This is a draft. There may be errors. Comments welcome.
Crossing the Development-Organizing Divide: A Report on the Toledo Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance Program
[This research was supported by the Toledo Community Foundation from 1998 to 2000 and by the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center in 2001.]
II. Community Organizing and Community Development: Some Definitions
III. Models of Combining Community Organizing and Community Development
IV. Community Development, Community Organizing, and Theories of Society
V. CO Training and Technical Assistance Models
VI. Toledo Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance Program
Resolution Stage: 2000
The importance of early organizational assessment and buy-in:
The importance of clarifying the organizing-development tension:
The importance of structuring the organizing-development tension:
VIII. Expanding Community Organizing in Toledo--Recommendations
Can community development corporations (CDCs) learn how to do community organizing? Further, can they learn to do it through a distance mentoring and technical assistance model?
This report focuses on these two questions, reviewing the results and lessons learned from the Toledo Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance Program. The report begins with definitions of community organizing and community development, and the place of CDCs in the organizing-development intersection. Of particular importance are the problematic aspects of bringing organizing and development together in CDCs. Next, the paper reviews some of the community organizing training and technical assistance models available to date, and their relative advantages and disadvantages for the particular case of providing long-distance training and technical assistance to CDCs. Following this the report outlines and describes the components of the Toledo program and its changes over time, including its most recent phase of shifting from solely CDC-based organizing to a community organizing-CDC coalition. Of special focus here is the diversity of outcomes. Of three CDCs that began the program, one dropped out early on, another continued doing organizing as long as the program continued but saw its organizing emphasis fade away after, and a third continues to expand its organizing emphasis and effectiveness in the context of working in coalition with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). The report concludes with a discussion of the importance of community organizing in the Toledo context, the implications of the lessons learned from the Toledo program, and recommendations for expanding community organizing in Toledo.
II. Community Organizing and Community Development: Some Definitions
Community organizing has a long history in the United States. Its roots can be traced to many sources, including the early 20th century settlement house movement and other women-centered efforts (Stall and Stoecker, 1998), the Civil Rights Movement (Morris, 1984), and others. But the most well-known influence was Saul Alinsky (1969; 1971), who created a model of community organizing that was rowdy, bawdy, and confrontational. Among the most famous stories of Alinsky's legacy was The Woodlawn Organization's threat to occupy all the toilets at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
Alinsky's community organizing career really began in the late 1930s. As part of his field research job, he was to develop a program to combat juvenile delinquency in Chicago's "Back of the Yards" neighborhood downwind of the Chicago Stockyards--an impoverished community of Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks. When Alinsky arrived the Congress of Industrial Organizations was organizing the stockyard workers living there. Expanding the CIO model beyond workplace issues, Alinsky organized the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (BYNC) from local neighborhood groups, ethnic clubs, union locals, bowling leagues, and an American Legion Post. The success of BYNC in getting expanded city services and power started Alinsky off on a long career of organizing poor urban communities around the country (Finks, 1984).
The Civil Rights Movement is the other crucial source of community organizing. It's influence on community organizing practice has been as profound as Alinsky's but has been historically neglected. The accepted founding event of the movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was coordinated through local African American networks and organizations and created a model that would be used in locality-based actions throughout the south. The efforts of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in organizing African American communities in the south for voting rights and integration are perhaps the most unrecognized influence on community organizing. Out of the efforts of these and other Civil Rights organizers grew the Welfare Rights Movement (Piven and Cloward, 1979) and eventually the famous Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) (Delgado, 1986; Russell, 2000).
Today, community organizing is experiencing a resurgence, with an explosion of small organizing efforts and the growth of some better-publicized efforts by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in various places (Tresser, 1999), by ACORN (2001) and the New Party (1997) in their Living Wage efforts, and by many other groups and networks (COMM-ORG, 2001b) including the rapidly expanding National Organizers Alliance (2001). As a consequence, the community organizing model is providing an increasingly visible alternative to the community development model.
The focus of community organizing is building organizations controlled by people normally shut out from decision-making power, who then go on to fight for changes in the distribution of power (Beckwith & Lopez,, 1997 Alinsky, 1969; 1971). Community organizing begins as work in local settings to empower individuals to build relationships and organizations, and to create action for social change (Beckwith & Lopez, 1997, Bobo, Kendall & Max, 1991, Kahn, 1991). In the United States, community organizing has been exemplified by small local organizations like the Montgomery Improvement Association, which helped lead the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott (Morris, 1984) and ultimately provided the impetus for a national Civil Rights Movement.
In general, community organizing is the work that occurs in local settings to empower individuals, build relationships, and create action for social change (Bobo et al, 1991; Kahn, 1991, Beckwith and Lopez, 1997). Community organization is the process of building a constituency that can go on to create a movement, and it occurs at a level between the "micro-mobilization" of individuals (Snow et al, 1986) and the "political process" of the broader social system (McAdam, 1982).
Community development stands in stark contrast to community organizing. The modern form of community development, embodied in the "community development corporation" or CDC, can be traced back to Robert Kennedy's 1966 tour of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the subsequent Special Impact Amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act (Bratt, 1989:191), which led to CDCs such as the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation. There were fewer than 100 of these first generation CDCs (Peirce and Steinbach, 1990; Zdenek, 1987), and their primary mission was job creation (Kelly, 1977:24). Between 500 and 1000 "second wave" CDCs formed during the 1970s (Peirce and Steinbach, 1990; Zdenek, 1987) from groups protesting redlining and displacement- based urban renewal (Vidal, 1992). These second wave CDCs shifted away from economic development toward housing development (Peirce and Steinbach, 1990; Vidal, 1992). With them came private philanthropy such as the Ford Foundation's Grey Areas Program (Peirce and Steinbach, 1990; Bratt, 1989:191), support groups, intermediaries, and funding from Title VII of the 1974 Community Services Act. Federal funding for CDCs between 1966 and 1980 rose to over $500 million. In the 1980s the number of CDCs expanded to as many as 2,000 (Zdenek, 1987; Vidal, 1992) and have continued to climb.
There are three qualities that capture what CDCs are expected to do. First, they are supposed to be "community-based." In other words, they are expected to have some connection with the residents who actually live in the CDC "target area." Second, they are supposed to engage in "comprehensive development," attempting to create jobs, housing, crime reductions and a host of other changes in disempowered and disinvested neighborhoods (though most emphasize housing). Third, they are supposed to accomplish all this within the existing political economic system, bringing historically marginalized people into the economic mainstream (Stoecker, 1997).
This CDC model is very popular with elites, especially government and foundations. The U.S. federal government has set aside special funds for CDCs in Empowerment Zones and other federal housing programs. The Ford Foundation created a monster program to promote CDC-based comprehensive community initiatives (Smock, 1997). Foundations, United Ways, and other elite-connected organizations have been particularly entranced with a version of this model called "asset-based community development" or "ABCD" promoted by Kretzmann and McKnight (1993), which they've interpreted as a "pull-yourself-by-your-bootstraps" poverty reduction strategy.
