COMM-ORG Papers 2004

Journal of Community Power Building:
Reflections of Community Development Leaders and Practitioners

 Edited by Sam Yoon, Asian CDC; Bill Traynor, Lawrence CommunityWorks; Nancy Marks, MACDC

Ricanne Hadrian Initiative for Community Organizing

The RHICO program is a joint initiative of MACDC and LISC

May 2004


A Letter from the Editors

Walking the Fine Line. By Danny LeBlanc,Somerville Community Corporation

The Power of Patience. By Yordy Ureña and Bill Traynor, Lawrence CommunityWorks

Fear and Coaxing in Waltham. By Sarah Robbins, WalthamAlliance to Create Housing (WATCH)

A Seat at the Table. By Yvette Cooks and Marc Dohan, Twin Cities Community Development Corporation

¡Sí Se Puede! (Yes We Can!). By Jim Haskell, Salem Harbor Community Development Corporation

The Local/Global Politics of Boston’s Viet-Vote. By James Dien Bui, Shirley Suet-ling Tang, and Peter Nien-chu Kiang, Viet-AID

Laying Down a Speed Bump on the Gentrification Superhighway--Anatomy of a Campaign. By Kalila Barnett and Harry Smith, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation

Jook Sing (“Hollow Bamboo”). By Lai Ying Yu, Asian Community Development Corporation


A Letter from the Editors

“To know power and not fear it is essential to its constructive use and control."

Saul Alinsky, Organizer

“The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is 'look under foot.'  You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of your power than you think.  The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive.  The great opportunity is where you are.  Do not despise your own place and hour.  Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world.”

John Burroughs, Essayist and Poet

On behalf of the Editorial Committee, we would like to welcome you to the first edition of the Journal of Community Power Building, a publication of the Ricanne Hadrian Initiative for Community Organizing (RHICO).  RHICO is an initiative of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and the Massachusetts Association for Community Development Corporations (MACDC) to provide resources, technical assistance and peer learning opportunities for CDCs engaged in power building.  MACDC is not only the oldest state association for CDCs in the United States, but also a national leader in building the capacity of CDCs to do effective community organizing.  MACDC’s recently-adopted strategic plan identifies “building community power” as one of our movement’s core values, and this volume seeks to put that core value into action. Over the past seven years, RHICO has helped to shape a new generation of CDC staff and resident leaders who believe that all community change paths lead back to our abilities, capacities and willingness to build and exercise power.

Our perspectives about power are shaped by circumstance, culture, tradition, perception, and real world conditions, as well as by human emotion, communication and behavior.   For community development practitioners, our view of power is further influenced by a) the place-based nature of our work; b) the broad set of community-change agendas that we represent; and c) our commitment to building forms of collective, rather than unilateral power.  In addition, as we struggle each day to build the power needed to build the things – the homes, playgrounds, businesses, job opportunities and other community assets – that are needed in distressed communities, we do so in a policy and resource environment that, by and large, does its best to starve and marginalize our efforts.

Those of us who work and live in distressed or changing communities know that this process of building power – especially community power and collective power – is not only complicated, but personally challenging as well.  Often, our sense of self-worth, our fears and our ambivalence about power can get in the way of our ability to master the community change process.  Yet, the mastery of anything requires that we embrace its complexity and contradictions.  The Power Journal was established in recognition of this to promote an honest exploration of how real people in real situations grapple with both strategic and tactical complexities, as well as the deep emotional contradictions of understanding, building and using power. 

This Journal is produced and written solely by practitioners – the staff members, board members and community leaders who are working in CDCs in Massachusetts.  It is meant to provide a forum for many of the voices in our movement that are not normally heard.  Our writers are not professional writers or academics.  They are people from our own ranks who have taken a moment from the demands of their communities and organizations to share a story or an idea so that we can learn and grow as a network of activists.

We are very fortunate to have, in this, the inaugural edition of the Journal, eight wonderful and rich submissions by some of the unique voices from amongst our ranks.

We start with four stories which represent some of the principal voices of our movement:

  • In “Walking the Fine Line” Danny LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Somerville Community Corporation writes a remarkably honest personal account of the complexities of leading an organization through the process of building power while needing to be responsive to the ‘powers that be.’
  • Next, in an interview with Lawrence Community Works Director Bill Traynor, fifteen year old youth activist Yordy Ureña talks about what he has learned about power from the street, from incarceration and from being a part of a CDC.
  • Third, we have a unique voice in Sarah Robbins, a resident leader from WATCH in Waltham, who in “Fear and Coaxing in Waltham” writes about the power of fear and her personal path to understanding her own power and the power of the group.
  • The last piece in this group, ”A Seat At the Table,” was written by Marc Dohan, Executive Director of Twin Cities CDC and Yvette Cooks, a Twin Cities’ Board Member.  It gives us two different perspectives of the same campaign, and a glimpse into how each moved toward the other in the course of trying to build the power of the group.

The middle section of the Journal features three campaign descriptions that illustrate the strategic and tactical issues that confront CDCs that are trying to mount local movements:

  • In Jamaica Plain, the Campaign of Conscience is a broad attempt to slow down gentrification and raise questions about ‘equity’ in a runaway real estate market.  Organizers Kalila Barnett and Harry Smith bring this campaign to light.
  • In Salem, Executive Director Jim Haskell shares how the CDC tries to find ways to, directly and indirectly, participate in and build a movement of Latino community and electoral power.
  • In Boston, authors James Dien Bui, Shirely Suet-ling Tang and Peter Nien-chu Kiang discuss the Viet-Vote campaign, which confronts cultural barriers here and from the homeland in an immigrant community struggling to increase community engagement and build political power.

Finally, in “Jook Sing” (“Hollow Bamboo”) we leave you with a beautifully written memoir-fiction piece by Lai Ying Yu of the Asian CDC, about a young organizer’s struggle to understand and move within the rich and complex community politics of Chinatown.

Like our movement, our writers are a diverse group of executive directors, board members, community organizers and residents.  They are Asian, Latino, African American and White.  They are male and female, young and old and from communities throughout the Commonwealth.  But as diverse a group as they are, they share a common pursuit – to better understand the currents, laws and attributes of power so that as agents of change, they can help lead their communities and our movement.

It is our sincere hope that this is just the first of many The Journal of Community Power Building volumes that help us explore this rich topic. We have so much to learn from each other and from the content of our work.  Thank you for taking the time to read these stories, and we hope you will share this volume with friends and colleagues.  

In unity,

Co-editors, The Journal of Community Power Building

Sam Yoon, Asian CDC

Bill Traynor, Lawrence CommunityWorks                               

Nancy Marks, MACDC