Sender: H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing & <COMM-ORG@UICVM.UIC.EDU> Subject: COMMENTS: "Neighborhood Organizing: Importance of Historical..." ======================================================================== Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 07:23:15 CST Posted by Robert Slayton <>

I thought Robert Fisher's essay on community organizing was a superb piece, but a number of issues he raised, concerning recent trends, troubled me deeply.

Most disturbing of all was the notion that the organizer should become the cenral focus of comunity organizing. If the purpose of organizing is to foster democracy, to increase involvement and power of grass roots communities and peoples, then relegating power to a technical support person seems antithetical.

Clearly the movement has had celebrity figures before: Saul Alinsky and Cesear Chavez leap to mind as obvious examples, as does Jane Addams, for an earlier generation.

But it seems to me that we are talking about something different here. Addams always was a member of a technical elite; the most basic criticism of the settlement house movement was always its potential distance from its clients and community. Alinsky and Chavez were that rare bird, strong, charismatic leaders who come along rarely.

But, according to Fisher, community movements are now raising up, not the unusual leader, but the technically trained, slightly advanced and reasonably competent support staff. And they are being given not only the leadership reins, but some kind of celebrity status (head of the organization). Hence, what this leads to is this: are we talking about developing a kind of LA trend here? That is, the development of organizrs as celebrities, rather than facilitators of community empowerment? If so, I tremble for the future.

Second, I would submit that the strategy of moderation is doomed to failure, in that it will be overrun by events. As power is drained from poorer communities, as it has since the 1980s, frustration mounts, and that must seek an outlet, often one that is extremist and violent. To use a specific example, I find many things amazing about Southern California, to which I have still madjusted but poorly, but near the top of the list is the incredibly weak state of community organizing, compared, say to Chicago. The reasons for this are way beyond the scope of this note (or of my limited inquiries into LA politics), but my point is that I question whether the LA Riot would have happened if there had been a stronger network of organizations, with loud and passionate--and effective--protests. It was amazing to me that after the Rodney King beating, no large scale demonstration ever appeared. Instead, the anger remained, and with no constructive outlet for positive, progressive change, was released in a fury of violence.

Final question: where does the Christian Coalition, one of the most successful mobilizers of grass roots support I have seen in recent years, fit into Fisher's schema?

Robert Slayton Department of History Chapman University ======================================================================== Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 11:44:47 CST Posted by Michael Byrd <>

Robert Fisher argues in his fascinating paper on the historical development of organizing that the 1980s and 1990s are characterized by more moderate organizations focused on economic development, such that progressive elements are minimized.

Moderation seems to rule the day here in Metropolitan Nashville, where the primary political fight is underscored by the recently proposed move of the Houston Oilers professional football team to Nashville, and the public debate on where funds should go to help get them here and build a stadium.

Nashville has had what Fisher would call a "political activist" tradition epitomized in the organization of the Civil Rights era student sit-ins and Mississippi Freedom Rides. Predominantly African American, those movements seemingly spawned no prominent or equally powerful contemporary organizations. In fact, many organizers in the black community seemed to turn their focus inward, creating associations to deliver services to immediate needs or to maintain neighborhoods.

The recent attempts to lure the Oilers here are characterized by a debate between two groups most interested in what Fisher aptly refers to as economic development. The majority of Nashvillians seem to support the move as long as their taxes are not raised as a result. Spearheading this popular support is a coalition of the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, and a majority of conservative to moderate city council members. Those who have opposed this move primarily include the neighborhood associations and the moderate to liberal (a term I use with some qualification, given their support of economic development) council members. Interestingly, the African American delegation on the city council expressed ambivalence toward either side of the issue, and actually agreed with the Mayor in a closed-door meeting to abstain as a block from voting on funding the move.

The bone of contention between these groups seems to be over how economic development is going to happen. Those representing the Chamber argue that whenever Metro money is spent on relocating big business to Nashville, all citizens will benefit. Those farther to the left argue for either "slow" or "no" growth policies which spend money on the immediate needs of neighborhoods. Consistent with Fisher's claims about current organizing, neither of these camps makes any sort of radical critique of power structures or economic systems which create unjust or inhumane conditions. At the same time, poorer neighborhood and public housing associations find that they have to associate with larger groups like IAF which, if Fisher is right, only serves to maintain the moderate political climate alongside modest infrastructural gains. (At one point a few years ago, the IAF organizer claimed that a primary interest he had was to find out how federal block grants were being used and to contest such use if it did not benefit public housing residents; hardly a radical act).

Thus, the relocation of a football team to Nashville underscores Fisher's genealogy of neighborhood organizing. Nashville is enjoying relative prosperity, as the entertainment and health care industries are booming and businesses are having trouble keeping positions filled. The machine toolist industry is actually having to advertise outside of the city, since they have more openings than people to fill them. And yet, one of the plums that the pro-growth advocates use to get the Oilers is that it will create more jobs.

I wonder whether Nashvillians' tendencies to buy these positions reflects an insecurity even in the relative abundance that they feel about money, or whether the recent prosperity is seen as simply a "blip" on the screen of a national and global political economy in growing crisis. Either way, it seems as if Nashvillians are most concerned with protecting whatever power they have, rather than making revolutionary demands.

I also have questions about the place of the entertainment industry in the political economy. The largest local businesses include Gaylord Broadcasting (owns Opryland) and the Country Music industry. People seem to identify more amenably with these forms of capital (and with professional football teams), such that a radical critique and acts of resistance might be much more difficult than with other industrial forms. It would seem, then, that the industry more suited to weathering the contemporary political economy and navigating local organizing attempts include those with which people feel a personal connection.

Michael Byrd, Ph.D. Candidate Religion, Ethics, & Society Program Vanderbilt University

[Michael will be presenting a paper on the Nashville IAF as part of the seminar in 1996. -- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 14:26:25 CST From: Wendy Plotkin 1-312-996-3141 <U13972@UICVM.BITNET> Subject: COMMENTS: "Neighborhood Organizing: Importance of Historical..."

[To obtain a copy of Robert Fisher's paper, "Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Perspective," send e-mail to with the message: GET HISTORIC CONTEXT

I've added a few suggestions of sources on the topic at the end of Kevin's discussion. -- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG]

Posted by Kevin Murray <>

Fisher's excellent paper was very useful for me. It touched on many issues that I have been trying to articulate as part of the process of returning to the US after five years in El Salvador. Since I believe that community organizations must deal with economic development issues, I want to learn more about those groups that have done good development work in the context of continued questioning of the structure of power in society.