But the CDC model embodies some important contradictions. Community development corporations, or CDCs, while not for profit, must operate in cooperation with for profit actors--banks, real estate, insurance, contractors. And in contrast to building a community-based organization, community development is about building expert-based organizations that can manage the highly technical aspects of housing construction and management, and job and business development. Perhaps, most importantly, the act of development itself can actually disorganize communities as old residents move out and new residents move in through the redevelopment process (Stoecker, 1997).
These tensions, along with a recognition of the incompleteness of the community development approach, have created more and more interest in community organizing among practitioners and even funders.
III. Models of Combining Community Organizing and Community Development
It is important to understand that much of what is called community organizing, when it is linked with community development, is very different from what has traditionally been known as community organizing. That is partly because community organizing sponsored through CDCs takes significantly more risks if it adopts a confrontational style and an anti-capitalist or anti-statist position. Community-building, consensus organizing, and the women-centered organizing models are three hybrid forms that combine community organizing and community development elements. These three models, while distinct from each other in some ways, share important common characteristics, and differ in similar ways from traditional community organizing.
Community building is defined by Doug Hess (1999) as "projects which seek to build new relationships among members in a community and develop change out of the connections these relationships provide for solving member-defined problems." Linked to Kretzmann and McKnight's (1993) asset-based community development model, and to communitarianism (Smock, 1997), the emphasis in community building is creating and restoring relationships between community residents. The focus is internal, finding and building the community's own "assets" or "social capital" rather than confronting or negotiating with external power and resource holders. Ultimately, the goal of community building is community self-sufficiency (Smock, 1997).
Consensus organizing includes the relationship-building focus of community building, but is broader in also focusing on moving people from welfare to work, improving school achievement, promoting inner-city reinvestment, and developing housing and businesses, among other things. Michael Eichler (1998), the founder of consensus organizing, specifically opposes the "us vs. them" model of community organizing: "today's landlord may be on the board of the community development corporation. Today's mayor may be a major advocate in improving the public schools; and today's corporate leader may be hiring and training welfare recipients while damaging the environment and paying solicited kickbacks to the mayor." The purpose of consensus organizing is to build cooperative relationships between community leaders and business and government to improve poor communities (Consensus Organizing Institute, 2000).
The women-centered organizing model also contrasts significantly with traditional community organizing. This model emphasizes relationship building that is not rooted in self-interest but in an understanding of mutual responsibility. And while it does see a structural division in society that holds women back, it also emphasizes that power is infinitely expandable rather than zero-sum, thus reducing the need for conflict. Like the community building model, women-centered organizing emphasizes small group development and has more of an internal problem-solving focus. The goal is as much the development of individuals as it is the development of communities (Stall and Stoecker, 1998).
The avoidance of confrontation, the lack of focus on structural change, and the absence of conflict in these models makes them well-suited to CDCs. These characteristics also make them much easier to classify as community development than as community organizing.
There are others trying to combine traditional community organizing with community development. Steve Callahan et al. (1999) argue for combining what they call project-based and power-based community development, something they call "rowing the boat with two oars." For them, project-based community development focuses on delivering services such as "transportation, childcare, social services, housing, jobs, retail services, and micro financing to low-income communities." The organization boards attempt to include local residents, and the staff often have technical expertise in housing, real estate, and business development. On the other hand, these organizations are constantly in danger of becoming disconnected from local interests, and while they try to get resident representation on their boards, they tend to not be very successful at it. In addition, their small size and high skill requirements prevent many of these organizations from producing to scale. They also tend to be politically weak, as their "consensus" approach to change does not alter the existing power imbalances that caused the problems to begin with. Consequently, they are often forced to do projects on terms set by public and corporate officials.
Community organizing, or "power-based community development," is an important complement to project-based community development. Its strengths almost exactly fit the weaknesses of project-based community development. It emphasizes developing the power of low-income people, and holding officials accountable. It's insistence on the necessity and ability of a group to engage in polarizing and militant tactics is what provides some of this power. But the power-based model has its own weaknesses. For one, the methods of this approach can sometimes "obscure progress toward concrete goals." And when these organizations do not use confrontation strategically they can lose some of their influence. In addition, the emphasis on building an inclusive and democratic organization and lack of strong technical expertise can sometimes limit the impact of an organizing victory. Looking back to the project-based model, its strengths compensate for those weaknesses.
These approaches are not simply complementary. In fact, they may be contradictory, each undermining important principles of the other, making them exceptionally difficult to combine.
IV. Community Development, Community Organizing, and Theories of Society
What we really have are not only two distinct models of how to rebuild poor communities, but of how society works. One model, the community development model, includes CDC work, consensus organizing, women-centered organizing, community building, and asset-based community development. The other model includes the various manifestations of traditional community organizing. On the face of it, the main difference between these two approaches seems to be a good cop-bad cop distinction in style. The community development model wants to get power through cooperation and the community organizing model wants to get power through a fight.
But there's more to it than that. These two models are rooted in fundamentally different models of how society works, which sociologists refer to as functionalism and conflict theory. The functionalist model argues that society always tends toward natural equilibrium and its division of labor develops through an almost natural matching of individual talents and societal needs. This theory also assumes that people have common interests even when they have different positions in society. The result is that healthy, persistent societies are in a constant state of gradual equilibrium-seeking improvement. Thus, organizing to force change is actually bad for the society, as it can throw off societal equilibrium, and cooperation to produce gradual change is a better alternative (Eitzen and Baca Zinn, 2000).
The conflict theory of society is much different. In this theory, there is no natural tendency toward anything but conflict over scarce resources. In addition, this theory sees society as developing through struggle between groups. To the extent that any stability is achieved, it's not because society attains equilibrium but because one group, by hook or by crook, is able to dominate the other groups. Conflict theory sees contemporary society as beset by fundamental divisions, particularly between corporations and workers, men and women, and whites and people of color. Conflict theory also sees such divided societies as inherently unstable, preventing those on top from achieving absolute domination and provides opportunities for those on the bottom to create real change. The implication of this theory is that the only way to produce real change in inequality is through groups organizing themselves for collective action and conflict.
These two models are difficult to reconcile, which is why most sociologists keep them separate. When functionalists argue that any surviving society does so because it can maintain some basic degree of equilibrium and put all of its members into the roles for which they are fit, the implication (though few today admit it) is that the poor and the oppressed are supposed to be poor and oppressed (Davis and Moore, 1945). Of course, those who don't belong there (i.e., those who are willing to work hard), will be provided new roles. Michael Eichler's quote above, attempting to portray the common interests of government officials, corporate officials, and the poor, shows just how much the community development model follows functionalist theory. While mayors, landlords, and corporate leaders may sometimes do good things that may be positive, the community development model is silent on the class divisions between renters and landlords, mayors and the electorate, corporations and workers. Only the women-centered model breaks with the others on this point. Within this theoretical context, the community development model can only work if functionalist theory is really correct. In other words, there can be no structural barriers to poor communities rebuilding themselves.
