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How Effective is Community Organizing?

This week, the JOURNAL profiled Massachusetts community organizer Steve Meacham, who recruits activists and works to stop evictions of people living in foreclosed homes.

Meacham described the process of people becoming inspired to work for systemic change:

“People come to their first meeting because they have a specific problem they want addressed, and they initially keep coming because their problem is addressed… People keep coming over time, and a lot of people come even after their problem is solved because they found something profound here… People go from feeling like victims to being activists on their own behalf, and then they take a step beyond that and they become activists on other people’s behalf, other people that were in the same situation they were in. Then they become activists on other issues besides housing, and pretty soon they’re trying to change the system.”

During last year’s election campaign, John B. Judis of THE NEW REPUBLIC traced the history of President Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Judis suggests that Obama became disillusioned about the ability of community organizing to effect change:

“[Obama said] that he feared community organizing would never allow him ‘to make major changes in poverty or discrimination.’ To do that, he said, ‘you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials…’ If you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing… [you find] a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it.”

What do you think?

  • How effective is community organizing at achieving major changes?

  • Are there more effective ways of pursuing systemic change?

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    I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

    Dear Mr. Moyers:
    I enjoyed watching your piece on the evictions and what ACORN was trying to do to stop them from evicting some of those residents. I would like for you to do an article on the way poor people are being treated in jails and prisons across America. If you went to some of these prisons and
    jails you would be appalled
    by the suffering of those in penal institutions. The only thing that has changed
    from the way they were when Douglas A. Blackmon wrote the book "slavery by Another Name" is the way they collect money from in-
    mates and their families. It is so bad in some of these places that the government should shut them down. Because when people are treated like animals and become so bitter that they are a menace to soc-iety. So they have to be locked-up to protect the public. But not all of these people are so bitter before they go to these in-
    stitutions. And the part that should really disgust all of us is the fact that the government is aware that people are being locked-up for profit almost like the Pay-To-Play game of politics Chicago is known for.

    Does the Bill Moyer's Journal site have a list of people interviewed and the books they have written? Frm time to time I find myself in the book sote with a fragment of a memory, a list would be so convenient.

    Community organizing definitely enriched my life. I was a community organizer in the Mission Hill Section of Boston, MA I went from being a naive, unschooled working class kid who thought I could do nothing to change anything to help to stop Harvard from operating a Private Power Plant that would have seriously impacted the health of people in some of the poorest areas of Boston; including Mission Hill. Community Organizing also helped me to realize that I was not alone. That other people were struggling just as hard as I was. Especially around the messages that poor people deserve nothing for their hard work. I learned that being poor did not mean that I had to kill my dreams. I learned to meet goals, speak well with others and write and express myself with passion,purpose and dignity.
    I went on to college, professional school and a life as a Working Union Professional Performer. Today Iam a member of the AFL-CIO Union, The Screen Actors Guild. I volunteer with SAG at every opportunity to give the 97%of our Union that lives below middle class income a better life.

    Obama's Limbo Administration bent over backward again and delayed "stress test" results release to the public until Thursday May 7th. Maybe Geithner will come skulking out with his head between his knees (brain below groin) like some exotic circus act to tell us the convoluted results. Premise: Assume things can get no worse than they already are: Assume real estate will appreciate to former parity within 12 months. Obama promises again no biggies can ever fail. And what does that mean for us plebians? Jumping bean credit cards or beanstalk taxes?