From 1976-89, I was very active in City Life/Vida Urbana, a militant, direction action-oriented community organization that also tried to work within the local labor movement. We were direct descendants of that New Left vision that saw long-term grassroots organizing an overlooked element in the effort to radically transform society. While we made a conscious decision not to become developers of housing, everything we did was about community economic development...criticizing how THEY did it (developers, bankers, etc.) A couple of nationally known CDCs (Urban Edge and Neighborhood Development Corporation of Jamaica Plain) emerged from the same context. By the end of the 80s, the times and our own errors were beginning to take their toll, and the organization began a transformation/moderation that it is still living. Without that moderation, it certainly would have disappeared. In retrospect, however, I feel that we lost a little relevance by not coming up with a more comprehensive response to economic development concerns at a time when poor people in the community faced real economic hardship. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative emerged just a short distance away on the other side of Washington Street and closer into town. Today, City Life/Vida Urbana remains a relevant organization by providing some services while continuing its organizing, albeit in a less militant form. It is just now beginning to think more about community economic development as it is usually understood.

During the years 1989-94, my scene shifted to El Salvador, where community organizations made City Life/Vida Urbana seem moderate, indeed. Salvadoran organizations did, however, undergo a moderation process as a result of the Peace Accords signed in 1992.

After the end of the war, groups previously occupied by the organizational necessities of the war turned, almost overnight, to economic development concerns. The change had incredible implications for people and their organizations.

In some way, I was dragged along by the current, shifting from educational to community economic development work just as the war ended. It is important to remember that the economic development shift there was not just about a response to extreme poverty. It was also about the need to find ways to use productive resources-- mostly land--over which people gained control as a result of the war. This, obviously, is very different than the shift toward CDCs and CDFIs in the US. I would say that, in the Salvadoran case, many rural and urban community organizations see their economic development organizing as another path (other than the war) to address the questions of power in the society...they see economic development as a potentially transformative social movement. It remains to be seen whether or not they will be successful in opening such a path. They have undoubtedly become more moderate in the process, but they could never have maintained the levels of militancy associated with the war.

The wind blew again, and I was back in the US, this time in a state (CT) suffering an advanced case of deindustrialization/ globalization. Coming out of the Boston and El Salvador experiences, I wanted to connect to a social movement projecting a new vision of economic development here. Without real connections to Connecticut communities, I ended up in a pretty innovative statewide community loan fund where I've been getting a sort of crash course on how local groups are thinking about community development.

During my crash course I've been struck by a couple of things. On the one hand, given the desperate state of Connecticut's cities, community organizations are all concluding that they need to address community economic development concerns to remain relevant.

At the same time, the rush to collaboration with government, big institutions, and banks in the interest of urban revitalization is almost universal. But what kind of revitalization???

One group, The Naugatuck Valley Project is doing very interesting economic development work without completely abandoning power analysis and organizing along class or community interest lines. Otherwise, even the best of the traditional neighborhood organizations are moving ever closer to the big Collaboration, which requires a major toning-down of direct action tactics in the interest of consensus organizing. Those that don't play in that sense are clearly isolated from many of the larger funding sources.

At a time of overall squeeze on operating funds, such isolation is a serious problem. The role of the philanthropic community probably deserves more weight in Fisher's story.

While I am very impressed by the technical advance of CDCs and am aware that some of the small victories described by Fisher aren't that small (affordable housing creation by CDCs, for example), the relative absence of a viable community-based political opposition raises serious questions about the economic futures of Connecticut cities. A case in point: the debate over casino gambling as the economic salvation of Bridgeport. He or she who dares raise questions about the casino is automatically cast as an opponent of job creation for a truly depressed city, and steps out of the happy consensus governed by the banks, local government and the business community. While many community economic development people (including me) speak quietly about the danger of the casino for any vision of a sustainable revitalization of the city, no community development organization has felt that it could take a public position against the casino or for an alternative vision of B'port's economic future. What would the city and the banks think???

A small group of local residents and a few clergy have valiantly tried to raise the anti-casino argument, but they have neither the resources to create a platform from which to be heard nor the elements of an alternative to casino development. Ironically, casino opponents were shouted down by a large crowd at a recent public hearing in much the same way that we (incorrectly, maybe) might have shouted down a developer in a public hearing in Boston in 1979.

That's a big comment...probably some violation of etiquette. As Robert Fisher says, poor and working people must fight for power, but they must create new economic institutions as they do it. If the two are mutually exclusive, then the future looks rougher than I thought.

***************************************************************** Kevin Murray Community Economic Development Fund 955 Main St. Bridgeport, CT 06604

Phone (203)332-7600 FAX (203)332-4599 *****************************************************************

[We welcome additional discussion, and ask that if possible you cite scholarly or other published sources associated with the topic of your comment.

A couple of studies of community development corporations are:

Neil Peirce and Carol Steinbach, ENTERPRISING COMMUNITIES: COMMUNITY-BASED DEVELOPMENT IN AMERICA, 1990 Washington, D.C.: Council for Community-Based Development in America, 1990)



Information on the Dudley Street Initiative described in Kevin's comment above is available in the recent book --

Peter Medoff & Holly Sklar STREETS OF HOPE:THE FALL AND RISE OF AN URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD Boston, Mass.: South End Press, c1994. 337 p.

I'd be interested in those familiar with these works posting descriptions of them for the benefit of other seminar participants.

-- Wendy Plotkin, H-Urban Co-Editor] ========================================================================= Date: Tue, 14 Nov 1995 10:48:19 CST Posted by Stephen Barton <>

I am rather disappointed in Fisher's "Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Context". Fisher describes "a shift from radical politics to a strategy of moderation" in organizations in the Alinsky tradition of community organizing. This is a dichotomy that can not adequately explain changes in Alinsky tradition, because it always used both.

In the Alinsky tradition radical tactics and militant demands were not accompanied by radical political goals for social change. Rather they were used to organize working class and poor communities so that they would achieve enough power to successfully demand incorporation into the existing system and receive their fair share of public services and private and public sector employment. This approach derived from Alinsky's experience in the labor movement working for John L. Lewis and the CIO. The CIO used radicals as organizers, but distanced itself from proposals for radical change, except to the extent that incorporation of organized labor and ongoing negotiations with industrial unions was by itself a "radical" change. The emphasis on negotiation is nothing new, and the purpose of developing local leadership was always, as in unions, to develop people capable of representing their constituency to the power structure. Fisher actually covered all of this in his book!

Something is clearly going on in community organizing in response to the situation of local government in a period of Federal and State cutbacks, but the framework of radical to moderate fails to explain what. Perhaps organizers are less likely to try to use militant demands for small changes to build the organization because many local battles have been won and they don't lead anywhere due to scarce local resources, or perhaps they would only lead somewhere if the demands became truly radical and Alinsky organizations and the communities they represent are not ready to take that step, or perhaps local battles are mostly won when they are keeping out something bad, whether toxic waste or low-income housing, and organizers want a more positive basis for the organization. I'd love more illumination here. I think a good place to start might be the comment in Fisher's book that "local organizing oriented to social change can exist without a movement, but it will not thrive for very long."

