[COMM-ORG] query: Organizing for Action

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Wed May 8 08:50:58 CDT 2013

[ed: thanks to Drew and Richard for responding to Michael's query. Others?]

From: Drew Astolfi <drewastolfi at facehawaii.org>

In Hawaii my organization - Faith Action for Community Equity or FACE 
has a little contact with OFA.  There is overlap between the leadership 
of the two groups.  But the overlap is not very important to either group.

I do think that community organizing in the US has been partially 
absorbed/co-opted/influenced by the emerging Democratic party consensus 
(5 years of Obama with three more to come and a good chance of Hilary 
Clinton being President in 2016) .  As the political elite have become 
more liberal in the US, community organizations (PICO, Gamaliel, the 
surviving ACORN groups, and National People's Action and the Center for 
Community Change) have found it harder to position themselves in a 
purely non-partisan way.   Partly this seems like an issue of funding - 
as SEIU replaced CCHD as the largest funder of community organizations 
the tone of the organizing changed.  At the same time there has been a 
simultaneous pressure on the right as the right wing has moved further 
and further from the center and identifies community organizing as one 
of its enemies.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, since I feel this dynamic is 
really changing what community organizing is here in the US.  I am 
afraid that is all I have though - a kind of instinct about the way we 
are changing.

I think OFA is a symptom of this overall change, but I do not think it 
has been all that successful.


From: Richard Layman <rlaymandc at yahoo.com>

I haven't looked at the particular organization, and I am not a scholar 
of civil society, but I think it's important to recognize that there are 
many different elements of social movements, social change and/or 
transformation, points on what I call the issue continuum, and 
inflection points.

When Hillary Clinton said during the 2008 Presidential election 
primaries that "it takes a President to get it done," she ignored the 
reality that by the time an issue comes to "a vote" it's likely that 
many decades have been spent dealing with a particular issue, building a 
base of support, and making it a prominent issue on a national scale.

What I call the issue continuum is merely the recognition that on any 
issue there are myriads of positions (points) along a continuum from 
very conservative to very progressive.  What I learned through 
observation  (it wasn't something that they taught) working at a 
national consumer advocacy group with Nader lineage is that if you stake 
out a hard core position you don't get it but you get a lot more 
movement towards a better outcome than you would if you compromised 
early (something that Pres. Obama hasn't learned yet, actually).

A line I use about this is: "when you ask for nothing that's what you 
get.  When you ask for the world, you don't get it, but you get a lot 
more than nothing."

In my own work now (transportation planning, specifically sustainable 
transportation--walking, biking, and transit) I take a social 
change-social movement-social marketing-systems approach to the 
subject.  We're trying to change people's behavior, we're trying to 
build comprehensive support systems for sustainable mobility that are 
comparable in strength to the systems that have been built to support 
automobility etc.  It's a lot more than just getting the President to 
sign a transportation bill.  (cf. 

Basically, OFM is more likely to be what we might call a party 
organization (cf. _Political Parties_ by Michels) rather than a 
community organizing effort designed to build participatory democracy, 
empowered participation (cf. the books _Deliberate Democracy_ and 
_Empowered Participation_), civil society or the increase the capacity 
of citizens and to focus community, social, and organizational capital 
towards bottom-up as opposed to top-down initiatives.

Richard Layman
Washington, DC
On 5/5/2013 8:38 AM, Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
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> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
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> [ed: apologies for the delay in getting messages out this week. It's 
> been busier than normal. Please feel welcomed to engage this 
> discussion on COMM-ORG.]
> From: Michael Rothschuh <michael at rothschuh.de>
> For Discussion;
> What do you think about „Organizing for Action“? There are similar and 
> often the same subjects as in the different community organizing 
> networks or in social movements, Issues like jobs, health care, 
> immigration reform and in the moment gun controlling. But it is 
> concentrated in the actual agenda of the Obama government. And I think 
> there is no discussion about the ways, how to get the aims. On one 
> side I see it as a top-down organization. On the other side it might 
> be a chance for people to bring their own perspective, their own 
> questions and answers into the agenda. Does anyone know: Are there 
> connections between OFA and different local Community Organizations?
> Best wishes for you!
> Michael Rothschuh, Hamburg, Germany
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