a lawyer, member of the Philippine House of Representatives and a member of the Philippine Senate...

. Unlike the communist guerrillas, community organizers quietly worked to encourage critical thinking about the status quo, facilitate organization and the support the solving of concrete collective problems. Community organizing was thus able to lay the groundwork for the People Power Revolution of 1986, which nonviolently pushed Marcos out of power.

A 1974 manual summarizing some of the Filipino experience of community organizing Organizing People for Power actually became quite popular in the South Africa, among activist groups organizing communities in Soweto
Soweto
Soweto is a lower-class-populated urban area of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa, bordering the city's mining belt in the south. Its name is an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships...

.

The concepts of community organizing have now filtered into many international organizations as a way of promoting participation of communities in social, economic and political change in developing countries. This is often referred to as participatory development
Participatory development
Participatory Development seeks to engage local populations in development projects. Participatory development has taken a variety of forms since it emerged in the 1970s, when it was introduced as an important part of the "basic needs approach" to development...

, participatory rural appraisal
Participatory rural appraisal
Participatory rural appraisal is an approach used by non-governmental organizations and other agencies involved in international development...

, participatory action research
Participatory action research
Participatory action research – or action research – is a recognized form of experimental research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of...

 or local capacity building
Capacity building
Capacity building also referred to as capacity development is a conceptual approach to development that focuses on understanding the obstacles that inhibit people, governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations from realizing their developmental goals while enhancing...

. Robert Chambers
Robert Chambers
Robert Chambers was a Scottish publisher, geologist, proto-evolutionary thinker, author and journal editor who, like his elder brother and business partner William Chambers, was highly influential in mid-19th century scientific and political circles.Chambers was an early phrenologist, and was the...

has been a particularly notable advocate of such techniques.

In 2004, members and staff of ACORN
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues...

 created ACORN International
ACORN International
ACORN International is a federation of member-based community organizations that is active in Canada, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, India, Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, South Korea, Czech Republic and Italy with partners in the Philippines and emerging affiliates in Trinidad & Tobago...

 which has since developed organization and campaigns in Peru, India, Canada, Kenya, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Honduras, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere.

See also

  • Astroturfing
    Astroturfing
    Astroturfing is a form of advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a "grassroots" movement. The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political and/or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some...

  • Community organization
    Community organization
    Community organizations are civil society non-profits that operate within a single local community. They are essentially a subset of the wider group of nonprofits. Like other nonprofits they are often run on a voluntary basis and are self funded...


:Category:Community organizers
  • Congregation-based Community Organizing
    Congregation-based Community Organizing
    Community organizing describes a wide variety of efforts to empower residents in a local area to participate in civic life or governmental affairs. Most efforts that claim this label operate in low-income or middle-income areas, and have adopted at least some of the tactics and organizing...

  • Community film
    Community film
    Community Film is a variety of practices and approaches which emerged in the 1970s that claim to interrogate and challenge the dominant use of "film" and "cinema" in association with a global, big budget "industry". DeeDee Halleck noted in her 2002 book "It's one thing to critique the mass media...

  • Community practice
    Community practice
    Community Practice is a branch of social work in the United States that focuses on larger social systems and social change, and is tied to the historical roots of United States social work...

  • Community psychology
    Community psychology
    Community psychology deals with the relationships of the individual to communities and the wider society. Community psychologists seek to understand the quality of life of individuals, communities, and society...

  • Grassroots
    Grassroots
    A grassroots movement is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures...

     organizing
  • Homeowner association
  • Humanism
    Humanism
    Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

  • List of organizers
  • Political machine
    Political machine
    A political machine is a political organization in which an authoritative boss or small group commands the support of a corps of supporters and businesses , who receive rewards for their efforts...

  • Relational meeting
    Relational meeting
    The relational meeting is a primary organizing tool used by the Industrial Areas Foundation and other congregation-based community organizing groups including Gamaliel Foundation and PICO National Network – and also often in union organizing...

  • Social change
    Social change
    Social change refers to an alteration in the social order of a society. It may refer to the notion of social progress or sociocultural evolution, the philosophical idea that society moves forward by dialectical or evolutionary means. It may refer to a paradigmatic change in the socio-economic...

  • Union organizer
    Union organizer
    A union organizer is a specific type of trade union member or an appointed union official. A majority of unions appoint rather than elect their organizers....

  • Youth activism
    Youth activism
    Youth activism is when the youth voice is engaged in community organizing for social change. Around the world, young people are engaged in activism as planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, social workers, decision-makers, advocates and leading actors in the environmental movement, social...


External links