is an excerpt from a page is from the DART website -
What is congregation-based community organizing?
Congregation-based community organizing is the process of bringing
congregations and groups with similar values together, so that they can
hold society's political and economic systems accountable for justice.
The fundamental problem addressed by these organizations is the
disparity of power faced by persons in low-to-moderate income
communities. The absence of broad-based, democratic organizations in
these communities denies them the opportunity to successfully solve
their own problems.
The systemic issues facing most of these communities are the
pervasiveness of low-wage, non-benefit jobs; disparities in health care,
public education, and safety; and the persistent ineffectiveness on the
part of public and private structures in delivering services equitably
to all people. These issues are rooted in each organization's long-term
goal of building power to achieve a greater degree of justice in their
In our society, power stems from two sources - money and organized
people. Low-to-moderate income people are without significant amounts of
money. Therefore, their potential for successfully addressing political
and economic injustices is contingent on their ability to organize and
mobilize large numbers of people bound together by common values and
interests. These values include mutual respect, dignity, and human
The vehicles for this empowerment are large, institution-based direct
action organizations. Members of these organizations meet face-to-face
with decision-makers. Using the power of their numbers, they come
together in the public eye to make demands and get commitments on issues
that their members have identified. Listed below is a brief description
of some key characteristics of congregation-based community
Our organizations seek to promote core values like justice, fairness,
love, and respect. These values are often in conflict with some
prevailing values of greed - "me only." Our values stem from
our great religious faith traditions and the democratic traditions of
our society and are grounded in principles outlined in the Declaration
of Independence, Bill of Rights, and our "Pledge of
Allegiance" (e.g., ". . . and justice for all").
Our value system and understanding of how injustice and powerlessness
work in the world compel us to build power to achieve a greater degree
of justice. We build this power to make change. That goal is different
from the objective of service agencies or charities which "help
people" by delivering services and dealing with immediate
problems. It is also different from advocacy groups, which may speak
for other people. Finally, single issue efforts that are created to
address one problem are not a part of our goal either. We build
multi-issued, proactive organizations where people build power to
address their own interests.
Each of our groups is an organization of dues-paying organizations.
There are no individual members like in neighborhood groups. Our
grassroots organizations are also broad-based, interfaith, and
economically diverse. Thus, power people have a difficult time using
factors like race, religion, or geography to divide us.
Our organizations have collective leadership. We do not have one or
two charismatic leaders. In fact, one of the ways we define a leader
is "someone who has an identifiable following and is able to
influence or agitate them to act in their own self-interest."
Each congregation has its own leadership team. This ensures that one
person does not make all its decisions.
The structure of our organizations ensures that they are run according
to a democratic decision-making process. It provides each member group
with clear voting representation at each level of the organization
(e.g., assemblies, conventions, committees, and the Board). Each
organization has a paid, full-time organizing staff that focus on
building networks of trained leaders. In fact, the organization may be
seen as a "school" for leadership development and training.
Finally, our organizations are politically non-partisan. They do not
take sides in elections.
Our issues are surfaced through a Listening Process with members. The
organization focuses on many issues at the same time, so that if one
issue campaign is going slowly, another might be going well. Being
multi-issued also appeals to a broader base because the organization
is not identified with one single issue. Our issues are the tools for
building power. We create a crisis for decision makers because the
problem has already been a crisis for our members.
Like all other groups, our organizations need money for staff,
maintenance of the office, training, and consulting. We talk about the
following two kinds of money: (1) outside (grants) and (2) inside
(member raised through dues and major fundraisers). Each organization
strives to be self-funded within five years of their founding
convention. By not receiving government, United Way, or funding from a
few wealthy individuals, the organizations are also able to be
independent, feel real ownership, and ensure their longevity.
Our organizations use Direct Actions to hold the political and
economic systems accountable for acting fairly. A Direct Action is a
straight forward, face-to-face exercise of power to confront a
decision-maker over an issue of injustice in a large, public setting.
By bringing very large numbers of people face-to-face with authority
people, we are able to get their attention and reaction. Our actions
are held in public, so they can help build the organization and put
more pressure on the people with authority.
CSCO, P.O. Box 60123, Dayton, OH 45406; email: