organizing and social movements

colist at colist at
Wed Jun 25 14:05:51 CDT 2003

[ed:  Joe offers some questions to inform our discussion and Doug 
responds to Fran's thoughts.]

From: "Joseph Catania" <jccjlw at>

It would be interesting to hear people's thoughts about the context 
of social change efforts today - social movements and community 
organizing. What I mean is, we have a non-profit sector - with all 
the legal wranglings that come with it - that governs what 
community based organizations that organize and advocacy groups 
do and how they do it. We also have foundations who set the 
agenda for what is "fundable" work and what is not.  

Often, community-based organizations want to connect their local 
organizing with more global work - get connected with broader 
movements. It is happening, but it is often very difficult because of 
the limited vision of foundations (not all of course, there are 
wonderful examples of foundations breaking out of traditional 
"project" giving mode and encouraging coalition building across 
organizational, identity, issue and geographic boundaries). 
Organizations can be concerned with what they were "funded" to 
do, which might prevent them from getting more involved in 
broader, less local issues. Project based funding is not necessarily 
conducive to what Frances is suggesting, which I agree with.  
Organizing and social movement are mutually enabling. I think we 
need to create new forms that make this so and concentrate on 
building power and using the power we have.  

What kind of impact has the explosion of the non-profit sector in 
the last 30 years had on organizing and social movement? 
Advantages? Disadvantages? to the current system.  

joe catania


From: "Doug Hess" <DHess at>

I think Fran's remarks are good, but I still think some teasing apart 
of ideas needs to be done between these two terms. For instance, 
Fran says:
" As Randy and others have noted, organizing (including 
organizing) has been intertwined with many social movements.  
Developing a locally-based network of people and institutions 
capable of addressing a range of issues defined by the members 
(i.e. CO) built much of the base for the civil rights movement, and 
continued to shape, carry out and sustain the movement's work and 

While I certainly don't think the two are dichotomous, the statement 
that organizing built, continued, carry out and sustain aspects of a 
social movement implies there's a difference. To put it another 
way: I think organizing can get results in absence of a movement. 
Maybe the reverse is not true, but that doesn't mean they are 
coterminus. Is any of this making sense? Lemme try it this way: A 
good movement needs good organizing, but good organizing 
doesn't necessarily lead to a movement. For instance, were the 
people doing organizing before the civil rights movement caught 
fire not doing "it" right? I don't think so. I think that movements 
often have sources in the national socio-economic scene, and 
maybe even international if you follow how post-WWII geo-politics 
assisted the civil rights movement, that community organizing 
cannot always influence (but can use).  

(Again, just to be clear: just because I think they are two separate 
entities does not mean that they are strictly either/or. Same with 
justice: organizing and movements can both lay claims to working 
for social justice.)

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
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