Where Neighborhood Problems Lie
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.”
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."
Questions to Robert Linthicum by Stephanie Scott,
Eastern University, 2007.