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Community Organizing 101
Transcript of Community Organizing 101
Knowing Your Community
Emily Cox & Ricquel Coleman
Assessing Your Community
In social work practice, the first task of intake is to complete the bio-psychosocial assessment of the client. A social worker addresses everything including, family history, mental health, trauma, spiritual and cultural. This is to assess where the client is in order to start the treatment process. There is no difference when starting a campaign with a community. Community organizers must take a detailed and extensive bio-psychosocial of the community in order to understand and appreciate where to start the campaign. The following will list the important facets of the community that should be assessed and taken into consideration when planning an effective campaign.
Are you an advocate for change or are you content
with the idea that things will always be the same?
Do you understand the value that you being you can
Having a voice, a passion, a drive is not only about
you but can keep a community alive.
A place where people live, learn, love and grow;
can come together and share the things that move
Be inspired to be inspired to inspire
There so much left to improve but the mission will go
unnoticed if we never bring out the best Community
Organizer in you.
Are you inspired to be inspired to inspire?
Meet Charles Datson, Community Organizer
The Right to Transform
How Art Creates Social Change (5 TED Talks)
Community Organizing 101
How to Empower & Change Communities
A Zine Created by SSW 747/Summer 2014
Recognize an issue and a need for change
Form a core group.
Now that the group is forming, identify the mission and goals.
Develop a plan/ blueprint and strategies.
Decide on concrete activities.
Plan for opposition.
Celebrate any movement
towards and achievement
Assessment, evaluation and reflection.
The following will list the important facets of the community that should be assessed and taken into consideration when planning an effective campaign:
1. Problems vs. issues (what is the problem you are trying to address with your campaign?)
2. What is the culture of your community?
3. What is the socio-economic climate?
4. What are the demographics and population? Age Range? Gender? Families vs. single households?
5. What is the current and past history of political representation?
6. What is the status of the community institutions? Such as schools, hospitals, churches?
7. What are the economics of the community? Homeowners? Renters? Housing Projects?
8. What is the infrastructure like in your community? Transportation? Resources?
9. Who are the stakeholders in your community?
10. What kinds of business, corporations, non-profits or companies are either in your community provide to your community or benefit from your community?
With individual clients most of the information for the bio-psychosocial comes from their personal experiences. However, in a community the information complied for a bio-psychosocial can come from several different places. Information should be collected from both formal and informal places.
Government offices or town hall meetings will have local, state and federal information that could benefit your assessment. Local neighborhoods are full of places to gather information including restaurants, storefronts, parks, pools, community meetings, supermarkets, barbershops, salons, and/or churches.
It is also important to remember that when writing a bio-psychosocial for the community it is always done from strengths based perspective.
When I sat down with Charles Dotson a community organizer in Staten Island New York, I was intrigued as to what his feelings, inspirations, challenges, and motivations were towards doing the work that he does. Working in a unique community like Staten Island presents challenges and advantages that are unique to Staten Island. When I asked Charles why he became an activist he stated that he has always enjoyed uplifting other people. He was witness to the transformative effects of empowering individuals and groups of people. Helping out other people and “doing good” has been the gas that drives the vehicle, which allows for Charles to do the work he does. While having a love for the work, does not mean that the work doesn't come with challenges on both personal and professional levels. The problem that is first and foremost present while community organizing on Staten Island is the “fractured system” that exists. Charles made the metaphor of the environment that he is working in as a sandbox.
He views the community as people in the sandbox, and organizations as people with access to toys and order. The problem is that the organizations don’t always want to “play nicely” with one another. Instead of consistently working together there is constant undermining of one another, and a battle for resources that can easily be pooled and shared. The undermining of one another creates a fractures environment, which causes sustainable growth to be nothing more than an idea. This was the same type of divide that he read about in the book “To Kill a Black Man” written by Louis E. Womax. Charles identified the parallels made in the book to the splitting of black community in either backing Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, to the fracturing of communities and service providers on Staten Island. Charles states that the writings within the book having had a profound effect on both the work he does and how he views media systems.
Meet Charles Datson, Community Organizer (con't)
Amidst the difficulty that can come with organizing, Charles still manages to find balance in his life. Even though he is always on call, he knows when and where to walk away from the work and disconnect so that he can enjoy life. By being able to find time to immerse himself in family and self care has been key to finding balance, which allows him to still enjoy and have passion for his work.
When asked about any words of wisdom that he would like to impart on young organizers, Charles reflected back to the movement, which got him interested in organizing. While attending SUNY New Paltz, Charles became part of a Black Conscious raising group. The group aimed to identify, challenge and change issues both on campus and politically. By seeing the change that a group of like minded individuals were able to create, he became hooked on the concept and practice of organizing. The characteristics that Charles would love to pass on and have young organizers latch onto were passion and integrity. “Do these things for the love of it.