But there is a problem. We know that any one individual poor person can lift themself up and attain greatness, but not all poor people can lift themselves up simultaneously because there simply are not enough better societal slots available. This problem is multiplied when the focus is on trying to lift up poor communities, which can only occur if the bulk of the people in those communities are simultaneously lifted up. If there's no space for all those individuals in the economy, there's no chance for that community. The simultaneous improvement of poor people everywhere would require a drastic redistribution of wealth so that the highest paying positions in the economy have much less and the lowest paying positions have much more. Of course, that violates the fundamental tenets of functionalist theory, which argues that society is the way it is because it is functional that way--to try and create an artificial equality would actually upset equilibrium. Poverty, in this model, is functional, and necessary. The community development model, starting from the assumption that the haves and the have-nots will find common ground based in their functional relationships, runs up against the reality that wealth and power is a zero-sum game and those who have are not just going to give it away to those who have not, even if they do work hard. Not only can a model emphasizing cooperation and denying class conflict not work to end poverty and oppression, it's not even supposed to work.
The community organizing model, rooted in a conflict theory of society, understands very well this problem. Of course, this theory generates its own dilemma. If society really is divided into haves and have nots, and if that inequality and oppression is maintained by structurally-based power, where do oppressed communities get the power to change the structure that so far has prevented changing the structure? This was Saul Alinsky's dilemma and he tried to deal with it by having it both ways. He argued that there were indeed haves and have nots, but that those classes were not structurally determined. He held faith that the U.S. political economic system was fair and good and all it required was effective community organizing on the part of the poor to shift the extreme inequality of U.S. Society. He didn't deny the importance of conflict in this process, understanding that the haves would not give up their advantage without a fight (Reitzes and Reitzes, 1987). Of course, African American community organizers have understood the importance of struggle for as long as their history of interaction with white Europeans and North Americans. Frederick Douglass' (1857) famous quote "power concedes nothing without a demand" is the clearest statement of this understanding. And African American organizers, quite differently from Alinsky, saw the structural barriers to equality, and consequently focused on changing the segregation and voting laws that maintained those structural inequalities.
So the challenges of combining the models are apparent. But at the end of the day we still have poor communities, ill-housed families, sick kids, violent streets, useless schools, jobless and hopeless adults, and a host of other societal ills. Saying that the community organizing and community development models are opposed to each other does not help us solve any of those problems, though it may help us understand why it is so difficult to create real and lasting solutions.
So what do we do? It seems quite clear to me that there are structural power differences that can only be removed through conflict. It also seems quite clear to me that we need to develop communities that can be self sufficient enough to resist capitalist encroachment; control their own education, health care, and other institutions; and avoid selling their principles, land, and culture to speculative developers. Community organizing is necessary to get the power. Community development is necessary to keep it.
Of course, the fights between practitioners of the two models often prevent collaboration, especially when each sees its position as "right" and the other as "wrong" and Callahan et al's boat can sometimes get rowed in circles. And as much as everyone says "it's not the '60s anymore", we continue to act like it is. The conflict between the community organizing folks and the community development folks is so much like the conflict between the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which eventually led to the split between African-American Civil Rights activists and Black Power activists (Blumberg, 1984, Sitkoff, 1993). It is so much like the split between the radical and mainstream branches of the women's movement (Mansbridge, 1986; Freeman, 1975; Ferree and Hess, 1985). It is so much like the split between the militant and mainstream branches of the environmental movement (Gottlieb, 1993). It is so much like the split between the groups engaging in conflict against the power structure and those cooperating with it on any contemporary issue today, whether it is AIDS, poverty, education, or community empowerment.
Like for those other movements, if handled strategically this split has some advantages. Those 1960s movement splits produced a tremendous body of literature, some of which focused on social movement structure. These analysts, when taking a big picture view of the action, found many movements composed of groups confronting the target and groups attempting to work cooperatively with it. The advantage of such a model, they discovered, is that the conflict groups were needed to create access to power holders. Conflict groups, if they are good, have the bargaining chip of being able to create enough social instability to force the target to the table. But they have a difficult time actually negotiating, because of their militancy. Moderate groups are much more successful in negotiations, but achieve very little without the threat of social disturbance from more militant groups (Gerlach and Hine, 1970).
The danger, of course, is that these groups tear each other up if they don't recognize their complementarity. This is particularly a danger in the community organizing/community development divide, because the participants have not defined themselves collectively as a movement. Partly because community organizing and community development have focused on small local areas, they have not been very effective at linking up with each other to build something beyond the local. But what if they did? How could community organizing groups and community development groups realize the benefits of their complementarity?
V. CO Training and Technical Assistance Models
For those trying to figure out how to combine community organizing and development, there is not much to work from. There are, of course, the major community organizing training programs, most of which use some kind of residential training or apprenticeship approach (COMM-ORG, 2001a). A number of the important community organizing networks, including ACORN (2001), the Industrial Areas Foundation (Tresser, 1999), Gamaliel (2001), DART (2001), and PICO (2001), generally provide training only within their own network, making them relatively inaccessible to CDCs. Others such as The Midwest Academy (2001), provide open trainings.
There is currently, outside of Toledo, only one community organizing training program oriented to helping CDCs do traditional community organizing. This is the multi-million dollar Ricanne Hadrian Initiative for Community Organizing (RHICO), sponsored through the Massachusetts Association of CDCs and the Local Initiatives Support Coalition. Beginning with $2 million in Phase I, they are now fundraising for Phase II. The program supports and trains CDCs throughout Massachusetts to do community organizing (Winkelman, 1998, 1998b). An evaluation of the outcomes for the 13 CDCs in Phase I of the program showed significant member and leader development in at least two-thirds of the organizations. As the program progressed, more CDCs moved into full-fledged organizing. In many cases, however, CDCs concentrated first on building their memberships and developing organizational structures to support organizing. A number of CDCs are also doing community development forms of organizing, including community-based planning, neighborhood crime watches, and others. The program is now moving into Phase II, with plans to expand to 20 more CDCs. As the program has progressed, they have gradually replaced centralized training with more of a popular education approach, where CDCs do more co-training (Marks; 2001; Winkelman, 1998; 1998b).
The challenge is what to do with those CDCs that do not have access to the funding pool of RHICO, or to the training and technical assistance capacity available in the Urban Northeast. Toledo is a poor city that long ago lost any significant corporate presence, and never built up a strong enough philanthropy sector to support community-based programs. It is also hours from any significant community organizing: two hours from Cleveland, which is the closest city of any critical mass of organizing; and five hours from Chicago, which is the nearest center of any significant community organizing technical assistance.
For those places with neither money nor a local critical mass of community organizing, we need a different model of community organizing training and technical assistance. Can a community organizing training and TA program for CDCs succeed using a "distance learning" format? There are significant challenges in employing a distance training and technical assistance mentoring and organizational transformation model in a field that emphasizes personal face-to-face relationships. And when that is added to the tensions presented by combining traditional power-based community organizing with community development, the challenges become truly daunting. The next section reports on the bold attempts to meet those challenges.
VI. Toledo Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance Program
The Toledo program began with the two basic challenges of combining organizing and development, and building the organizing emphasis through distance mentoring.
