query: progressive suburban organizing

colist at comm-org.wisc.edu colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Fri Sep 1 08:57:13 CDT 2006

[ed:  please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG with responses to Gail's query.]

From: "Gail Schechter" <gail at interfaithhousingcenter.org>

I am seeking information on campaigns or organizations in affluent and 
predominantly white communities in the US that engaged in furthering a 
politically progressive agenda (e.g., affordable housing, fair housing 
and increasing racial/ethnic diversity, anti-poverty efforts, 
environmental clean-up, energy conservation, electing progressive 
candidates, women's rights, disability rights, etc.).
I am myself the executive director of a suburban Chicago fair and 
affordable housing advocacy membership group that was founded in 1972 by 
individuals and clergy at the grassroots level to promote fair and 
affordable housing.  In recent years, I've organized citizens campaigns 
in several white, affluent suburbs of local residents (most notably, in 
Wilmette, to redevelop an old college building/convent called 
Mallinckrodt) who feel strongly that affordable housing and diversity 
are the "right thing to do," even if there are not in their own apparent 
self-interest.  I've found this to be very hopeful -- as well as 
contrary to the traditional canard that people only organize based on 
self-interest (and the other "truism" that white suburbanites are 
conservative and defensive at best, and racist at worst).  Having also 
been raised in, and organizing in, low-income integrated urban 
neighborhoods or predominantly communities of color, I see both sides -- 
and the fact that progressive organizing in *both* types of communities 
needs to be nurtured to make for a healthy overall *region*.  But the 
left-leaning academic, public policy, and philanthropic sectors 
primarily focus on "inner-city" communities or low-income suburbs -- 
which, I feel, prevents any real redistribution of resources and power, 
and ensures that the rich and poor stay where they are.  I am hoping to 
gain the opportunity to do some year-long research to document stories, 
organizations, and campaigns specifically related to suburban 
organizing.  I'd like to be able to use this to outline how the process 
of community organizing is similar or different to urban organizing, and 
propose ways for the two to work together.
I deeply appreciate any examples you can share with me of contacts or 
publications that I can pursue further.
Thanks very much,
Gail Schechter
Executive Director
Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs
620 Lincoln Ave.
Winnetka, IL  60093
Phone: 847-501-5762, ext. 406
Fax: 847-501-5722
gail at interfaithhousingcenter.org

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