Do this because it is what you would still be doing even if you weren't getting paid for it. Whether if you would still be helping this group of children, or that family, or this community. This isn't work where you get to sit on the fence. Make a choice to help and do it with integrity.”
These themes of integrity and passion have delivered Charles some of the biggest achievements of his professional life. While working with a fatherhood collective which he helped to create, Charles has had many proud moments. One moment that stands out from the others, is when he can see the work that the community has done to help peel back the layers of an individual, allowing for introspection and change to take place.
“Once that person can see themselves, see the demons that have been in their way of completing goals that they wanted for themselves (family goals, personal goals), they are able to see things a little clearer. Then they are able to get out of their own way, bury their own demons and create that change”
Meet Charles Datson, Community Organizer, (con't)
As a clinical track student in a community organizing class, I see the impact of the work that I can do through individuals like Charles Dotson. The skills being utilized are the same clinical skills that I am learning, but implemented with a wider scope. Charles left me with the words “Mean what you say, and say what you mean”. He linked this to the accountability that when properly put into play, enables sustainable change to have the possibility to happen. With the recent passing of Eric Garner in his own community and the work that Charles is still doing with Justice involved adolescents, he sees that his work is far from over. He hopes that once the community can look past just the problems that they can reach a point where they can and begin to finally directly address the issues at play. Charles believes that if that can happen and the community agrees to fully come together, that positive change will happen.
An Interview by Dwayne Britton
An Interview by Dwayne Britton
An Interview by Dwayne Britton
Reference: Minieri, J. & Gestos, P. (2007). Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Art is our weapon. Culture is a form of resistance
Shirin Neshat – Art in Exile
Photographers go to the extreme edges of human experience to show people what’s going on….they aim their pictures at your best instincts: generosity, a sense of right and wrong, the ability and the willingness to identify with others, the refusal to accept the unacceptable
James Nachtwey – My Photographs Bear Witness
Suheir Hammad –
Poems of War, Peace, Women, Power
I will not dance to your war drum…
I will not kill for you.
Especially, I will not die for you
The dreams I have sometimes are like the voices of the dead that I have seen who
would tell me, ‘Don’t give up.
Keep on Going.’
Emmanuel Jai –
The Music of a War Child
Mallika Sarabhai –
Dance to Change the World
If we think we can all agree that we need a better world,
a more just world, why is it
that we are not using the one language that has consistently showed us that we can break down barriers,
that can we can reach people? What I need to say to the
planners of the world, the governments, the strategists is,
‘You have treated the arts as the cherry on the cake.
It needs to be the yeast.’
What does social change work mean to you? What drew you to the work within the scope of your role as a public interest lawyer?
Public interest lawyers that are working for justice for disenfranchised groups cannot prevail by working alone. Tangible social change takes place when marginalized and dispersed people’s come together and organize to take control of their destiny. Marginalized groups can benefit significantly through the formation of relationships with attorneys and including them in their organizing processes.
What problems do you see with existing models of lawyering?
Existing models do not lend themselves to working with marginalized groups readily, because the constituents remain mostly passive throughout representation, such as in impact litigation and class actions. The shortfalls of existing models holds back the imaginations of public interest lawyers and makes it difficult for them to formulate accountable relationships with the groups with whom they work.
What do you think is the historical basis by which attorneys are turning to the process of organizing?
For the extent of time that attorneys have conceived of investing in social justice work, they have, they have positioned themselves in close association with groups such as political parties, civic organizations, charities, government agencies, and churches. Decades of social struggles have presented lawyers with the hurdle of turning their attention to the process of organizing itself- whereby new and countervailing power groups are built amongst people with little or no power- and are finding roles for themselves as attorneys supporting and facilitating the organizing process.
What do you think is the existing conflict between lawyering and organizing?
Though at present “law and organizing” is an engaging topic among practitioners and scholars alike, traditional models of “lawyer,” “client,” “claim,” and even “victory” are inadequate to structure the dynamic relationships necessary to be a lawyer with a group of people in the process of organizing.
What do you feel are the challenges of constituents seeking to organize with the support of attorneys, under existing paradigms?
Groups in the midst of social struggle are neither fully organized, incorporated, and hierarchized, as in corporate representation, or completely dispersed and passive, as in class actions or impact litigation. Indeed, through organizing, community organizations can move from the latter toward the former. Thus, it is essential that attorneys who support them in their struggles must develop new models of representation that are appropriate to this difficult dynamic.