In the fall of 1997 the Toledo Community Foundation, in conjunction with the Needmor Fund, began thinking about ways to support a rekindling of community organizing in Toledo. Toledo had a history of strong labor organizing as one of the founding locations of the UAW, and a more recent history of community organizing through Jesuit-led organizing, Friends Acting to Change Toledo (FACT), Toledoans USA, and the East Toledo Community Organization (ETCO) in the 1970s and 1980s (Stoecker, 1995; 1995b). But after the demise of ETCO in the early 1990s, Toledo had been without any sustained multi-neighborhood community organizing effort.
As these foundation officials and other supporters of a renewed community organizing effort in Toledo came together, they decided to adopt a growing practice around the country to help community development corporations do community organizing. They reasoned this would help avoid the inevitable organizational start-up costs of a completely new effort, and would also help ground the CDCs better in their communities. In the next round of grant applications, then, three CDC applicants were offered the opportunity to participate in the program: The Lagrange Development Corporation, Organized Neighbors Yielding Excellence, and Toledo Central City Neighborhoods.
Lagrange Development Corporation (LDC) operates in a historically Polish section of Toledo that was becoming increasingly diverse with African American and Hispanic residents. Of the three CDCs, LDC by far had the most experience with community organizing. Their executive director, Terry Glazer, had community organizing experience in Toledo for many years, and LDC had many of its best successes using community organizing tactics, such as hand delivering a huge three foot by five foot postcard to the Toledo district postmistress demanding that their neighborhood post office be moved out of a virtually abandoned and dangerous strip mall to a safer and more central neighborhood location. They had an established community organizing arm called the Lagrange Village Council that had lost momentum and membership.
Organized Neighbors Yielding Excellence (ONYX), served a predominantly African American neighborhood that was economically diverse, ranging from middle-class home-owners to residents of public housing. ONYX had been transforming itself over the years, having changed its name from the Brown-Dorr-Collingwood Redevelopment Corporation to better reflect neighborhood identity and pride. ONYX had just been part of a major multi-neighborhood housing redevelopment effort that now required lots of resources to manage. ONYX had experimented with community organizing, but without any serious technical assistance, and had not found a successful and sustainable model.
Toledo Central City Neighborhoods was a CDC operated through the Catholic Diocese. It served some of Toledo's poorest neighborhoods, which historically had not been able to sustain any effective community-based development organizations. TCCN was attempting to partner with a small community organizing effort called Neighbors In Action. NIA was symptomatic of the disorganization of the TCCN area neighborhoods, and TCCN/NIA was hoping for ways to enhance their combined efforts.
One of the first ways the tension between community organizing and community development exerted itself was in hiring an outside technical assistance provider to support the expansion of community organizing in these neighborhoods. Recall earlier the distinctions made between traditional Alinsky-style conflict-model community organizing and the new forms of functionalist community-building, consensus organizing, and asset-based community development that really are not community organizing models but extensions of the community development model. After doing an initial recruitment and screening of consultants, the foundation team had a clear choice between a candidate representing the community development extension model and a candidate representing the conflict-based community organizing model. The CDCs were quite strong, interestingly enough, in their support for the conflict-based community organizing model, and Madeline Talbott, of the famous Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was hired.
ACORN has its roots ultimately in the Civil Rights Movement, but most directly in the Welfare Rights movement that grew from it and was influenced by the Alinsky-style organizing model. Beginning in Little Rock as the Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now through former National Welfare Rights Organization activists (Delgado, 1986; Russell, 2000), ACORN grew to be the largest national network devoted to organizing poor communities. Their model emphasizes building organizations controlled by community leadership, and collecting dues from members to make the organizations as self-sustaining as possible. In contrast to activist organizations, then, ACORN organizes issue campaigns not just to win the issue, but also to build the organization. ACORN also has a reputation for holding large rallies and other confrontational actions when needed, along with employing a sophisticated negotiation model when it's possible. In the ACORN model, quite consistent with the Alinsky organizing model, the organizer's role is to build local leadership, and to remain in the background as support when it comes time for public actions and negotiations, which are to be led by community members. Madeline brought the ACORN model and process to the program, which would require a fair amount of change in the CDCs.
I was brought in to facilitate the evaluation of this program during 1998 and 1999, and then became a member of the sponsoring committee beginning in 2000. Much of my work throughout was to document both the process and outcomes of the program.
The training and technical assistance program went through three stages, roughly corresponding to each of the three funding years beginning in early 1998. These stages correspond to a general group dynamics model (Hansen et al, 1980), which shows new groups going through an initial honeymoon stage where they experience dramatic growth and success as a group; then a conflict period where participants reveal and struggle over their individual interests; and finally a resolution period where participants settle into an institutionalized working relationship. Interestingly, this stage model of group dynamics is usually fitted to face-to-face groups. Since one concern of this program was whether long-distance training and technical assistance relationships would work, the fact that the group dynamics passed so predictably through the three phases normally applied to face-to-face groups already lessens the concern over the weaknesses of long-distance training and technical assistance (TA).
The honeymoon stage was not without tensions, but nonetheless extremely productive. Initial meetings between the Training/TA team (which included Madeline Talbott of Chicago ACORN, Craig Robbins of St. Louis ACORN, and Bertha Lewis of Brooklyn ACORN), the foundation advisory committee, and the three CDC staff and leaders led to an initial program outline. The program had three components: 1) overall technical assistance to help move the CDCs to support community organizing (including training for the executive directors in how to supervise organizers), 2) mentoring for the community organizers (each CDC had one organizer), and 3) training for community members/leaders. Common to all of these components was the ACORN community organizing model and all the training and technical assistance components reflected ACORN culture and practices. This required some organizational development in all the organizations, and met with some resistance as well.
The technical assistance for organizational transformation aspect of the program was the most important in this early period. Much of the technical assistance consisted of weekly phone consultations and monthly site visits (each of the three ACORN consultants focused on one organization) with more contact during campaigns. Two of the three executive directors received close mentoring in how to supervise their organizers--a skill which they almost completely lacked because they themselves had no community organizing experience. They also received training in the ACORN model of identifying measurable organizing objectives.
This organizational transformation process was challenging. While LDC was the most advanced in terms of its organizing capacity, even its organizing process was quite different from the ACORN model. None of the organizations had a strong membership recruitment program that included a strict door-knocking regimen. None of the organizations had required dues. None of the organizations had a strong organization-building program. There was also sincere confusion over what community organizing is, illustrated by one comment about learning door-knocking: "If that's such a simple concept that's so foreign to Toledo, then what's next?" Furthermore, NIA, the organizing group partnered with TCCN, was in severe disarray, with a small cadre of long-time leaders resistant to organizational change. The TCCN executive director was not experienced with community organizing, and the person hired to do the organizing was new to the practice. ONYX also lost both its executive director and its community organizer early in the program, though it had at least one strong leader with a Civil Rights organizing background who maintained consistency and focus in the organization.
The community organizer mentoring, in the beginning, consisted of monthly site visits from the ACORN consultants, along with weekly speakerphone "debriefings" with Madeline Talbott where the community organizers reported on how many members they signed up, how many community meetings they organized, and any "quick hits" (small community actions organized around winnable issues like getting a vacant lot cleaned up) they organized. All three organizations had relatively inexperienced and recently hired community organizers, so the training really began from the very beginning. There were some early tensions here as well, since none of the organizers were used to the disciplined ACORN organizing process of door-knocking leading to small meetings and then larger meetings. ACORN even pressed the organizers to understand and use "organizer math"--a formula for how many people will turn out for a meeting based on how many people you first invite to the meeting, how many you reach through initial reminder phone calls, and how many you then reach through final reminder phone calls.
