query: Alinsky and public policy today

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Wed Jul 10 08:43:13 CDT 2002

[ed:  thanks to Doug for replying to Leslie's query.]

From:	"Doug Hess" <DHess at frac.org>

Couple of points:

1) While the "relational organizing" development has been well 
documented and resourced, the development of community 
organizing's ability to take on new forms of contention has not 
always received the same amount of coverage (at least in more 
academic circles and in the sparse evaluation lit on organizing, 
which I fear might influence funders).  

Here are just a few arenas of contention that I don't think existed in 
"old" organizing, but does now exist in some networks, or quasi-
organizing support networks: a) network-controlled community 
institutuions: charter schools, CDCs, loan counselling services, land 
trusts, etc. b) local governance entities (like B.I.D.'s, some even 
collect income from a specially levied tax) c) systematically pushing 
candidates for office, forming local PACs, and/or political coalitions 
(in some part driven by the success of the christian-right in this 
arena in the 1980s) d) ballot initiatives e) finally: while many 
networks avoid policy details, many others have hired staff in 
Washington or state capital's to become leaders in a policy arena, a 
la traditional interest group behavior.  

I think the importance of these developments can not be overstated. 
(And very little of it fits under, or is explained by, the "relational 
power vs power over" debates.)  

2) I think it is important for people to see that the "Alinsky" 
comparison can be overdrawn. There was excellent organizing in 
the country before Alinksy, and contemporary to him, and some 
models draw on these areas. Constant referrals, mea culpa here, to 
him belittle the breadth and depth of what is going on/possible in 

Doug Hess
Senior Policy Analyst
Food Research and Action Center
1875 Connecticut Ave, Suite 540
Washington, DC 20009
phone 202-986-2200 ext 3004
fax 202-986-2525  email dhess at frac.org

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