How were you able to communicate your interest in this new paradigm of working with marginalized groups to your colleagues?
Though my colleagues in law school and students of the classes I taught had little difficulty embracing the theories of community lawyering, they often struggled to imagine just what a lawyer who works with an organizing effort actually does. The students’ struggle was a microcosm of the challenge of finding a common vocabulary to describe law and organizing at all levels.
In my own practice as a legal services attorney, my colleagues and I have difficulty articulating the roles we play in neighborhood organizing efforts and imagining the roles we might play but have not yet undertaken.
How can attorneys interested in social justice lawyering positively affect the development of local leadership and power?
It is important to develop a shared vocabulary through which we can compare and relate our varied experiences, and by which we can describe the field as a whole to prospective funders, judges, institutional partners, students, and the media.
My experiences have taught me that in order to be effective and sustainable, social justice lawyering must do more than win individual victories. Indeed, it must support the development of new leadership and organized power amid the marginalized, so that the formerly powerless develop the ability to campaign for, assert, and realize their own successes.
I have worked with the “Lawyer as Organizer” Model in which the lawyer galvanizes his or her own network of client relationships and attempts to transform them into the foundation for an organization.
Traditional paradigms developed to work with individual clients fail when applied to the work of community organizing with groups that are not fully incorporated and thus may be less adept at relating readily to lawyers.
Meet John Doe, Community Organizer
An Interview by Claudia Wald
My eyes tell the story of pain and fear
What do you see?
Do you see beauty?
I see hopelessness
I see desperation
I see a broken, shattered girl, dressed in rags, waiting for a
saving grace and that saving grace will come from within but
she has never felt more alone
And you see her
You see that strength in her
Reach your hand out
Hold her hand
SOAR [in UNITY]
Connect her hand with the hands of all those who suffer as she
Bring them to their feet
Give them clothes
Teach them skills
Be their backbone
Let them fly
Let them fight together
Together as one
No longer broken individual souls
A united strength which has been gone for so long
For they, they will soar
Meet Regina Nelson, Community Organizer
The following is based on communications with Community Organizer and Legal Services attorney John Doe. The information presented is not verbatim
What led you to community organizing?
Being a southern girl, [I’m from Louisiana] with a family that instilled a strong belief in righting social wrongs and fighting for social justice, I wanted to make a change on a larger scale. That led to my decision to attend Stony Brook School of Social Welfare, where I obtained my B.S.W. Though a series of internships, entry level positions and relationships maintained with almost all I encounter, I arrived at the conclusion that organizing disenfranchised populations will allow me to help make greater change.
Social Movement that most impacted you?
I would have to say the civil rights movement. Although it was before my time (chuckle), my grandparents who were very active in the movement, educated my brothers and I on the injustices they experienced in the Jim Crow South. It was them that made sure we understood the importance of fighting for what is right and that the fight for social justice for all never ends.
Main challenge you’ve faced in your work?
Building & keeping momentum going. Any campaign worth organizing for is going to take time to build, and communities do not necessarily have the time or patience to remain dedicated to the cause for the long term. To balance the loss of momentum I work on increasing not only the number of members, organizers and supporters but also increasing the public’s awareness & knowledge of the issue. Organizing frequent small rallies or town-hall meetings rather than large occasional rallies and protests also helps to grow membership, spread the issue and keep spirits high.
Personal gems you’ve gathered?
• Be consistent & accountable – regardless of what is happening in your
personal life, keep your mission & goal in mind
• Always follow up – even check-in emails and phone call help to keep
• Use your individual strengths because what works for someone else might
not work for you. Incorporating your personality while organizing helps
to make you engage the community on a more personal level
Regina Nelson – a former VOCAL-NY community organizer. She has over 7 years
experience in policy, advocacy and community organizing. She is currently
volunteering her time and expertise with a new coalition working towards
improving prison inmate health
An Interview by Shaneequa Parker
In Film - Documentaries on Community Organizing:
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
The Gate of Heavenly Place
Angela Davis: Free All Political
We Are Not A Minority
Harlan County USA
Eyes on the Prize
How To Survive a Plague
Meet James Branson, Community Organizer
James Branson has been in the labor movement for over 40 years as both a paid organizer and rank-and-file activist. Born in Dayton, Ohio as part of the Appalachian Diaspora in the Midwest, his family moved back to West Virginia when he was seven years old. His father was a union member and activist, and was
born into a family where he knew he was going to be and work union. He has worked in an Auto Plant in Pontiac, Michigan, a cotton mill in Atlanta, Georgia, and the coalmines of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia. He was blacklisted from the mines of Kentucky after his participation in the Harlan County Strike of 1973. Jim Branson went into the mines at 25 and came out of the mines in his 40s where he then organized public workers in Texas and West Virginia.