    Captcha: coolness the

    Trying to do too many things at once Friday nite. I obviously meant govt not Congress. It has been well observed that business wants private vices, which tho it claims are public benefits derives most of the benefit when the public is forced to absorb its excesses. This is institutionalized in having contract law on the one hand, and central banking on the other. The removal of incorporation from legislative control and the enshrinement of contract as the basis for society (actually society implies contractual realtions, otherwise it would be polity) took place only in the mid-19th c and the change to all paper money not long after. The latter creates the excess, which could not occur to any great extent otherwise, and contract ensures that ppl are allowed to keep it. It was Marshall, who started the country down this road in his decades long campaign to improve on the Constitutional provision and stifle legislative "meddling" by elevating both contract and the Federal judicial structure to back it. We were a different country afterwards. The Constitution contemplates no such judiciary as we have now, any more than it does what the executive branch has become. Despite what has been written at length about it, the document not only does not embody checks and balances, that position, argued for by Morris and Hamilton was specifically rejected. This is essentially the difference between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians. In any case we longer feel we have the means to correct economic situations such as have developed now, and as long as the Court dogmatically hews to this line, we won't.

    "A risk is known to both parties and results from the human inability to predict the future. If one party knows something there is a duty to disclose."

    After we bail out the mortgage and finalcial industries, each person who was forclosed on needs to recoop his or her losses based upon the fraudulent inducement to enter into a contract.

    Fraud requires merely reliance, however, misrepresentation requires reasonable reliance. I believe that the people given mortages based upon brokers' stating they were "eligible" --without proper verification of income or assets-- still constitutes reasonalbe reliance on their part, whether it is reliance on the statement that they qualify for the loan, or of the innacurate inflated value of the property they were inticed into buying.

    The financial institutions and mortgage companies need to pay them back. That should be incentive to make them renegociate the mortage and finance contracts.

    Why aren't people being forclosed against suing the brokers and financial institutions which lied to them when they misrepresented 1) the value of the properties were greater then they were and 2) that they were qualified to enter into mortgage contracts given their income, and including qualified to afford the excelleration of those mortgage payments.

    Lay people have a right to relay on experts influencing them to enter into contracts by stating they are qualified to handle the payments. These types of law suits would stop all foreclosures, allow people to stay in their houses, and force the banks to negotiate with the innocent victims of these financial schemes. The buyers' reliance need not be reasonable, but probably is none the less.

    Lying about the actual value of the property also deprived them of the contract remedy of resaling their housees -and homes- to prevent any breach on their part. they couldn't resale their houses because brokers and financial institutes lied to them about the inflated value.

    These suits would bog down the foreclosures, fill the courts, force the financing instutituions to renegotiate the contracts based upon the actual value of the property, force the brokers to return commissions based upon inflated prices of their property sales. It would let the people out of their bad foreclosure contracts and get losses -money back by rescinding the contracts -even on the basis of promissory estoppel.

    When we stop the unjust enrichment we will solve our economic problems by not allowing -and thus encouraging the individuals in these institutions to profit from illegal contracts.

    Some juries might even give out punitive damages for eggregious, bad-faith contracting behavior and practices. Don't tell me these sophisticated fiduuciary institutions didn't know these people would not be able to pay off these loans when they told them that they could.


    Steve Meacham is a hero, and nothing less. This man is fighting for the little guy, forgotten America that Wall Street knows nothing about and cares nothing about. People like Meacham are going to be a thorn in the side of banks. We need more people like him fighting for communities, because it is apparent that Congress isn't going to, and you sure can't count on corporate America to help out.

    People like Rubins and all of the the shadow banking/gambling system have facilitated the largest transfer of wealth from the worker to the oligarchs...globally.

    The Tarp funds and such are merely paying off hedge/derivative gambling debts - stealing from the worker to pay the thief.

    I think it is time to go beyond a communitee organization, it's time for a nation reorganization, it's time for a revolution while we still can.


    Monday May 4th is coming! Stress test findings for the (19)largest American banks are supposed to be released.
    About 30 smaller banks have already been closed by the FDIC this year (4months). There were indications from the Congressional Budget Office last month that none of the biggies are solvent either. Suspension of "mark to market" in a atmosphere of continuing real estate depreciation was supposed to help with the shoring up (on paper). As the biggies exhibit profits (?) and dividends (yore money at work) they are also asking for more bailout money (as if FED loans at 1/4% are not adequate). Still there is no transparency. "Americanlaw" (a form of class-based etiquette) continues to dictate that commoners cannot view the oligarchy's underpants, nor even hardly discuss them.