Stephen Barton President, Berkeley Chapter SEIU Local 535

[Ed: The book to which Barton refers is Bob Fisher's LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE: NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZING IN AMERICA, Updated Edition, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. In Chapter 2, "Radical Neighborhood Organizing, 1929-1946," Fisher (after a section on Communist Party organizing), describes the emergence of Saul Alinsky and the Back of the Yards organization in Chicago. Alinsky, who is the subject of many biographies including Sanford Horwitt's LET THEM CALL ME REBEL: SAUL ALINSKY--HIS LIFE AND LEGACY (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), developed a distinctive organizing strategy. He downplayed ideology and drew on neighborhood institutions such as churches and labor locals to develop an indigenous power base to contest actions adverse to community residents. As Barton describes, Fisher acknowledges the importance of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the confederation of industrial unions established in 1935 in the U.S., to Alinsky, observing that Alinsky "was a volunteer CIO organizer for about a year in 1937 and 1938." (55) According to Fisher,

From his work with the CIO Alinsky learned the importance of struggling for power, of being willing to use a variety of tactics, especially conflict and confrontation, and of needing creative, dynamic, skilled, and committed organizers to mobilize working people. (55-56)

Alinsky will be the subject of a paper and several book reviews as part of the seminar in the spring.

The comment that Barton believes begins to answer the question of the strategies adopted by community organizations in conservative times is from Fisher's observations on the dynamic interaction between community organizations and the New Deal. In the early stages of the New Deal, the community organizations pushed the Roosevelt administration to the left, while in the latter stages of the New Deal, supportive labor and social legislation leading to the creation of the CIO enhanced the efforts of community organizations such as Alinsky's Back of the Yards. (52) According to Fisher, this is an example of the buoyant effect a sympathetic national environment for social change can have on local movements, although as Fisher and Barton point out, this implies that an unsympathetic environment can have the opposite effect.

I am interested in receiving responses to Steven Barton's observations about Alinsky and the needs of community organizations in a conservative era.

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Mon, 20 Nov 1995 17:12:11 CST From: Wendy Plotkin 1-312-996-3141 <U13972@UICVM.BITNET> Subject: Historical/Contemporary Conflicts Over Sports Stadium Siting

[It strikes me that an additional way of categorizing community-based organizations and organizational campaigns is by the types of institutions around which they have organized their struggles.

The following is a response from U.S. sports historian and H-Urban subscriber Steve Riess about sources on early and recent 20th century city-community-sports team conflict, an issue raised by Michael Byrd in his comment on Bob Fisher's paper and discussion of the debate over the effects of the relocation of the Houston Oilers to Nashville, Tennessee (all comments on Bob's paper are available by sending e-mail to with the message GET HISTORIC COMMENTS].

I'd be interested in citations or descriptions of similar controversies in cities outside of the U.S., especially from earlier in the century.

-- W. Plotkin, H-Urban Co-Editor/COMM-ORG]

Posted by Steve Riess <>

Actually city, community and teams have fought with each other for years. See for example, not to be self serving, Steven A. Riess, "Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era (1980) which examines the ballpark issue in the period from the 1880s to the early 1920s in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. For more recent conflicts, might see my "City Games: The Evolution of Urban Society and the Rise of Sports" which deals with the issue through 1989. Also see Bruce Kuklick's book on Shibe Park. Some years ago George Lipsitz wrote an article on ballparks in, if memory serves me right, the Journal of Sport and Social Issues. There was also a dissertation on ballparks David J. Kammer, "Take Me out to the Ball Game: American Cultural Values as Reflected in the Architectural Evolution and Criticism of the Modern Baseball Stadium" New Mexico, 1992, but I don't remember if it covers this topic.

I hope this will be of value.

Steven Riess History Department Northeastern Illinois University

[Citations for the above books include:

Riess, Steven A. TOUCHING BASE : PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL AND AMERICAN CULTURE IN THE PROGRESSIVE ERA Greenwood Press, 1980. -------------------------------------------------------------- Riess, Steven A. CITY GAMES : THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN URBAN SOCIETY AND THE RISE OF SPORTS Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1989. -------------------------------------------------------------- Kuklick, Bruce, 1941- TO EVERY THING A SEASON : SHIBE PARK AND URBAN PHILADELPHIA, 1909-1976 Princeton University Press, C1991. --------------------------------------------------------------

In addition, an article in the September, 1993 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (269) by Gary Stix "Blackballing the Inner City," p. 152 describes the results of Alan P. Sager, a health policy researcher at Boston University, who found "a close correlation between changes in the racial composition of urban neighborhoods and decisions by baseball teams to relocate." According to an abstract of the article in the Illinois Bibliographic Information System, Sager and a colleague offered data to show that "race is a powerful statistical predictor of baseball team relocation--stronger than stadium age, team standing, or average annual attendance." The abstract observed that a spokesperson for the major leagues argued against the findings.

-- Wendy Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Mon, 20 Nov 1995 17:49:56 CST Subject: Introduction: David Swain, Jacksonville Community Council (JCCI) Posted by David Swain <>


I'm David Swain, new subscriber. Wendy asked me to do a brief introduction.

About me: In fall 1967 in Ann Arbor, I failed doctoral prelim exams in black and southern history; simultaneously, Detriot burned. Made a huge impression on me. Wife and I left Ann Arbor and became VISTA volunteers; trained in Atlanta for hard-core community-organization work; sent to rural Tennessee, where what we'd been trained for didn't exactly fit, but we adapted, learned, worked with seasonal farm workers and Neibhborhood Youth Corps kids. From there, we came to Jacksonville in antipoverty, civil rights, and antiwar work. Tough place to be doing any of these in late 1960s. Years later, I'm still doing a different form of community organization, after detours in city government and higher education.

About JCCI: Started in 1975 by "enlightened" business establishment to take on pressing civic issues through broadly based citizen involvement. I was involved as a volunteer from its start. In 1986 joined staff as "community planner." Now in practice, in charge of all research/community involvement activities.

Sounds as if my career has followed the Fisher progression from radical to moderate organization. I suppose that's the progression for many personal careers too. Did my career just happen to parallel the progression Fisher describes as a national phenomenon?

What is the JCCI model of community organization? Actually we don't even call it that, though I perceive that, as a staff person, I'm using many of the same skills. This is communitywide organizing in a metro area of about 1 million. And it's a very middle class approach, relying on long-term volunteer commitments to study issues, publish reports with recommendations, and then follow up with volunteer implementation efforts (call it lobbying in many cases).

Would purists deny that this even qualifies as community organization? I might have 25 years ago. So, I've "matured," or become more moderate. I'd prefer to say that I've found a way to play the role of catalyst for positive social change in my community which is truly effective and truly makes a difference.

Who does it make a difference for? In ten years, I've been involved in ten very different public-policy issues that affect many slices of the local population directly and indirectly. These issues range from child day care to independent living for the elderly to groundwater protection to workforce preparation to seaport expansion to public education funding and quality to equity in the geographic distribution of City of Jacksonville public services to the study I'm now staffing on community leadeship.

