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


 Community Organization Theory

"All these disciplines (“broad-based organizing”, “faith-based organizing” or “church-based organizing) ”have certain primary theories in common, as follows:

  • The World As It Should Be – One cannot bring about profound change in a society unless one is clear about the kind of society toward which one wishes to work.  The world as it should be is posited by community organizing as a relational culture practicing a politics of justice, an economics of equitable distribution of wealth so that poverty is eliminated and an environment of sustainability.  
  • The World As It Is – One also can’t bring about change unless one has an accurate, even brutal analysis of society as it currently is.  Organizing posits a present world of political, economic and social systems exercising unilateral power that results in the practice of a politics of oppression, an economics of exploitation and a culture of control that is designed to serve the self-interests of the systems and to maintain them in power.
  • The Task of Organizing is to Build Power – The chief objective is for people without power to build and demonstrate their power in such a way that they will be taken seriously by the political, economic and cultural controllers of power who will choose to enter into good faith negotiations with the people out of their own enlightened self-interest
  • Power is the Capacity, Ability and Willingness to Act – “Capacity” means having the resources at one’s disposal to act.  “Ability” means having the skill, aptitude and competence to act.  “Willingness” means having the desire and commitment to act.  All three are necessary components of building and sustaining power. – whether that power is unilateral, controlling and dominating in nature or whether it is relational, shared and full of trust. 
  • People Power is Built on Relationships – Unless confronted to change, economic, political and cultural power actors will exercise unilateral power (that is, “power over”, “power down upon”) that is backed up by laws, force exercised through police and the military, economic arrangements and pressures and cultural norms and conventions that were created by those unilateral power actors to maintain themselves and their heirs in power; the only kind of power that can oppose unilateral power without creating warfare or revolution is relational power, painstakingly built upon the trust created over years of  sharing together in the struggle to make life just.    
  • All Organizing is Reorganizing – The world is already clearly organized by those in power for their advantage; the organizing task of the people through relational power is to reorganize the way power is exercised.  Such “reorganizing” goes on constantly, because every organizing effort will inevitably seek to serve its own ends to the exclusion of other claims.  Therefore, those exercising power must do “actions” not only upon the establishment but also upon themselves and each other.
  • The Action Is in the Reaction – The objective of any action conducted by the people is to get a reaction from the systems or the people with which they are dealing.  It is to place a demand before the systems, each other or one’s self that requires a response.  How that person, group or system reacts and responds determines the next step the organizing effort will take.
  • Power Precedes Program – Most Christian ministries and secular institutions assume power is built through programming.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Programming uses up, depletes and exhausts people.  If one carefully builds the power of the people first by organizing them relationally rather than through programming, they will build their own depth that can generate either actions or programs that will be sustained.
  • Never Do For Others What They Can Do For Themselves – This is called the “Iron Rule” of organizing – the foundational concept upon which organizing is built.  The primary objective of organizing is to motivate, equip and train people to take charge together of their situation, determine what they intend to do about it and organize themselves to take action and/or to create the programs in order to deal with the systems to get what they want.
  • Building Power Begins with the Individual Meeting – The most radical action of organizing is the individual meeting (also known as a “relational meeting” or a “one-on-one”).  An individual meeting is an intentional conversation an organizer or a volunteer committed to organizing has with another person.  The purpose of the individual meeting is not to primarily gather information from the person (although that inevitably happens), but to begin the building of a trust-filled relationship by sharing with each other common hurts, pains and joys, discovering the passion often lying unbidden in that person, discerning the potential for the leadership of people in the one being visited, and calling forth that person’s commitment to join with others in acting justly.      
  • From Individual Meetings to House Meetings – The second step in most organizing is the holding of a “house meeting” – a small gathering of 6 to 15 people with whom one has conducted individual meetings to share with each other their passion, anger and resolve to deal with specific injustice.  Pain that is privatized (that is, held to one’s self) is immobilizing; pain that is shared motivates for action.  The purpose of the house meeting is to get people angry and aroused enough that they become willing to act.
  • From House Meetings to Research Actions – Action that is effective must be calculated, limited, realistic and achievable.  Therefore, the organizing effort moves from house meetings where the talk is of “ain’t it awful” to the determination of the research that needs to be done by the people in order to frame an action that meets those criteria and thus becomes winnable (why undertake a protest which you will lose?  That’s stupid!). 
  • From Research Actions to Actions – Conducting a spectrum of research actions will provide the kinds of information and will create the kinds of contacts with governmental, economic, educational, social or religious leaders (called “targets”) that can be used to effectively bring about an action.  An action is a meeting with one or more targets around one or more specific demands that will bring about an exchange of power between the organized people and the target so that the people’s objective will be met, an agreement will be forthcoming, and concessions will be made on the part of the target that will serve the purposes of the people but will also contribute to the self-interest of the target (e.g., increasing his credibility before the people).   
  • Negotiations and Confrontation – The primary tactic of community organizing is negotiation – the art of people and targets reaching a settlement together that achieves the objectives of both and in which an exchange of power has occurred.  However, most business and government targets will not negotiate with the people until they have witnessed a display of power that will motivate their desire to negotiate.  Confrontation is a primary tactic for bringing a target to the negotiating table; so are the tactics of agitation, civil disobedience, and demanding accountability. 
  • The Pedagogy of Action and Reflection – The vehicle for learning and for building relational power is the interaction of action and reflection.  No action is ever undertaken without considerable reflection beforehand (not just tactical planning, but theoretical reflection on the nature of power as used by the target, the operation and objectives of a given governmental, educational or business system, etc.).  No action, once undertaken, is complete until a full evaluation of it has occurred so that success can be celebrated and mistakes can be identified and corrected.  When a spiral of action and reflection takes place in the organizing effort, every action will become more substantive than the action before it, and every reflection will become more profound and penetrating than the reflection before it.
  • The Task Is Building Leaders – An essential task of organizing is to build leaders who have developed the capacity, ability and willingness to act and to lead their communities in acting powerfully to bring about the kind of change that will both strengthen the people and serve their development as a human community.  All the organizing steps and theories of building relational power is the means by which the leadership capability of the community’s people is called forth and they live out in their own life and work together the Iron Rule as a people.  
  • Building Community Is the Ultimate Objective – Community is a group of people with a continuing experience, tradition and history who support and challenge each other to act powerfully, both individually and collectively, to affirm, defend and advance their values and self-interest.  This is the primary purpose of community organizing – to create out of a victimized, marginalized, destructive collection of people a community whose quality of life is such that people find fulfillment and joy in living there.  The power of the oppressor must be replaced by a quality of corporate life that is of such superiority to either that of the formerly oppressed or of their oppressors that it brings purpose, direction, joy and fulfillment to all who experience it.  That is the chief end of organizing."

Click for Entire Linthicum Response to questions.

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

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