The initial leader-member training consisted of two days of an "introduction to organizing." Organizers for each group were expected to go out and recruit residents to attend the trainings. About two dozen neighborhood residents showed up for a wide ranging training that included taking groups out into the neighborhoods to do door-knocking with the ACORN trainers and the local organizers, and an exercise where an ACORN trainer got in the center of the room holding a sign that said "power" and taunting the group until somebody decided to get up and try to "take the power." An important aspect of this exercise was the debriefing afterward, where the ACORN trainers led a discussion of the implications of one person getting up to take the power, and then having it all to themselves, compared to a group getting up to take the power and sharing it. Other topics covered in the training included how to define a good issue, how to plan a campaign, and how to recruit members. The evaluations of the training were very positive, and this initial experience set a supportive tone for future trainings.
This training also showed how big a challenge the project was facing. A survey of those who attended the trainings meetings showed six of the fourteen people who completed surveys during the Friday training said they were community organizers, indicating there was either broad diversity in how people define community organizing or a lack of understanding of what it is. And where the survey asked what they wanted the trainings to cover, people listed very broad topics, including wanting "training in community organizing," "getting people involved," and variations on those themes. Observation during the trainings also showed how much very basic training was necessary--skills such as "cutting an issue" were drilled by Madeline, but not a single group was able to come up with an issue that met the criteria for an effective issue.
After a mid-year planning session, there were a number of changes in the program. To a large extent, those changes were made to accommodate the very different places the three organizations occupied. LDC/LVC was clearly both knowledgeable and skilled at organizing, and for them the mentoring model worked quite smoothly. ONYX required much more intervention, getting consultation from three different ACORN organizers as they built their supermarket campaign. TCCN/NIA showed some organizational resistance to traditional community organizing that showed a need for dramatic organizational restructuring. In the organizations requiring more restructuring there were concerns about whether ACORN's more traditional organizing model (as opposed to what one executive director called "touchy-feely organizing" that fits the functionalist theory underpinnings of community development) would be possible.
Because of the lack of knowledge about community organizing among community members, and the desire to put the community groups more in charge of the process, the ACORN trainers brought community members together to plan the next round of trainings. They outlined three monthly training sessions. The first day was to focus on recruitment strategies, including real door knocking. The second day was to focus on campaign planning focused on a real campaign the three groups would coalesce around. The third day was to focus on actions, including doing a real action.
The organizer mentoring process was the most difficult part of the project. Normally, new community organizers are mentored face to face on a daily basis. The funding available to this program just simply didn't allow that kind of contact, and instead the executive directors were expected to do regular debriefings, with speakerphone mentoring from Madeline Talbott every other week. Both the ACORN mentors and the organizers were unhappy with this process. At least two of the organizers felt uncomfortable reporting their membership recruitment and meeting attendance numbers with each other sitting there, partly because they were all quite new to this style of organizing and their numbers were low. The organizers also had widely varying training needs that were difficult to fill when they all met together. The Lagrange organizer received the most thorough debriefings from the executive director (who had a long history of organizing himself), leaving the other two organizers in much more need of daily contact. As a consequence, the organizers and mentors created a schedule of one-on-one long-distance debriefings.
By the end of the first year, many of the early program design tensions had been overcome, and two of the organizations were making significant strides toward building organizing into their missions and activities.
The Lagrange Village Council (LVC), the organizing arm of LDC, undertook a newly sophisticated membership campaign, working section by section through the neighborhood signing up members, collecting dues, and doing "quick hit" actions to build spirit and achieve small victories. LVC increased the number of neighborhood representatives on its governing committee by 50 percent and its total membership by 75 percent. They were regularly able to turn out 70 to 100 people for actions on irresponsible landlords and business owners, and showed an early ability to sustain long and difficult campaigns.
ONYX's most important success was in its ability to reorganize. Early in the program they lost both their executive director and their community organizer and there was some concern they would not be able to rebuild enough to make an expansion into community organizing realistic. But they stuck to the program, with one experienced long-time leader agreeing to take over the organizing responsibilities while their newly hired organizer spent two months in New York and Chicago receiving intensive ACORN training and mentoring. ONYX, consequently, was not able to show the success in numbers that LVC did, but was able to gain experience during an unsuccessful campaign to get a neighborhood supermarket, and a few smaller campaigns winning small victories.
The third organization, TCCN/NIA dropped out during the first year. It became increasingly clear that the organizing group, NIA, needed so much basic organizational intervention that they were not ready for the kinds of training and technical assistance the program was able to provide. There was also some question of how committed they were to the model of organizing being provided by ACORN.
The most important outcome of this year, however, which signaled both the climax and the end of the honeymoon period, was the third of the monthly trainings. When Bertha Lewis, from New York ACORN, led the November training in how to do an action, she pushed ONYX and Lagrange to come up with a real target that effected both neighborhoods. LVC had already identified an area landlord/developer--John Ulmer--as a problem in their neighborhood and, with a bit more research, ONYX learned that he had problem houses in their neighborhood too. The morning of the training Bertha led LVC and ONYX through the action planning process and then at noon everyone piled into cars and headed to the ritzy suburb where the target lived to do a picket. The 20 or so people there experienced everything that happens at a demonstration--the police came, the media came, the public officials came. By the end, everyone was so excited that LVC and ONYX were talking about doing a joint campaign. This campaign, and the dynamics that created it, would frame the second year of the program.
The second year of the program was difficult. Every organizer at some point expresses some version of the slogan "If an organization doesn't grow, it dies."(Beckwith and Lopez, 1997 The organizers who live by this principle don't mean just that an organization needs to get more members. They mean it needs to expand its reach--taking on bigger issues and expanding the boundaries of its influence.
This was not an issue in the first year of the program, which saw dramatic growth in the skills of the organizers, the development of the organizations, and the recruitment of members and leaders. But in the second year of the program growth became an important issue. For one thing, the starting point for each organization was more advanced than it had been the previous year, making it harder to make new qualitative gains in organizational transformation, though both ONYX and LVC continue to build their organizations quantitatively at about the same pace or even an increased pace. The basic training and technical assistance had been extremely successful.
The Lagrange Village Council had regained its momentum and solidified its separation from the Lagrange Development Corporation. Establishing the LVC as a relatively autonomous organizing arm was the strategy LDC chose to manage the organizing-development tension. LDC still paid the organizer salary, and the organizer reported to the LDC executive director, but there was a written memorandum of understanding establishing the relative autonomy of LVC. There were some internal growing pains associated with this autonomy, as LVC had its own governing committee that talked on and off about becoming completely autonomous with their own offices and their own non-profit status, though that was for the moment impractical. There were also leadership struggles in both LDC and LVC during this time, as the influx of new members led to normal and predictable jockeying for political position and influence. But none of this disrupted the momentum they had established.
