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         Sider Endorsement - On Power - Wheaton Professor - Rev. Youngblood - Community Organizing 
         Community Development - Democracy - Linthicum


Where Neighborhood Problems Lie 

"Community organizing analyzes the situation in a profoundly different way.  To any community organizer, the problem doesn’t lie with the people; the problem lies with the systems of power in that city and country.  The way the political, economic, educational, social, cultural and religious systems of any society are organized, some hold the power and others seek that power or are victims of that power.  Those who hold the power have “stacked the deck” to guarantee that they – the elite – remain in power and others exist to serve that power base.  As Frederick Douglass, the escaped African-American former slave who had experienced much of his life what he later taught, wrote, ”Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.  Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.  The limits of the systems are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”[1]           

            The poor aren’t incompetent!  They are powerless!  That they have survived for thousands of years under the oppression of political, economic and social tyrants is testimony to their resiliency and their extreme competence in coping.  Our task is not so much to teach them how to compete in a world still controlled by those already in control and for the sake of those in control.  Nor is our task finally to provide the charity they need to help them struggle to stay alive.  The task must be that of working with them to build the significant power they already have at their fingertips but which society has never identified as power – the power of each other or relational power – and to develop their skills and capacities to use that power so that the systems realize they must make room for them and take seriously their concerns.  Then, in that context of an empowered people, that community can make use of the principles and practices of economic development or community development or even advocacy and social services to help build the power of that community and make it truly powerful in the power equation of that city or state."

[1] A letter of Frederick Douglass to an associate, written in 1849.  Italics mine

Click for Entire Linthicum Response to questions.

Questions to Robert Linthicum by Stephanie Scott, Eastern University, 2007.

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