I'd be glad to share more in detail about how JCCI approaches community improvement. Just one more introductory word. We've been challenged, and have challenged ourselves, to figure out how our approach can be applied successfully at the neighborhood level. We haven't arrived at a good answer yet. Maybe some of you can help.


******************************************************** David Swain Associate Director Jacksonville Community Council Inc. 2434 Atlantic Boulevard, Suite 100 Jacksonville, FL 32207

phone 904-396-3052 fax 904-398-1469 ******************************************************** ========================================================================= Date: Tue, 21 Nov 1995 11:43:49 CST Posted by John J. Betancur <>

I teach courses on economic development from international to local level, trying to link international with local and community forces. Since 1979, I have combined my academic life with community activism particularly in the Latino community in Chicago. I was executive director of Institute for Latino Progress, a community based adult education and training program in the Latino community of Pilsen, have served in multiple boards and initiatives in the Latino community, and have completed multiple technical assistance projects for community based organizations and local governments in the Chicago Metro area as staff of the Center for Urban Economic Development in the School or Urban Planning and Policy at UIC. Previously, I also lived a combined academic-activist life in Medellin, Colombia. Not only did I do research on spontaneous settlement but participated in some settlements and did organizing in them as well. I have not had the fortune of being able to sit and write much about this experience. However, I believe that it is more complex than often presented.

Like other commentators before me, I enjoyed the synthesis of the history of community organizing presented by Fisher. I praise him for this and for relating organizing to micro forces such as globalization.

I would like to make some critical points. First, I believe that more credit needs to be given to the initiatives of different communities in their different struggles. Second, analysis sounds reactive; perhaps a better balance could be made between reactive and proactive forces in the community. Third, analysis sounds a little mechanistic or structuralist: "given these forces... there was this type of organizing." How comes that the same forces did not produce the same reaction everywhere? Fourth, distinctions are not made, for instance, between more spontaneous initiatives of communities and those organized as not-profits with a paid staff (could we for instance think about the professionalization of community organizing under university trained, paid-staff? could we talk about this as a process of cooptation of low-income communities as the leaders of their organizations have a middle class background, represent middle class interests, do not live in the community, do it for pay...?). Fifth, a sentence might be included about the role of funders (could we, for instance, think that the trend towards community development has to do with funders? Is this a strategy of social control? Don't funders control the agendas of communities through funding, reporting...? We can see community development as a transfer of public responsibilities to ill funded, poorly staffed, power-limited groups... in this way, there is a lot of noise about public assitance but the problems are transfered back to the communities... cheap labor, volunteer labor...?). Sixth, could we think about a more dialectic relationship between macro and micro forces, between local struggles and outside responses, from which different historical reactions may lead to different formations, etc? Or is this a case, again, of control of local organizing via structure of non-profits, funding, etc.? Finally, I would have also liked a paragraph on race issues and how they affect the dynamics of organizing...

John J. Betancur Assistant Professor Urban Planning and Policy Program University of Illinois at Chicago 400 S. Peoria--Suite 2100 Chicago, Illinois 60607 ========================================================================= Date: Wed, 22 Nov 1995 04:56:50 CST Posted by Randy Stoecker, U. of Toledo <rstoeck@pop3.UTOLEDO.EDU>

Wendy asked me to introduce myself as well as enter the discussion, so I will do both here. I have been working for 10 years with neighborhood-based organizing and development organizations, but have been doing so as an academic through a university setting. I got my start on this path when I moved to Minneapolis to begin grad school in sociology and ended up living in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, which is the best example I have found in this country of community-controlled redevelopment (Stoecker, 1994). But this neighborhood not only got me into the area of neighborhood-based redevelopment. It also started me in the field of "participatory research"--research conducted collaboratively with community-based organizations to further the purposes of those organizations. Knowing I had the consciousness of an activist, but not the style, I had to find some way to make myself useful to those who did have both, and participatory research was the way. Please see Vol 23 #4 and Vol 24 #1 of THE AMERICAN SOCIOLOGIST if you are an academic looking for a way to make a difference and are unsatisfied with what you've found so far.

As a consequence, I have two bodies of work--the published academic stuff that is mostly in the field of social movements (references below) and the unpublished stuff that I have been doing in conjunction with community-based groups. My latest work is moving increasingly into the areas of community-controlled urban planning--part of the legacy of my days in Cedar-Riverside--and a fascinating recent project trying to establish a participatory research project across the seven cities of Ohio. We are trying to link up academics from the state universities in those cities with neighborhood groups to conduct research on neighborhood groups' information and computer needs, with the hopes of using the research to leverage hardware, software, and training for neighborhood groups to get them linked with each other via the internet. All comments and sources and previous experiences from others experienced in similar endeavors out there are sincerely welcomed.


It is both difficult and easy to enter the discussion late. It's difficult because there are so many issues raised. It's easy because you have everyone else's thoughts to react to. I will try to work through the issues similar to the way they seem to have developed, with a focus on theory and a movement to practical concerns.

[Ed: To obtain earlier discussion of Fisher's paper, send e-mail to with the message: GET HISTORIC DISCUSS]

I think Wendy's and Robert Fisher's summaries of the new social movements approach is accurate when you isolate out the unique findings of the field. The debates within the field of social movements, however, for me make the waters much more murky. For one, the boundaries between the previously dominant "resource mobilization theory" that portrayed all social movements as strictly rational and their success governed by structural resource availability, "new social movement theory," and the increasingly popular Americanized social psychological approach (called framing, collective identity theory, and a variety of other things), have become blurred (Rucht, 1991; Stoecker, 1995). At the same time, diversity within the new social movement approach, and questions about what it really means, have created further confusion (see Buechler 1995). For example, can we say that even the "old class based movements" were not also community-based? What about Alinsky's work in Back of the Yards, side by side with the CIO? Was the movement he helped build new or old? What about the even earlier settlement house movement? Was that about class? Or was it an attempt by Jane Addams and others to build a cross-class alliance focused on community issues? Kling and Posner (1990) and others have been struggling with the relationship between movements based in class and community. And what do we do with the new labor struggles erupting from service workers such as the LA janitors union, Yale University clerical workers, etc.? If there is a difference between the movements of old and the movements of today, I wonder if the difference lies in the issue of consciousness--were past labor movements much more class conscious, or conscious of the class dynamics of their movement, than movements today? I'm not sure of the answer to this, knowing post-WWII history alot better than pre-WWII history. What I do know about back then is that labor struggles were also community struggles, which is perhaps what made them so powerful. You didn't have to gather up workers across the metropolitan area--they all lived by the plant in the same neighborhood, and that mattered in building solidarity.