ONYX was having a more challenging time of it. Their newly hired and newly trained organizer had only been on the ground for a few months early in 1999, and was still learning the job. ONYX itself was also much less certain of how it wanted to deal with the organizing-development tensions, with greater reluctance to move into full-fledged conflict model community organizing compared to LDC/LVC because of fears over their funding, much of which came from the city CDBG allocation. For the time being ONYX tried to make organizing a part of the development corporation itself, governed through their board of directors.
A second thing pushing for expansion was the newness and smallness of community organizing in Toledo. There were, for all practical purposes, only two community organizers in Toledo on a full-time basis and there were growing concerns that two organizers were not enough to sustain a local organizing culture and lead to advancement of the craft. In addition, in other cities with strong community organizing there is an organizer career path: beginning organizers who succeed move into lead organizer positions, then local director positions, and then beyond if the organization is multi-local. There were no opportunities for advancement for either organizer in Toledo without an expansion in the number of community organizers.
The third thing that made growth an important issue was the initial excitement generated around the John Ulmer training action, which quickly transformed into a full-fledged campaign. ONYX and LDC/LVC, with different racial identities, different organizing cultures and structures, and different degrees of readiness, nonetheless pursued the joint campaign of trying to get John Ulmer to become a more ethical developer. It was not easy. "Dyads" are always prone to polarization because they so easily fall into the problem of "yes-no" "right-wrong" dualisms. This was especially the case with ONYX and LDC/LVC, which were in such different places developmentally. And with a coalition of just two organizations, participants did not feel a strong need to create a separate structure to manage the coalition. Without a strong leadership group that could be partly independent of each organization, misunderstandings erupted over who was responsible for what tasks, and who was taking more than their fair share of leadership power. Coalitions of multiple organizations require a strong, more formal structure to manage decision-making and task assignment in the group. And because they constitute a much larger effort, they are more valuable to any individual organization member, and are not as prone to polarization (though coalitions of three can create "two against one" conflicts). John Ulmer also proved to be a resilient target who resisted making agreements and resisted following through on agreements. And as the coalition of LVC and ONYX had difficulty getting wins with John Ulmer, they came into conflict with each other. ONYX felt its members' energy and commitment flagging as the effort dragged on month after month, eventually ending their involvement in the campaign.
The fourth thing that made growth an important issue was that the program funding period was nearing an end participants saw the need to take the next steps into expansion to access new funding sources. The community organizers for both LDC/LVC and ONYX were being funded through this program, and when the program ended there would be no organizer salary unless it came from alternative sources. So early in 1999 the project participants and consultants did intensive planning around possible avenues for growth. The options they explored included creating a more formal coalition and inviting other organizations in, having ONYX and LDC/LVC expand their organizing prowess and contract out to other neighborhoods, or create a new stand-alone organization that would either take over all organizing or would work collaboratively with the organizing being done through ONYX and LDC/LVC. Conflicts developed between the funders and the program participants later in the year over how much and how quickly to expand beyond the current neighborhoods. This led to a site visit from one potential funder in the midst of this conflict period. As a consequence, the funder saw the conflicts in the program at the time, rather than the progress the program was making. It would be a few months into 2000 for all involved to work through these conflicts and have an expansion plan.
During this period of conflict the training and technical assistance continued. In this second year, however, the trainings were more individualized. The realization of how differently structured the organizations were, and their different organizational development, led the ACORN consultants to work more separately on training issues. Rather than joint leader trainings, trainings were organized around regular meetings of the boards of each organization. This was particularly important for ONYX, which was doing an in-depth planning process, partly in an attempt to figure out how organizing could be fit into its existing organizational structure. The ACORN mentors also switched which organizer each worked with to give each organizer a fresh perspective and hopefully new skills in lieu of being able to offer opportunities for job advancement.
But the learning curve had leveled out. The organizers, directors, and leaders, had received all the basic training and now the task was trying to make that training really take hold. Everyone knew about "cutting an issue," "doing a quick hit," "debriefing," "doorknocking," collecting dues, and the other organizing tasks. Now the task was to help everyone succeed at it, and that meant a lot of one-on-one mentoring and close organizational development work. This was more challenging for ONYX, which was still trying to work out its organizational structure and the role of community organizing in it. LDC/LVC needed less intervention, as they continued to expand their organizing throughout the neighborhood and continued to take on new issues. Perhaps the most important sign of their success this second year was after a shooting around the corner from where their organizer lived. With his children visiting, the organizer immediately took them out of the neighborhood. In his absence, neighborhood leaders took it upon themselves to organize an action on the bar that had precipitated the shooting, got media coverage, and ultimately got the bar closed down. It was the clearest sign that all that training had done its job.
By the time the second year of the project had come to a close, LVC had 141 members paying dues totaling $2,820, and ONYX had 80 members paying dues totaling $1,600. LVC had 21 long-term stable leaders, about three-fourths of whom had been involved a year or more. ONYX had six long-term stable organizing leaders, separate from the ONYX board, that had been involved between six months and two years. Each organization had divided up their respective neighborhoods into areas. LVC had conducted organizing drives in nearly all areas of their neighborhood. ONYX has conducted organizing drives in about half of their areas, but with less success in terms of actions and organization building.
Resolution Stage: 2000
Beginning in late 1999 and continuing into early 2000, ONYX, LDC/LVC, and ACORN worked deeply into planning. Through careful negotiations with the funders, who had become concerned about the sustainability of the project, an agreement was reached that further funding would be forthcoming if there was a plan in place, created by all the parties. Important to the plan was evidence of how the organizations would collaborate, since the conflicts between LDV/LVC and ONYX that had developed around the John Ulmer were one of the main sources of concern. The opportunity for future funding, of course, was inducement enough for the groups to step up their collaboration. In addition, they were also coming out the other end of a predictable group conflict process (Hansen et al., 1980) and moving into a more settled working relationship. The push from the funders helped this process along. Finally, in many ways this planning process was a continuation of the planning process begun a year earlier where the groups began contemplating various models of expansion.
The model that came out of the discussion was for ACORN to enter the scene as the third group. Prior to this ACORN had simply been a technical assistance and training provider. Under this new plan, ACORN would begin a start-up community organizing operation in Toledo. LDC/LVC and ONYX would maintain their own community organizing process, and ACORN would begin organizing in other "non-represented" neighborhoods. LDC/LVC and ONYX would also formalize their relationship with ACORN, involving agreements about helping to fundraise for ACORN and writing joint grant applications that would fund all three organizing efforts. Under this agreement, LDC/LVC and ONYX would maintain their autonomy.
As the funding began to fall into place for this new collaboration, including the original funders and newly leveraged funds, ACORN hired a new organizing recruit and sent him off to Dallas for six months of training. They also formed a sponsoring committee including the director, organizer, and board presidents of LDC/LVC and ONYX, representatives of the original funders, ACORN, and myself to guide this new organizing effort. And in mid-2000, when the new organizer returned from Dallas, he was placed in the Old South End neighborhood of Toledo, which had been chosen by the sponsoring committee as relatively unclaimed turf.
