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Organizing Social Transformation

How do you define social transformation within a community (social change)?

           " It was probably best put by Saul Alinsky, the “father” of community organizing, who wrote, “There can be no democracy unless it is a dynamic democracy.  It is not a formula to be preserved like jelly.  It is a process – a vibrant, living sweep of hope and progress which constantly strives for its objective in life: the search on the part of ordinary people for truth, justice and their dignity as men and women.”[1]  From my perspective, therefore, a community is not “socially transformed” simply because it has good schools, clean streets, decent homes and a working infrastructure.  It is socially transformed when its people feel they are in charge of their own lives and of their community, when they feel they have dignity and are shown respect by those in power, when they feel they will be taken seriously by that power and will be seen as crucial players in the decisions that are made about their neighborhood or city.  When people feel powerful, they will act powerfully – and their schools, streets, homes and infrastructure will evidence the impact of that deep sense of pride!  Social transformation was perhaps best captured for me when, at the close of an action when we got major agreements from the mayor of our city, I said to Joe Brender, the community resident we had prepared to be the main spokesperson, “Didn’t we get great concessions from the mayor, Joe?”  He replied, “Yes indeed.  You know the mayor called me Mr. Brender!” 

         What are your main indicators that change has occurred within a community?

            "Again, Alinsky says it well: “A community has truly changed when its people have hope, when they have power, when they feel they have a future now – they know where they’re going and they know they are going to keep building more and more power.  They know how to do it now; they know how to function as citizens in the democratic process.”[2]  Significant improvement in schools, housing, health care, more sensitive policing, reduction in crime, more and better employment for all are all indices of the transformation of a community.  But the true indicator is a transformation in the people – in their perspective of themselves, their appreciation for and commitment to each other, and their sense that they can really affect change in their city." 

[1] The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy (Chicago: Chicago Video Project, 1999)

[2] Ibid.  

Click for Entire Linthicum Response to questions.

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

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