community organizing and the presidency--historical

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at
Sat Mar 29 10:25:28 CDT 2008

From: Dave Beckwith <dbeckwith at>

To be posted on comm.-org and FYI

Late in 1992 the moments converged and opportunity was seized. There was 
going to be a new administration, a new president from the Other Party, 
replacing long years of big-business-favoring policy and international 
saber-rattling, everything was about to break open. A generational, and 
some said ideological, earth-shattering changing of the guard was about 
to happen. The new administration’s transition team signaled their 
openness to the field of community organizing.

The Toledo politician who formed the bridge had roots in community 
organizing and urban immigrant advocacy. He tapped community organizing 
connections, historic preservationists and ethnic and cultural activists 
and swept together 50 folks, in Little Rock, and they hammered out three 
simple recommendations:

President Clinton Should:

* Articulate a vision of America as Community, and recognize the urgent 
need to come together to rebuild our communities where they are 
threatened: in the inner city neighborhoods, poor rural communities, the 
barrio, reservations, public housing projects, and ethic and minority 
* Adopt a comprehensive community-based strategy to revitalize America 
from the bottom up.
* Recognize the key role of community based organizations in carrying 
out that strategy.

Each Recommendation was backed by a brief paper, citing the conceptual 
framework, listing high priority implementation steps and additional 

Their report was packaged up, one addressed to each cabinet secretary, 
one to the Vice President, one to the President-elect and another to the 
speech-writing team working in the next room there in Little Rock on the 
first Inaugural Address. The fifty leaders, activists and organizers 
paid attention to that speech, held the new administration’s feet to the 
fire, they even held a couple of follow-up meetings. For a while the new 
administration treated them as a force to be reckoned with, and the 
first wave of new urban and rural poverty related initiatives was 
brought forward early to this grouping for vetting, and was changed to 
reflect what these folks thought would work.

Was it perfect? Not enough power behind it, too top heavy with staff and 
pretty smoke-filled-room and insider oriented.

Still, it makes you wonder. How will the next president know what 
organized communities want her or him to do? How will leaders and staff 
from real grassroots groups get access to the critical theme-building 
stage, the transition. This group was representative of very little, but 
it represented – it included – lots of younger people of color, women, 
trouble makers, real organizers from Hartford, South Bend, Toledo, LA. 
Are these folks in any sort of a loop with the opinion makers and policy 
builders in any of the Presidential campaigns?

Check out the proposal, written the day before Christmas, and the 
report, January 8, 1993. This PDF also has a Toledo Blade story about 
the first follow-up meeting and the policy initiatives presented by the 
Bill Clinton White House folks. It can be found here, on the website of 
the University of Toledo’s Urban Affairs Center.

Dave Beckwith

Executive Director

The Needmor Fund

42 South Saint Clair Street

Toledo, Ohio 43604


fax 419-255-5561

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