How did you become an activist?
I became an activist as a result of the jobs I was working. But I really became active when I went into the coalmines. There was a culture of everyone joining the Union, but I also saw what the labor could be and what is wasn’t. Being an activist was about working within what the union could do and also addressing what the Union was not able to do.
What social movement most impacted them and why?
It was a combination of things. I was raised in a Union home so worker struggles were part of my DNA. My Dad was a longtime Union activist. But at the same time,
struggles around the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement were going on. Going to Anti-War and Civil Rights Demonstrations really opened my eyes as to what was going in the country at that time, and how it connected to worker struggles. I never saw them as different.
What are the major challenges to doing the work? How are they managed?
During the Anti-War and Civil Rights movement there was a lot of resistance early on. The United Mine Workers was an integrated Union since its inception in 1890 but there was still a lot of racism amongst the ranks. Including KKK members, even though that was grounds for dismissal. I really had to struggle with people about racism and the war, but like everywhere else in the country it was a conversation that was happening. People often see workers as one dimensional, and some thought of these issues as outside issues, but I didn’t think of them as outside issues. In the mines I was considered to be a radical. There were certain people in the Union who didn’t want me involved. But I organized, and got myself elected to a number of positions within the Union. There was a basis of support for more radical views. But all of it is a struggle you take on. When having conversations with fellow workers, you don’t go into it with a sectarian view. I went into the conversation wanting a dialogue most people were willing to engage. You just engage people in a conversation.
What personal challenges do they face? Do they experience fear, doubt, or feelings of wanting to quit? If so, how do they deal?
As a rank and file activist some of the conversations about race and the war got confrontational. You are struggling to make the workplace better and expand the vision of what a Union can do. But as a rank and file activist you always have the knowledge that you are part of the group, this is your community, and there is solidarity in that. Once you become a paid organizer the relationship changes. It can be hard to become part of the group. You say, what the hell am I doing? There are moments when you think I spending my time trying to organize people who don’t want to organize. You deal with a lot of apathy. Dealing with people who think this is the way it is and it will never change. Dealing with that day in and day out coupled with the hours makes you want to quit a few times a year.
To deal with it, one way is internal and one is external. Internally you have to keep a grasp on why you are doing this work, and it has to be more than just wanting to win one particular contract. Its important to have a long-term view of what a worker organization could be. You have to have a vision. Externally, you have to be willing to do the work. Being away from home for long periods, sleeping in motels, you just have to keep evaluating if it’s worth it. For me, it was worth it. I worked until retirement age, but there are still sacrifices I made that I regret.
What is their perspective on finding balance?
Being a Union organizer is a sacrifice. You sacrifice a lot of your personal life, and sometimes the sacrifices they ask organizers to make are too large. For me, finding balance was about the ability to say no. When I felt like something was damaging to the campaign or to myself I said no. It’s about being willing to stand up to the bosses as an organizer.
Do they have any words of wisdom for young organizers?
You have to have a vision of where you are going. You have to have a political vision, without it you can end up being collapsed into the bureaucracy. Collapsed into a mode of organizing that puts workers last.
What were the most influential books in their lifetime? (The book must be relevant to organizing or consciousness building).
The most influential books for me were histories of the labor movement as well as the collected works of Lenin and Mao.
Ms. Kaur first became organizer while living and working in the U.K. She was inspired organize on social justice issues based on her upbringing. Growing up in a disenfranchised neighborhood in Birmingham, UK is what inspired her interest in working with non-profit organizations, working as a community developer, data analysis, strategist, and activist. There are many opportunities that I did not have available to me, therefore, I want to ensure opportunities are available to others. I enjoy sharing and utilizing my experiences, expertise, and resources to build trust and bring about change.
The Civil Rights movement in 1960 is what really motivated me to become an activist because all the great leaders before me fought a hard fight with pride and dignity. They fought a movement that touched based on all issues; education, employment, women’s rights and in addition to race, all of which addresses social economic issues for equality.
Often, the major challenges to being an organizer are hiring the right person(s) for the job and those who want to do the work because this work is not easy. Gaining community trust is can very challenging because, it hard to remain sincere with your objectives, while trying not to over promise, and still try to make sure objectives are clear and that they benefit the community. Everything involving community organizing is a big learning curve and I manage by keeping track of my deliverables, and by measuring my successes and unsuccessful impacts. Trying to create engagement activities with community members/ other stakeholders can also be a challenge.