And what about all those new "quality of life" or NIMBY movements--can we not say the contradictory politics of those movements are at least partly rooted in the fact that their consitituents occupy contradictory class locations? As Erik Wright (1985) describes (an analysis I still think is timelessly brilliant) the middle class (think here mainly of people in professional, and managerial positions for the moment) occupies a contradictory class location. Independent professionals are like the capitalist class in that they control their own capital, but they don't control the labor power of large numbers of workers. Managers control the labor power of large numbers of workers, but they are also controlled by "superiors." Davis (1991) has developed a similar argument about home owners. Renters are clearly the "proletariat" in terms of housing classes, and wealthy landlords (or more generally rentiers in Logan and Molotch's (1987) terms) are the capitalists. But homeowners both control their housing and are controlled by a mortgage. So both in terms of production and consumption, the middle class is a contradictory unpredictable bunch.

The practical need for all this theoretical discussion is that the politics of the middle class is also contradictory, volatile, and unpredictable. One election they vote for a Democratic president and the next they elect a Republican Congress. This political volatility is important whether we are working for justice for the most oppressed or for more general social change, because the middle class has so much "political capital." The importance of this contradictory middle class politics seems to be exemplified by Michael Byrd's comments on Nashville in response to Fisher essay.

Now, this is not to say that a focus on new social movement theory is not helpful. But I do think it is incomplete. And for me this is not just a theoretical exercise. I am deeply concerned with how to be of assistance to community-based movements with progressive impulses. If I treat them as only new social movements, I miss out on the vast literature from the resource mobilization and framing perspectives that can inform their strategy. Those of us who are academics can forward information to organizers that they can use to build strategy to shift middle class volatility in progressive rather than fascist directions, but I don't think we can do it effectively without bringing ALL the social movement perspectives to bear.

The practical need for somehow understanding the complexity of the structure and process of community organizing is made all the more clear by all of our concern with the direction community organizing has taken recently in its transition to community development. I very much agree with Fisher's depiction of the current "moderation" of community organizing and the rise of the very contradictory CDC model of commun ty development. I wonder if there are a couple of important developments behind that transition.

One development is the entrance into community organizing of increasing numbers of women identifying with, familiar with, or engaging in practice consistent with, various forms of feminist thinking. As the paper by Susan Stall and I will argue later, this "women-centered" form of organizing is quite distinct from the more traditional Alinsky method. In many ways, women-centered organizing appears more moderate because it is not loud and confrontational in most cases. At the same time, it may build deeper, more egalitarian bonds than the Alinsky method. This model also partly addresses Robert Slayton's reaction to Fisher's essay that we are making the organizer too central. In the women-centered model, the organizer is much more likely to be indigenous and less visible. And the women-centered model may be more effective than the Alinsky method, which depended on having relatively unified communities to begin with. Communities suffering the social deterioration that results from disinvestment need new relationships built, and new bonds developed, before they can move on to the big political issues. This model also lends itself more effectively to the transition to "proactive" community development. As Susan and I will argue, this method is not without its own strategic problems, because it is so compatible with strategies of moderation. Like Slayton, I fear the strategy of moderation. Yet I also fear the strategy of confrontation without a community base. Perhaps the lack of organizing Slayton sees in LA is a lack of a particular kind of organizing, that he has in fact fallen into his own criticism of looking only for well-known "star" organizers rather than those brave souls who are attempting to build the bonds of community in public housing, poor neighborhoods, and city parks throughout LA who never get their name in the paper, don't have their IRS 501-c-3 status, and may not even have a formal organization name.

The second development is that, since capital follows the path of most profit (which includes least cost) and community-based movements particularly during the 1980s became especially successful at defending their turf, the effect has been that capital has simply gone elsewhere. Now you don't need to save your neighborhood from the greedy capitalist who wants to bulldoze it to put up an office tower, you have to save it from internal deterioration because capital is ignoring the community altogether. Disinvestment is much harder to fight. Attempts in Chicago (Giloth and Mier, 1989), Pittsburgh (Plotkin and Scheuerman, 1990), and elsewhere to attack destructive disinvestment with the same strategies that were used to attack destructive investment have not been very successful. Remember, Alinsky said there is no such thing as a "disorganized community." Consequently, the increasing numbers of examples of urban spaces with no institutions, few solid relationships, and no services, are not communities at all, and can't be organized on the assumption they are. This, again, is where a women-centered organizing model comes in.

This, of course, leads finally to the question of what is to be done. Robert Fisher's piece, and all of the commenters, quickly or eventually take on the CDC issue, and the economic development issue, we are all concerned about. Kevin Murray's reaction, for me, most clearly captures the crux of the problem--organizing that ignores the importance of community development leads to incomplete results. But development that is not rooted in organizing may do more harm than good. There are examples (COPS in San Antonio--which is regrettably way underdocumented; the Dudley Street initiative, RT 2 in LA--see Heskin 1991; and Cedar-Riverside--see Stoecker, 1994) that show community development to provide success, if problematically. My work, as well, is very critical of the CDC model, and yet the potential of communities building locally-controlled economies, housing, and services, is the radical goal we all seem to strive for. The trick, it seems, is how to do that without selling out, and thus undermining the whole project as community development becomes just more absentee ownership and control.

For me, this question of how to resolve the organizing-development dilemma may be the most fruitful part of our continuing discussion. And even though Wendy feels constrained (and rightly so) by the funded focus of this seminar, I would hope the funders would understand that history written without an eye to its relevance to current issues and dilemmas falls short of its potential. And perhaps as an historical-comparative sociologist, history is something different to me. Trained by social historians and historical sociologists, I have learned that history is not about the past but about what happens over time--history is a perspective, not a time, and doing a history of the present is as important as doing a history of the past.


Buechler, Steve. 1995. "New Social Movement Theories." THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY 36:441-464

Davis, John E. 1991. CONTESTED GROUND. Cornell University Press.

Giloth, Robert, and Robert Mier. 1989. "Spatial Change and Social Justice." in Robert A. Beauregard (ed.) ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING AND POLITICAL RESPONSE. Sage.

Heskin, Allan. 1991. THE STRUGGLE FOR COMMUNITY. Westview.

Kling, Joseph and Prudence Posner. 1990. DILEMMAS OF ACTIVISM. Temple University Press.

Logan, John and Harvey Molotch. 1987. URBAN FORTUNES. University of California Press

Plotkin, Sidney and William Scheuerman. 1990. (in Kling and Posner, above)

Rucht, Dieter. 1991. RESEARCH ON SOCIAL MOVEMENTS. Westview.

Stoecker, Randy. 1994. DEFENDING COMMUNITY. Temple University Press.

Stoecker, Randy. 1995. "Community, Movement, Organization." THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY 36:111-130.