The Old South End was important in a couple of respects. For one, it had been the site of a number of failed organizing attempts, and also was the home of the famed Farm Labor Organizing Committee, though FLOC itself had not organized there. The Old South End is also a working class neighborhood with the highest concentration of Hispanic people in Toledo, building further diversity in the overall community organizing effort. It was also the location of two CDCs--Heritage South and Neighborhood Housing Services. Neither CDC, however, had any community base to speak of.
Important in this third year was the shift from a technical assistance and training program to an actual organizing program. There was no longer funding for ACORN members to fly in on a monthly basis to do trainings, debriefings, and organizing mentoring. They still provided what assistance they could over the phone, and Madeline (the ACORN representative to the sponsoring committee) included site visits to ONYX and LDC/LVC every other month when she came in for sponsoring committee meetings. And while the organizers still reported on their activities at each sponsoring committee meeting, there was no longer the intense push from the ACORN mentors for the organizations to produce numbers--numbers of doors knocked, numbers of dues collected, numbers of people at meetings, etc. This was technical assistance based on the reality of no extra money (since all available funds were now being used to support the existing and new organizing efforts) and the consequent hope that the initial training had succeeded enough that each organization had its own momentum.
This was certainly true of LDC/LVC, which continued to expand its activities and its base. LVC was into its third year on the John Ulmer campaign, at the same time that they were taking on neighborhood issues involving a large abandoned commercial building, inadequate city garbage collection, and numerous smaller issues. LDC/LVC could easily turn out dozens of people for any event, and hundreds when they tried hard. Their most pronounced success was gaining $500,000 from the city for neighborhood capital improvements after an intense campaign of actions on the mayor and mass meetings. The training and technical assistance did not have as much staying power with ONYX, whose organizing energy waned in the absence of close mentoring. To achieve a better fit between the organization's situation and the organizer's skills, the organizer's role shifted to less traditional organizing and more administrative duties. A few months later, as part of a career transition, the organizer took a job with a different organization. In addition, ONYX also began focusing more on community development-style organizing through their involvement in the Weed and Seed program, which gave them another path out of the development-organizing tension. The Weed and Seed program followed a community-building approach much more compatible with the functionalist CDC model. This approach also fit better with an organizational model that did not separate organizing and development. ONYX was also a good year behind LDC/LVC in terms of organizational development, given their need to replace their executive director and organizer early into the project and train them from scratch. This was not to say that ONYX sat on its hands during this time, as they got heavily involved in a successful campaign to prevent a local bank branch from closing. Rather, the organization-building aspect of their community organizing effort stalled out.
Through much of 2000, then, there was a lull except in Lagrange. The new ACORN organizing effort got off to a slow start, since it was building an organization from scratch with a newly trained organizer. It would really be until spring of 2001, when a part-time student organizer started helping and new funding came in, that the organizing effort would take off, with a number of suddenly successful campaigns targeting the dog warden for better service and an absentee landlord for better upkeep of his buildings. ACORN also brought in another organizer to start organizing on the east side of Toledo in early 2001. East Toledo had a history of community organizing in the 1970s and 1980s through the East Toledo Community Organization (Stoecker, 1995; 1995b) and was also unrepresented by other efforts except as part of a housing CDC's service area.
In May, LVC and ACORN embarked on their first joint campaign around issues that had been building in the Toledo Public Schools, sending over two dozen people to a school board meeting to protest a new 3 minute limit being imposed on citizen comments at school board meetings. They followed that with another joint action at a regular school board meeting. ACORN also increased its staff to three full-time organizers in the summer of 2001.
By mid-2001, then, there was community organizing occurring in three Toledo neighborhoods and were having clear success in building their community base and winning local victories. The remaining steps are to jell these organizing efforts into a city-wide campaign. There is still a shortage of organizers in Toledo to create a critical mass of effort, with only four employed community organizers in town. The Old South End and East Toledo are both beginning to build a stable base but it is not clear yet whether either are strong enough to fully participate in a coalition. And it is also challenging to decide how to decide on a city-wide issue, especially for the CDC-based organizing efforts which have historically limited themselves to neighborhood-based issues (though the John Ulmer campaign provided some early lessons on what to do and what not to do).
Important challenges lie on the path to renewed community organizing in Toledo. Identifying and recruiting organizers, finding stable and long term funding, and building alliances with a core of power holders are all complex tasks. But a new and quite interesting Toledo model is developing and gaining momentum that combines community organizing and development through a structure that includes an independent community organizing effort. We will discuss below the importance of such a model.
There are a number of important lessons that can be drawn from this project so far. Many of the lessons confirm those being learned in the RHICO program in Massachusetts. They are also informed by a theoretical understanding of the organizing-development tension, which it may be useful to review here. Remember that community development is premised on cooperative relationships between players with different levels of resources--banks and nonprofits, governments and citizens. The community development model also assumes that everyone has common and compatible interests that support cooperation and that conflict does more harm than good because it ignores the common interests and the assumed advantages of cooperation. Community organizing, in its traditional form, assumes that people with different resources in fact have conflicting interests, and that cooperation will only maintain the status quo. Thus, conflict is a way to raise the costs to the powerful and make it more sensible for them to negotiate.
The problem with CDCs doing community organizing, then, is not just that their funding might be threatened, but that community organizing and community development have different world views and value systems. Programs to combine them need to take into account both the structural reality that organizing might threaten development resources, and the cultural reality that organizing and development may have conflicting outlooks.
From that framework, here are the lessons being learned from the Toledo Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance program.
The importance of early organizational assessment and buy-in:
There was an assessment done at the very beginning of the project to try and determine the readiness of Toledo CDCs for such a training program, but it was not done in light of their readiness for a traditional community organizing model informed by the hindsight we have now. For future programs helping CDCs to do community organizing, we can now do a more careful assessment. Based on the RHICO experience as well as the Toledo outcomes, here are some important assessment questions to ask:
The best case situation to expand a CDC's activities into community organizing are when the CDC has a board of directors democratically elected through a community-wide process, and an executive director and at least one respected board member with community organizing knowledge and experience. One of the challenges that faced the ONYX board, which was not elected through a community-wide process, was what to do with people recruited to the organization through community organizing. When new members have no place to go in the organization, they tend to go away. In addition, the ONYX director did not have community organizing experience or knowledge outside of the training program, and only one board member did. This made it difficult to manage the fears within ONYX that traditional community organizing could threaten the organization's development activities. There was commitment in ONYX to doing community organizing, however, and we will address below the potential for success in a situation where there is commitment to community organizing but not a supportive situation for it.
The importance of clarifying the organizing-development tension:
In a situation like Toledo, where there is not a critical mass of community organizers or a community organizing culture that understands the various organizing models, education may be the first task. It is very interesting that, early on, there was a clear choice between technical assistance that would promote a conflict-theory community organizing model vs. a functionalist community building model. The support for the community organizing model, without an understanding by everyone of the ramifications for the CDCs of adopting such a model, effected the outcomes. Would the CDCs have all adopted the traditional community organizing training and TA if they had understood it and the other options? It is difficult to say now, as so many of the actors have changed. Clearly, LDC/LVC would have made the same choice, as it fit with their history. But TCCN/NIA and ONYX may have gone for the community building model had they understood their choices and the implications of each model for their organizations. The community building model is much easier for CDCs to do, remember, because it is based in the same functionalist theory assumptions as community development, and thus requires much less organizational restructuring.
