If You’re Not Building Power, It’s Not Organizing

I happened across an interesting post on the Skaneateles Talk site entitled “Community Organizing, Making A Difference.” The post was a nicely written story about how some energetic kids’ attempts to clean up a couple streets in the community fed others to think about expanding the effort. Great idea, positive message–but it’s not community organizing.

Ever since the brouhaha over community organizing erupted in the Presidential campaign, (see SRITS coverage of the skirmish here, here, here, here, and here.) some people have been throwing around the term “community organizing” in a very loose way.

For some people, community organizing was every can drive, cub scout jamboree, PTA bake sale and Earth Day clean-up in a community. The warm, fuzzy feelings engendered by this linking of civic do-goodism and community organizing wasn’t explicitly called out, because it was such a good way to trash the GOP and score some political brownie points.

Let’s be clear, community organizing happens when citizens come together in an organization whose collective power will enable them to negotiate with politicians, bureaucrats and corporations to remedy perceived injustices. Creating collective power is important because it is the only response available to low income citizens as an antidote to the power wielded by those with wealth and social status.

If the story cited in Skaneateles Talk was community organizing, the children would have organized a protest against the village Mayor and DPW for inadequate trash pick up, requested a meeting to discuss the issue and then gotten a public commitment for increased trash pick up and a special crew to deal with litter. Sometimes it’s easier to go pick the trash up yourselves, but that begs the question of why the area is always so trashy (and often why the neighborhood the Mayor lives in is not trashy.)

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