Wright, Erik. 1985. CLASSES. Verso. ========================================================================= Date: Tue, 28 Nov 1995 16:18:41 CST Posted by Mat Thall <>

Some random thoughts on the discussion to date:

1. CDCs as a "moderation" phenomenon: I'm not sure that folks fully realize the scope of the CDC phenomenon. Today there are over 2,500 CDCs in the US. Altogether they have developed around a half million units of affordable housing, sponsored or invested in business that have created tens of thousands of permanent jobs, developed many community facilities. Many CDCs operate youth programs, employment placement and referral programs and other social services.[Note: I will post precise figures, and sources on the above at a later date.] This activity has been occurring for the last quarter century. For sure, few CDCs have been involved in Alinsky-style, confrontation organizing. However, one must take the measure of the results and the longevity of a movement as well as its tactics before dismissing its relevance to social change. It is also true that CDCs have probably had little effect on income inequality and racial injustice in this country. However in the area that they have predominated -- housing development -- they have brought about some very significant change. CDCs have brought to reality social housing concepts, i.e. the notion that housing is not a commodity and that it can be developed to be permanently affordable; thirty years ago this was largely a dream of (American) academic theorists.

2. The bugaboos of production and technicians: There is a widespread belief that because CDCs become focused on "doing projects", i.e. development, they are unable, unwilling or unmoved to engage in community organizing and empowering neighborhood residents. Further, it is argued that as CDCs undertake more development these organizations become dominated by technical professionals and completely lose touch with the community base. While these issues are dilemmas in the CDC movement, they are quite overstated. A fundamental principle of the CDC movement is that physical development in distressed neighborhoods can and does transform the psychology of residents -- and the attitude of outsiders who control resources. The hopelessness about nothing working in these communities begins to dispel when community action leads to tangible, concrete results. Moreover, organizations that bring about these results have become channels for resources coming into neighborhoods previously starved of them.

As to the issue of the professionalization of community-based development organizations and the consequent distancing from local residents -- a position best articulated by Bill Traynor (cited in the Fisher paper) -- it is quite difficult to develop real estate or invest in business ventures without technical skills. Bill argues that these skills can be bought. They often are. However an organization cannot truly control the realization of its vision without the skills and expertise to manage hired consultants and insure that bad deals are not cut between hired consultants and financing institutions. CDCs that have been most effective and successful -- including the Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell MA, which was run by Bill Traynor for a number of years -- have been those that combine strong technical skills, an ambitious production agenda and an unwavering commitment to community control and empowerment. Finally, CDCs that are big "producers" can amass the resources to undertake other community building activities; production creates political capital. Several years ago Paul Grogan, the President of LISC reminded his staff that "Production is the license to do all of the other things"

3. CDCs and community organizing strategies: Truly the challenge is how can CDCs be more connected to community organizing. This is a hot topic today. One problem with this formulation is that community organizing is treated as an activity separate from community development (which it certainly can be). As underfunded CDCs perceive that they are being challenged to take on yet a new activity, many resist. A preferable approach would be to examine how organizing can be integrated into ongoing community development work.

This raises the "and" or "as" decision: CDCs as community organizers or CDCs and community organizers. While there certainly are CDCs that have been very effective community organizing institutions, there are also excellent examples of CDCs that have formed relationships and alliances with community organizing groups. In Boston, City Life (the organization discussed on this list by Kevin Murray) and the Jamaica Plain NDC have worked very closely together to organize tenant-owned housing and to transfer ownership of a property from a notorious slumlord to the community. While at the Fenway CDC I attempted to develop this model with the local tenant organizing group, around our anti-speculation project. Unfortunately, the tenant organizers had run out of steam and we could never achieve a level of tenant organization in buildings threatened with condo conversion to put the CDC up as a preferable buyer of such properties.

For such a model to work a number of hurdles have to be surmounted. There is a tremendous amount of distrust between community organizers and CDCs. Organizing gets a certain amount of funder lip service, but it is never adequately compensated for the real service it can deliver. It seems that when organizing is internalized in a CDC, the organizers often face similar problems of isolation and under-compensation. This seems to be a promising area of research (for the academics on this list) and development (for the practitioners.)

4. Movement or Industry?: I have consistently referred to the "CDC movement" above. But one of the emerging conceptual issues is whether CDCs see themselves and funders see them as part of a movement or an industry. There are conflicting strains on this question. Perhaps the power of the CDC phenomenon is that it is a hybrid of movement and industry. However, if CDCs are to become more of a movement, several issues need to be addressed seriously. One is parochialism. CDCs are too rarely part of broader coalitions involved in social and economic justice. Day to day relationships with locally based CAP agencies, community health centers, multi- service centers, job-training networks are thin or non-existent. This mirrors the behavior of national funders that support CDCs, including the organization I work for (although to LISC's credit it is beginning to establish relationships, if not advocacy alliances, with national trade and policy organizations in fields outside of housing.).

Another challenge is how to shape the relationship between CDCs and the for-profit business sector. An increasing amount of CDC funding is coming from corporations and corporate foundations (although a growing concern is how to expand this funding base as banks, heretofore the mainstay of private support, consolidate). How CDCs present themselves to potential corporate funders will influence which path they follow. Perhaps the greatest strategic challenge in this regard is how CDCs define their role in community (and regional) economic development, currently a very major interest in the CDC world. Will CDCs take positions on plant closings, smokestack chasing, wages, regional economic development strategies? A challenge for funders is in the area of "capacity building." As more attention is paid to enhancing the organizational management skills of CDCs, will the business/industrial models of management overwhelm the techniques of grassroots organizational development?

5. Big chill?: I was struck a few years ago by the number of community-based organizations in Boston celebrating a 20th anniversary. It reminded me that not every young radical, activist and visionary in the 60s "sold out" The CDC movement was very much fueled by people who "pragmatized" the politics of the 60s. I don't know whether that was the same as "moderating" the ideals and vision. Many of the founders of this movement are still connected to it. Perhaps that partly explains what some see as a moderation approach -- or contributes to it. The 40 - 50 year age group engages with the world differently from the 20-30 set. Underlyng these musings are some serious questions about human capital in CDCs and other community-based organizations. I see some conflicting trends. On the one hand I have observed an increasing number of community organizers moving into CDC work in the last decade. On the other hand, there does not seem to be a tidal wave of young people clamoring to work in CDCs. I give informational interviews to a lot of graduate students and recent graduates who say they are interested in community development and are looking for a job in policy-making, evaluation, or grantsmanship. What about rolling up the sleeves and getting some dirt under the fingernails for a few years?? It is heartening to see that there are graduate students and faculty on this list who have been involved with the day-to-day realities of community-based organizations. But these organizations need even more fully engaged staff members and Board members knowledgeable about the history, sociology and politics of this movement..

Mat Thall LISC-Boston

[For those who subscribed to the seminar this afternoon, Mat's introduction was posted this morning, and is available from the COMM-ORG fileserver by sending e-mail to with the message: GET THALL INTRO

All earlier comments on Bob's paper are available by sending e-mail to with the message:


-- W. Plotkin] ======================================================================== Date: Thu, 30 Nov 1995 18:08:27 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET>

[The following is a copy of Stan Wenocur's comments to Bob Fisher.]

