query: Alinsky and public policy today

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu Jul 4 09:14:19 CDT 2002

[ed:  thanks to Mark for the reply to Leslie's query.  More from me 


Dear Leslie Ramyk,

In your COMM-ORG message, you ask about the evolution of 
Alinskyite organizing. I spent many years studying IAF organizing in 
Texas and Southwest where Alinsky's methods have been 
transformed in many significant ways. At the risk of caricaturing  
Alinsky by being so brief, here are a few of the most important 
developments as I see them:  

1. IAF organizing today reaches more deeply into member 
institutions, like churches, to draw out the leadership of lay 
members. Alinsky looked more to amassing institutions by tapping 
the resources (money, people) controlled by ministers and other 
established leaders. The focus of the organizing today is much 
more about relationship-building ("relational organizing") and 
leadership development. This provides IAF organizations with a 
much broader and larger base of leadership, now more typically 

2. Unlike Alinsky, IAF organizing today takes religious traditions 
seriously, grounding its work in faith values, looking to religious 
stories for inspiration and guidance. Organizing today combines 
interests and values, which helps to sustain organizations over the 
long run.  

3. The IAF is much more committed to building broad-based 
organizations than Alinsky - organizations that are diverse racially, 
economically and religiously. The organizations typically cover 
metropolitan areas (rather than neighborhoods) and attempt to 
network at state and regional levels. This gives the organizations a 
broader base of power and the ability to attempt much more 
ambitious and complex policy initiatives - like Project QUEST (an 
innovative job training program) in San Antonio, or the Alliance 
Schools (a state-wide initiative to transform over 100 low achieving 
schools through parent and community organizing).  

I trace the development of IAF organizing (covering these and other 
changes) in the book I wrote on the Texas/Southwest IAF, Dry 
Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American 
Democracy ( http://pup.princeton.edu/titles/7091.html). Several 
other organizing networks follow a similar approach today: Richard 
Wood and I wrote a report on what the field of faith-based 
community organizinglooks like, available as a COMM-ORG 
working paper (http://comm_org.utoledo.edu/papers2001/faith/ ).  

Hope this is helpful.

Mark R. Warren


[ed:  also thanks to Mark for mentioning his COMM-ORG paper.  
There are a number of COMM-ORG papers that might be of interest 
on this topic, available at 


as well as writings from other sources available at 

http://comm-org.utoledo.edu/readings.htm. ]

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