The initial assessment, then should not be simply an external assessment of the CDC's readiness to do community organizing. It should also be an internal assessment of whether the CDC is ready to create a community-based and democratically-elected governing committee for the community organizing effort, and whether it is ready to insulate the community organizing effort from attempts by the CDC to control it.
The importance of structuring the organizing-development tension:
If the CDC is not ready to go through sometimes dramatic organizational restructuring, some might say, then CDCs should be allowed to opt for the community building model. Certainly, doing so will make the CDC more community-based, which is a good thing. But it is highly questionable whether the community building model can do anything more than provide more social services, albeit more community-based social services. When the issue is changing government policies that oppress, changing corporate policies that exclude and exploit, and changing broader cultural practices that abuse, community building is ineffective. In such cases, there needs to be a search for a different structure that can build community organizing outside of reluctant CDCs, but with their cooperation. Toledo is embarking on a very interesting model of establishing independent community organizing in coalition with CDCs, which we will explore further in the final section of this report.
But why can't CDCs and community organizing just each do their own thing? Remember, as we have discussed above, there is a complex relationship between militant and moderate groups in social change efforts. Moderate groups, either because they fear having their resources cut if they act out, or because they disagree with militant tactics, are very limited in their tactical flexibility. And they consequently have nothing to withhold or offer as inducements in negotiations. Militant groups have the very important inducement of social disruption, but often have difficulty maintaining credibility to move from disruption to negotiation. Social movements have shown the greatest success when there has been a combination of moderate and militant groups operating for the cause. When both kinds of groups can find ways of working in coalition, they can both leverage and complete negotiations.
And what about the CDC wanting to do community organizing? Can it do both organizing and development successfully? The experience of LDC/LVC shows that a CDC can do community organizing, when it is carefully structured and effective. Perhaps the most threatening situation is a CDC trying to do community organizing but doing it badly. In that situation, the targets get angry at the organization's attempts to pressure them, but also see that the organization isn't strong enough to carry out the pressure tactics, so they either ignore it or squash it. Over the course of the last three years LDC/LVC has received a number of threats from powerful actors, but none of them have been carried out, partly because the Lagrange community now has the reputation of being able to turn out people en masse whenever they want and sustain a long drawn-out campaign. And one of the reasons that LDV/LVC has been successful is that they worked very hard to create a formal separation of their organizing and their development activities so that new leaders can rise to important positions in the neighborhood and so organizing tactics are not constrained by the perceived risks of the development side. But how do you get there?
VIII. Expanding Community Organizing in Toledo-Recommendations
We have learned enough for developing an initial model for doing "distance" training and technical assistance for community organizations wanting to do community organizing.
First is the importance of early organizational commitment and restructuring. Helping a CDC develop a leadership structure that invites new participation and establishes relative autonomy for the organizing effort is extremely challenging and not doing so may doom the effort from the start. The experience of those in RHICO, which also relies on a lot of distance mentoring, is leading them to consider a multi-layered process: CDCs interested in community organizing first commit to an ongoing community organizing discussion and learning process to understand what it entails and how to it. At some point during this process the CDC can make an official commitment to the organizational transformation process necessary to start community organizing. At that point they are eligible for technical assistance to develop a community organizing work plan. Once they have an improved work plan they can apply for development funds to support start-up costs. Once they are successfully underway, the CDC can apply for full RHICO support (Marks, 2000). This model has the advantage of providing early education to CDCs so they can make informed choices before investing more resources that may go to waste.
One of the most important lessons from the Toledo experience is the importance of doing both leader and staff training. In many ways, the leader trainings were the most interesting. They were not textbook-based. People actually went out and door-knocked. They actually went out and did protests. Leader training became very important in developing community organizing cultures in both ONYX and LDC/LVC. The challenge facing ONYX in this regard was not doing the early organizational restructuring work, and not continuing the intensive training beyond the second year, both of which were probably necessary for success. When the training comes from a distance, the time it takes for solid momentum to really build is much longer than when the training is home-based.
What should be included in such trainings? Most successful in the Toledo program was the "start-to-finish" training sequence that began with member recruitment, went through organization-building and campaign-planning and finished up with doing an action. Leaders had a sense of what it took from start to finish. This is really training for beginners. Beyond this basic training, however, it became clear in the Toledo program that the technical assistance really needed to be individualized. LDC/LVC really needed assistance in troubleshooting its basically successful community organizing. For example, when they built a sub-organization in one area of the neighborhood and then moved on to start in the next area, they needed help figuring out how to sustain the first area. ONYX needed to grapple much more with how to find official places for newly recruited members and how to protect the organizing effort from the pressures of the CDC. At this point, neither the Toledo program nor RHICO has developed technical assistance "tracks" for different situations.
The lessons being learned in Toledo are informing a unique strategy for managing the organizing-development tension. In contrast to my model of partnering large multi-local CDCs with small neighborhood-based community organizing groups (Stoecker, 1997), the model being developed in Toledo partners a large multi-local community organizing network-ACORN-with small neighborhood-based CDCs. The biggest advantage of this model is that it builds on the existing resources in Toledo. Toledo has a number of small neighborhood CDCs that are trying to be more community-based through trying out asset-based community development, community-based planning, and other strategies. But they are reluctant to employ conflict-model community organizing (both because they don't agree with it and fear the consequences of using it). Shifting these organizations to do effective community organizing is impractical. Where they cannot make the shift themselves, they may be willing to partner with a community organizing network that can insulate them from the political heat of conflict-model community organizing.
This model also faces some significant challenges. The first and most important challenge is funding. Toledo is a poor city whose corporations, with rare exception, long ago abandoned the city by choice or by capture from bigger fish. Consequently, there is an extremely weak philanthropy base and a almost nonexistent progressive philanthropy base. City government has been moribund for quite some time and imagining a shift of CDBG funds into community organizing, for example, requires a lot of imagination. The United Way has also been reluctant to support anything outside of status-quo-maintaining social services, and Toledo's Community Shares program has only recently gotten off the ground.
There are some possible strategies for dealing with this tension:
Another challenge is the serious lack of understanding regarding community organizing in Toledo. With only a small handful of people who have any community organizing training at all, a broad understanding of what is possible and what is needed to realize the possible is severely lacking. Currently, one city council member is opposing the community organizing effort going on. Yet, this same council member was a leader in one of Toledo's previously most successful community organizing efforts-the East Toledo Community Organization. The fact that he can't see the similarities is disturbing. In general, CDC staff, social service staff, faith-based organizations, and various grass-roots organization leaders have no idea what community organizing is or what it can do. City officials, who year after year fund the same social service agencies that pick up the pieces of individual dysfunction that result from disorganized communities, are loath to shift money to efforts to prevent those problems by organizing communities in the first place.
Dealing with these challenges requires a multi-pronged education campaign.
While these challenges are significant, slow and steady momentum continues to build in Toledo and the hope grows that we can shift from building only the physical community to also building the social community.
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