Some of my personal challenges have been trying to meet the need or fulfill both my job description and that of the community while also reaming true to myself and to my own personal beliefs.
Meet D. Kaur, Community Organizer
Rallying Against California’s Prison System
In Practice- Get Active:
New York Communities for Change
New York Communities for Change is a grassroots coalition of working families in low and moderate income communities fighting for social and economic justice throughout New York State. They operate by using direct action, legislative advocacy, and community organizing, to impact the political and economic policies that directly affect residents of the great state of New York. Through the organizations neighborhood chapters and their issue-based committees, NYCC is working to ensure that every family throughout New York has access to quality schools, affordable housing, and good jobs. It is through the power-in-numbers approach that NY Communities is able to win REAL change.
New York Communities for Change was formed to work towards building a New York where uncertainties that low and moderate income families across New York face are a thing of the past. The organization advocates for residents in areas such as workplace justice, foreclosure prevention, affordable housing, and education equity. Currently NYCC Members are fighting back against schools closures and education budget cuts with great success. Recently the De Blasio administration announced a $52 million grant to launch the development of 40 Community Schools in high need neighborhoods which is a major victory for the organization. If having a direct impact in one’s own city sounds like something you want to do become a member of New York Communities for Change at their website nycommunities.org
In Practice: Protesting
- Uniting neighbors in the fight for economic justice. NYCC members take on the issues that effect working families such as education equity, non-toxic schools, affordable housing,foreclosure prevention, and workplace justice.
- Formally known as the New York City AIDS Housing Network, they are building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, and mass incarceration.
- member-led multi-racial organization, principally women of color and low-income families in New York State that builds power to secure social, economic and racial justice for all.
- works to build grassroots community power across diverse poor and working class Asian immigrant and refugee communities in New York City. CAAAV organizes communities to fight for institutional change and participates in a broader movement towards racial, gender, and economic justice
- Third Wave Foundation is a feminist, activist foundation that works nationally to support the vision and voices of young women, transgender and gender nonconforming youth ages 15 to 30.
- National Organizers Alliance - “NOA’s mission is to advance progressive organizing for social, economic and environmental justice and to sustain, support and nurture the people of all ages who do it. In furtherance of that goal, our members are organizers who are responsible to a defined constituency and who help build that constituency through leadership development, collective action and the development of democratic structures.”
/ - located in the South Bronx, the Inner City Press engages in investigations and journalism regarding human rights, transparency, corporate accountability, community reinvestment, predatory lending, environmental justice, fair housing, social exclusion and related topics.
- City Limits is a New York City-based
nonprofit news agency that publishes investigative and in-depth reporting on urban life and policy. Through their sites CityLimits.org, BkBureau.org, and BronxBureau.org, they work to strengthen community engagement on civic, economic and social-justice issues.
Resources for New Community Organizers
Books for Organizers
The Accidental American by Rinku Sen, Fekkak Mamdouh
- The Accidental American vividly illustrates the challenges and contradictions of U. S. immigration policy, and argues that, just as there is a free flow of capital in the world economy, there should be a free flow of labor.
Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership By Frances Kunreuther, Helen Kim, Robby Rodriguez
-'Working Across Generations' looks at the leadership transition and generational shift that the nonprofit sector faces, and gives readers practical advice on how they can prepare for this inevitable shift in healthy ways.
Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid-And What We Can Do About It by Kim Bobo
- Kim Bobo's Wage Theft in America is an incisive handbook for organizers, workers, and concerned citizens on how to prevent the flagrant exploitation of America's working people. Offering a sweeping analysis of the crisis and providing concrete solutions, with special attention to what the new presidential administration must do, Wage Theft in America addresses one of the most egregious and unfair practices affecting workers today.
We Make Change: Community Organizers Talk about What They Do--And Why by Kristin Layng Szakos
- This book explores the world of community organizing through the voices of real people working in the field, in small towns and city neighborhoods--women and men of different races and economic backgrounds, ranging in age from those in their twenties to those in their sixties. Fourteen in-depth profiles tell the life stories of a cross-section of the diverse people who choose the life of an organizer.
Raising Your Voice
This zine has been created to inspire social work students new to community organizing and provide them with a blueprint, a guide map. It is comprised of what we have learned as students, examples of community organizing we find notable, and material that has inspired us. We hope that this zine engages future students so that they can empower communities in need.
Due to media limitations, this Prezi is to be used in collaboration with the Printed version of the Zine
Edited & Complied by Renisha Pierre
Cover Sheet by Zenda Smith
Table of Contents by Marie-Flore Dorval
Printed by Greg Gallo
Compiled and Edited by Shaneequa Parker
Special Thanks to Kalima DeSuze!