    Bret Hughes (who should probably have his own columns in Mother Jones, Harper's and Vanity Fair instead of an informational blog) observes how torture is also a matter of our cultural etiquette. The same class that invented "too big to fail" also originated "too high and mighty to be indicted" (except in Spain). Michele Robinson better be careful not to find human remains as she gardens on the White House lawn, so if Beau finds a bone, throw it back.

    Charles Bowden (who should be our present-day Yellowkid Hemingway, Faulkner, Annie Dillard and Flannery O'Connor rolled into one) has an article in this month's Harper's about a Mexican torturer and assassin of about 20 years who is also a police official. To this day he cannot discern his employer(s), but has concluded it must be both the US and Mexican governments as well as the cartels. Bowden thinks that where there lies big money we will always find the same high class inventors (of their own immunity) of oligarchical etiquette.

    Steve Meacham's substantive comment was about our failure to form a moral lens where financial practice rides roughshod over human well-being. His organizing is an attempt to fashion and foster this lens, an empathetic point of view, responsible witnessing and action. Meacham is naive (seemingly) as he totes his bullhorn and shows off his trophy, a paper mache' banker's head. Charles Bowden is cynical and disillusioned, down on human nature (drunken and debauched even). He discusses the techniques of torture right down to the mechanics of unnecessary surgery and ganged sex "therapy." He carries guns, as much as a defense against the nominal good guys as the obvious criminals. And what do we carry? What do we lift up to demand or request an accounting of our "future labor"; our "yore money"?
    What can we lift up in a culture where the biggies hold the ultimate "moral lens" (as well as almost all of the state terrorism, the structural violence, the wealth and power), and are burning us alive with it like a naughty boy over an anthill with a magnifying glass. Obama denies having the "power of the Sun" (like Louis XVI). Will he let his light (power of law as elite etiquette) be used to fry the populace. On Monday May 4th we shall see. (Shall we awaken Meachams or Bowdens?)

    Captcha: condemn 32

    You are right to link the selfishness of banks and bondholders to the torture issue, because here as well the question is social vs asocial behavior. The appreciation in the value of all assets, houses and securities, was based on fraud, and a failure to recognize that is to perpetuate the fraud. We have no relevant law in this area, however, since the demise in the 19th c of substantive property law and the erosion by the growth of the other two branches of the Congress.

    I caught your show on 5/1 concerning organizing the community and would like to get involved. Please pass my email address on to Steve Meacham. There were nearly 75,000 foreclosure sales in Florida between 08 & 09 and are currently 350,000 foreclosures happing right now in the state. That number is expected to grow by 5% per week... I'd like to do my part to help stem the tide of foreclosures in Florida. I think the answer to the question; Does community organizing work will depend on who organizes and how much they believe in what they’re doing. It's definitely an issue of predatory lenders benefiting and local families suffering. At some point you need to ask yourself, how much is enough? How many people need to lose their homes before people start to fight back? A lot of the problems have to do with the billions of dollars that Congress received from the Real Estate lobby (that’s hard to fight against). But there are things that can be done, like pointing out very publically who in Congress has taken the most money and how it changes how they vote on housing issues. I’m currently working on a book titled: Senators for Sale – How the Real Estate Lobby was able to acquire 8 million homes in the United States. (8 million is the number of foreclosures forecast by the year 2010).

    wonderful segment about Steve Meacham and his inspiring work -- the feel-good story of the year! Thanks

    It may be true that President Obama became political because of his experience with community organizing, but we can only hope that the experience and first hand knowledge that he gained, can be put to use now in the White House, to help this nation, neighborhood by neighborhood. The hard part is, will his articulate speech, over ride the Republican "whine" machine?

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