Posted by Stanley Wenocur <SWENOCUR@SSW2.AB.UMD.EDU>

I like your neighborhood organizing history context paper for the seminar on CO history. I agree with the conclusion that neighborhood organizing has value for a variety of different reasons and that at the same time it will have to deal with the larger issues of the conservative political economy in the future. How to do that, of course, is the question.

We do need a progressive social movement to take hold and challenge the conservative ideology and politics that have swept the country. But, I don't see that happening until social and economic conditions get worse. We need alternative political analyses and counter-ideologies to interpret and re-interpret what is happening in America. Yes. But I think material conditions have to get much worse to set of a unifying, oppositional social movement. Meanwhile, at the grassroots level, if organizers can find ways to build inclusive, broad-based organizations (IAF term), and people can find common experiences that break down stereotypes and build the potential for solidarity, maybe, when the time comes -- when conditions get bad enough -- the social movement that forms will be more solidified as well, less vulnerable to fragmentation into enclaves based on race and gender and cultural differences, etc.

I thought your characterization of the IAF as it has developed in the 1980's as compared to the old Alinsky-driven IAF wasn't quite accurate. Although he wrote Reveille for Radicals [Alinsky, Saul David, 1909-1972. Reveille for radicals [by] Saul D. Alinsky. New York, Vintage Books 1969, c1946], I don't believe Alinsky was ever truly a radical -- not in the sense that he had an analysis of the political economy that shaped his vision and organizing. He was into helping the "have-nots" become "haves", and in the process creating a more participatory democracy. The new IAF seems to have continued his work, but deepened it in terms of organizing technologies and concepts. True they have established an institutional base in the church and with church sponsors perhaps they cannot challenge church hierarchy on certain issues. However, to the extent that religious institutions believe in and see themselves as organizations of social justice (admittedly never perfect), they seem to be able to be a potent force for change. The projects that the IAF has taken on are not simply conservative, though some may be narrow in scope. Some have the potential for rather radical changes. I am thinking about the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee in Baltimore, for example, which is organizing temporary and low-paid to fight for a living wage. Similarly, the concept of power as rooted in relationships speaks to trying to create a different kind of dialogue and structure. I also don't think the organizers are doing all the brokering and negotiating. In part the organizations are able to sustain themselves because of the tremendous amount of leadership training and development that the IAF does.

Anyway, those are some scattered reactions. Your paper was very helpful as was the one in the Journal of Progressive Human Services [Robert Fisher & Joseph Kling, "Community Organization and New Social Movement Theory," 1995: Vol. 5, No.2, p. 5] in helping me think about an essay I have yet to write on CO in the 21st century.

By the way, could you possibly send me a copy of Mike Miller's paper on "Saul Alinsky and the Democratic Spirit", or let me know where I could get it [ed: Cited in Bob's paper, "Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historic Context"]. I'm interested in seeing the critique. Also, I assume you saw the paper Robbinson, Buddy and Mark G. Hanna, (1994). "Lessons for Academics from Grassroots Community Organizing: A Case Study- The Industrial Areas Foundation". JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICE (Vol. 1) (4), pp. 63-94. That seemed pretty accurate to me from my own experiences.

As you can see, the Journal of Community Practice is fairly new. It is getting better all the time. It is put by Haworth Press Inc, 10 Alice Street, Binghamton, NY 13904-7981. I would encourage authors writing about community organizing, community planning, development, and such to consider submission of articles. Subscriptions are $36.00 a year, with discount for members of the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA).

Manuscript authors should request "Instructions for Authors" from Editor, Journal of Community Practice, Dr. Marie Weil, Professor, School of Social Work, CB#3550, University of North CArolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3550.

Stan Wenocur University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work ========================================================================= Date: Tue, 5 Dec 1995 09:02:09 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET>

[The following note was posted to me, but is in fact directed to the entire list. -- WP]

Posted by Luther K. Snow <>

I'll introduce myself to you and the group later. But first I want to pose a confusion on the list that's been bugging me.

You've been clear thoughout that the list's subject is "community organizing, community organizations, and community development." Your list of papers is clearly oriented to community organizing, though, and Fishers's "overview" is called a history of neighborhood organizing. And the distinction between organizing and development has been confused, from the beginning of Fisher's section on CDC's to the reacting posts.

Community organizing is different from community development. Not opposed to -- far from it -- but it's not the same activity. Organizing is collective action, constituency development, holding institutions accountable. Community development is building alternative institutions, modelling approaches to service and production which challenge mainstream institutional approaches by contrasting example.

Calling community development a part of community organizing is like calling government a part of political campaigns. Calling community development a "moderation" of community organizing is like calling government a moderation of political campaigns. Sure, a lot of organizers go into development. That's good, because it helps alternative institutions remain sensitive to community accountabity. Political operatives go into government pretty regularly too, their but what does that say about the history of government or of political campaigns?

By describing community development as a phase of community organizing, we do a disservice to both. First, we create odd and unattainable standards for community developers. Second, we forget about the continuing history of community organizing.

There's been little in the posts so far about community organizing since the early 80's, except as it's referred to around community development. (Perhaps that helps explain why virtually none of the list members are current organizers.) Given Fisher's assumption that jobs and economics are all-important, what has been the recent-organizing-experience on this, and how does it relate to historical experience? School reform? Community/labor action? Crime and economics? The ways that community organizing can adapt and lead in this era of global consolidation is a critical issue that really could benefit from historical analysis.

And if we distinguish between organizing and development, and examine each on its own terms, then (and only then) we can better understand the potential "synergy" between the two - how the development of accountable local institutions strengthens local organizing, for example, or how organizing for policy changes at major institutions opens the doors for community development to produce alternative models.

The current confusion in identity and terms threatens to muddle all of forthcoming discussion on the other papers you have scheduled. It also has implications for who subscribes to the list, and whether it can go in the direction you plan. I'll leave it up to you to decide how to address this on the list, or whether to post my comment.

Luther Snow ========================================================================= Date: Tue, 5 Dec 1995 09:12:26 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET>

I appreciate Luther Snow's call for clarification on the scope of the seminar. In response to his posting, I'll mention that the original idea of the seminar was to devote itself solely to the history of community-based development and its antecedents (e.g. limited dividend housing in the 1920s, earlier economic development strategies). In preparing the Call for Papers, I realized in reading Bob Fisher's LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE that a more interesting subject would be the history of community organizing and community-based development. In broadening the scope, I made no assumption about the relationship between the two types of activity -- that is one of the more intriguing questions to which the seminar can address itself.

In assessing Luther's point about the relationship between community organizing and community-based development, I think that there is a historical answer and a strategic answer. Historically, I think that as additional studies of community-based development emerge -- and a prime purpose of the seminar is to identify and encourage these types of historical studies -- a common theme will be that, as Luther observes, community organizers often become community-based developers. In the case of the Fenway CDC which Mat Thall described, there was a crucial point at which it was decided that defensive and/or political action alone would be less productive than actual involvement in the development process. [In fact, the initial name for the CDC was START, in contrast to the STOP arson movement that triggered the CDC formation. For information about the Fenway CDC, send e-mail to with the message: GET THALL INTRO] This is one of the crucial points that will be examined and contested, if the discussion to date is any indication, and to which history can offer important insights -- only time will tell whether the goals idealized in the formation of the CDC were achieved. On the other hand, in each case study, it is hard to assess what would have happened if the community organization had continued to organize -- although comparative studies offer some opportunity to assess this point (and students of social movements such as Manuel Castells and his followers have looked at these things, as will be discussed later in the seminar).

