query: is organizing good for your health

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Mon Feb 16 08:31:00 CST 2004

[ed:  thanks to Heidi and Nathan for replying to Jennifer's query.]

From: "Heidi Swarts" <HJSwarts at maxwell.syr.edu>

Here are two ideas for research on whether organizing is good for you:
1. a conference paper I have NOT read:
 1. Javeline, Debra. "The Effects of Protest on Public Health" Paper
presented at the annual meeting of the The American Political Science Association Philadelphia
Mariott Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, 2003-08-27 Online--available to APSA members
2. In Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, he presents data on the positive health effects of membership and involvement in organizations of any type. There is a lot of data that community involvement is good for your physical health. The book includes a whole chapter on this.
Good luck!
Heidi Swarts


From: "Nathan Henderson-James" <nathanhj7 at hotmail.com>

Well, now, this is an interesting question. And the answer is, as far as I 
know, no.  

Now, there are some interesting studies and literature that point 
towards a hypothesis that posits that community organizing is good for 
the health of the people involved and, by extension, also good for 
people who live near improvements won through organizing (though the 
effects are probably not as strong). Some of this includes the 
longitudinal studies of the British civil service by Marmot, some studies 
of nursing home patients by the Harvard School of Public Health (at 
least I think its them), and an intriguing book by Kawachi and Kennedy 
called The Health of Nations, which idicts inequality within societies as 
a prime cause of negative public health outcomes.  

All of this led me to seek out a leader in the field of social epidemiology 
named S. Len Syme, an emeritus professo at the UC Berkeley School 
of Public Health. In fact, he helped found the field and when I 
suggested to him that CO was a potential intervention to increase the 
health of people involved in it, he was intrigued. Every other 
intervention tried in teh field had failed miserably and they had come to 
the conclusion that something having to do with "locus of control" or the 
loosely-defined "empowerment" had something to do with what was 
happening, espcially since there was a marked difference in the health 
outcomes of people as you climb the socio-economic gradient (in other 
words poor people get sick and die at rates much higher than affluent 
people; well it's slightly more complex than that, but that's the idea I 
was most interested in as an ACORN staff member).  

So Len and I have worked with some grad students and created a 
design for a study that would look at an ACORN organizing drive and 
see what kinds of changes in people's perception of there mental and 
physical health occurred over that time. Right now we're starting to look 
around for the funding to put it into practice. If we can secure some and 
run a study with significant results, then we might ber at th start of an 
entirely new era in the perception of community organizing, not to 
mention the possibilities for funding.  

We're presenting a paper on our collaboration to date at a conference 
on interdiciplinary research at Vanderbilt University in May. I'd be more 
than happy to keep people abrest of developments as they occur. And, 
of course, any ideas and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 
Especially if you know people at the CDC, NIH, or Robert Wood 
Johnson Foundation. 8-)   

For the purposes of this particular request, I would look for the studies 
of the nursing home patients. The results were striking. Citations for the 
studies can be found in Robert Sapolsky's book Why Zebra's Don't Get 


Nathan Henderson-James
Performance Poet
ACORN National Political Staff
510-213-1970 cell
nathanhj7 at hotmail.com
"I want to inject your blunt caustic observations between my toes so 
that some day my truth will kick someone's ass!"
> From: "Jennifer Flynn" <flynn at nycahn.org>
> Does anyone have any studies that say that being involved in
> community organizing (involved in civic participation, being a
> member of an organization, etc.) is good for your health?  
> Thanks.
> --Jennifer Flynn
> NYC AIDS Housing Network
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