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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 the 2008 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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    Concerning the question, "How effective is community organizing at achieving major changes?", it will become less effective in the future as the stakes get higher:

    - ...Yet after hundreds of years of democracy, Romans found that their government could no longer keep pace with the speed of change and the special demands that came with being a superpower. Foremost among those demands was that the government should remain responsive to the needs of the majority of the people and not be hijacked by special interest groups. ("Emperors of Rome" [2007, Potter])

    I am 86 yrs old, and I try to watch Bill Moyers Journal every week. Most of the time I always agree, but feel he has the right attitude about the things that are wrong and our country is going to H___ in a handbasket.
    What can we the people do to get our jobs and country back for all of our people?

    "community organizing" becomes more effective if it borrows from a "just war" discussion:

    "Four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force":
    •the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    •all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    •there must be serious prospects of success;
    •the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition."

    Focus on point #3:

    There must be serious prospects of success;

    The "success" at stake is SURVIVAL at this point - shelter, food, CLEAN water,

    NOT having the IRS make you pay a fine to THEM so that they can give it to a FOR-PROFIT institution that exists to NOT provide you with health care

    AFTER you directly paid the person who helped set your broken bone, for example.

    "We the People" KNOW how to provide ourselves with food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. The success has been PROVEN. It's all about taking it away. SO it's a WAR, and a JUST WAR at that...adapt military "anti-insurgency" techniques against PREDATORY banksters and politicians!

    Keep calling it "community organizing" :-)

    EVERYONE has the right to PROTECT their own life.

    I would love to get an e-mail address for Meacham. We really need a network of community organizers.

    We need a name of someone ing the Victorville Calif. area for this type of action. Houses are being deserted by the banks as people leave from foreclosures. We have one in foreclosure. What are the rights to allow us to stay in the home? Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank You

    After watching Steve Meacham, I think he needs suggestions on tactics. How about putting paper signs over "For Sale" signs that say "Foreclosed." That will get the right people thinking! Or just get homeowners whose houses are not for sale to put up "Foreclosure" signs. Or warn mortgage companies of foreclosure even when one has good credit.

    It depends on the scope and level of government. Community organizing is probably most effective at addressing specific issues at the local level.

    President Obama learned the lesson that activists learn sooner or later that community organizing and activism are really only a means to an end: you still have to get government officials to listen to you.

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