Stategically, it may be that a dual or flexible approach is necessary in dealing with distribution of city services and/or using the city as the seedbed of organizing to deal with national issues. Again, case studies should bear this out.

I should say that the papers scheduled reflect the proposals received, and I was initially disappointed that here were few papers proposed on community-based development, although there are presentations on community-based design at the end. It is my hope that the interest in the seminar will increase awareness of this forum as a place for papers on the topic, and that if the seminar concept is continued, more papers in the future will deal with community-based development.

In this regard, I'll mention that on-line availability of Randy Stoecker's thoughtful and thoroughly researched paper on CDCs, "The Political Economy of the Community Development Corporation" -- presented earlier in the year to the 1995 Planners Network and American Sociological Association meetings -- will be announced here and on CD4Urban at the end of this week or the beginning of next. This should offer a prime opportunity to discuss these issues.

Finally, I sense that Luther is incorrect in arguing that "virtually" none of the COMM-ORG subscribers are currently organizers. David Swain is an organizer at a city/metropolitan level, and until quite recently, Kevin Murray was organizing in the U.S. and in El Salvador, although Kevin admits that he has gone with the trends in working with a loan fund. [To obtain these introductions, send e-mail to with the message(s):


In addition, it is my impression that many of the academic participants in the seminar are involved in organizing activities as adjuncts to their work or as volunteers (one of the papers will deal with the University of Pennsylvania's program in West Philadelphia.) Finally, there are many participants who have not introduced themselves, and I hope that they will do so in coming weeks. Such introductions serve the purpose of providing a sense of what type of work is being done, although access to the Internet among organizers and developers is still in its beginnings. If you'd like to introduce yourself, send the introduction to and I'll post it to the list from there. It may take a couple of days before it is posted, but it will eventually reach the seminar.

Wendy Plotkin COMM-ORG ========================================================================= Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 11:46:07 CST Posted by Randy Stoecker <rstoeck@pop3.UTOLEDO.EDU>

I wanted to offer some quick thoughts on Mat Thall's discussion of the CDC issue for distribution either now or later. These comments may appear in a much longer form later in the seminar if space/time/resources permit. But for now, just a couple of quick thoughts.

First, Mat seems to want to use the growth and longevity of CDCs as evidence of their successful progressive nature. While I don't argue that CDCs have been important to poor communities who otherwise would have had nothing (especially in the area of housing, which he notes), I actually look upon the expansion of the CDC phenomenon as a sign they have become comfortable in the "system." Alinsky organizations have a life span of 5-7 years, particularly because they either get destroyed or their leadership moves into institutionalized politics, exactly what Alinsky wanted, as Stan Wenocur noted. But CDCs find ways to exist in the current system--a system that depends on the centralization of power and capital for its continuation. So I wonder if CDC growth and longevity is a sign of cooptation rather than success?

Second, on the issue of technical expertise. Once again, I agree with Mat that it is crucial. The problem is that the use of expertise often contradicts the goal of community empowerment. When the experts come from outside the community, the community may get new housing without getting control over that housing. I wonder if the goal should be to develop that expertise in the community? To me that means more than hiring neighborhood folks as clerical workers (which is what I have seen in both Toledo and Minneapolis) but getting them the training to become the staff architects, loan managers, etc. To date, however, there is a shortage of local training programs to develop that local expertise. Interestingly, this has been a problem in the Alinsky model as well, which emphasizes that the technical expert (the organizer, in this case) should come from outside the neighborhood.

I am especially concerned by the reality of the funding base of CDCs coming from outside of neighborhoods. Remember when Alinsky systematized his approach he required local organizations to raise as much as $150,000 for him to begin an organizing effort, a practice continued under his successor at the IAF. CDCs raise their money from the organizations who used to be the targets of Alinsky organizations. One of the indications of the transition of the East Toledo Community Organization from more militant organizing to more moderate development work was when it began to take money from the toxic waste dump operater against which ETCO had previously waged continued attacks.

For me, then, CDCs are severely compromised by the very model within which they operate. Certainly, they are better than nothing. The question is whether they are following the most "productive" path, not just in terms of producing development, but in terms of producing democracy.

Randy Stoecker Associate Professor of Sociology Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work University of Toledo Toledo, OH 43606 phone 419-530-4975 fax 419-530-8406

[Randy's paper "The Political Economy of the Community Development Corporation Model of Urban Redevelopment" will be available tomorrow.

For a copy of Mat's comments, along with others in response to Bob Fisher's paper, send e-mail to with the message: GET HISTORIC COMMENTS

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 17:37:43 CST Posted by Stanley Wenocur <SWENOCUR@SSW2.AB.UMD.EDU>

I guess I could live with the proposed definitions of community organizing and community development, but these terms have been defined slightly differently by various authors. I think the proposed definition of community development fits better with what I call community economic development. It's in community ECONOMIC developemnt that I place CDCs, land trusts, non-profit business ventures, etc.

In a recent text of _Community Organizing and Development_ by Rubin and Rubin, the authors offer the following:

"Community organizing means bringing people together to combat shared problems. Community organzing is a political process to determine who decides what about which issues, and it increases the power of those who currently have little to say about decisions that affect their lives. Community development occurs when people form their own organizations to provide themselves a long term capacity for problem solving." (p.3)

Or, on (p.6).."Community development involves local empowerment though organized groups of people acting collectively to control decisions, projects, programs, and policies that affect them as a community."

Stan Wenocur University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work

[The citation for the text Stan uses is:

Rubin, Herbert J. & Irene Rubin Community organizing and development C.E. Merrill, c1986.

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 17:50:35 CST Subject: INTRO: Deb Johnson & COMMENTS: "Neighborhood Organizing..."

Posted by Deb Johnson <>

Greetings from Oklahoma City!

I want to respond to Luther Snow, but feel I should first introduce myself and my organization very briefly.

My official title is Senior Associate for Development Communication at an international, non-profit by the name of World Neighbors. World Neighbors has been working in Asia, Africa, and Latin America for the past 44 years. Currently, we support 87 programs in 21 countries on a budget of a little over 3.2 million.

World Neighbors' purpose statement is: to strengthen the capacity of marginalized communities to meet their basic needs. Simple, yet open to a lot of clarification about what we mean by terms such as "capacity," "marginalized," "communities," and "basic needs." The way we strengthen communities is to build their _organizational_ capacities, i.e., their capacities to identify, analyze, and solve their own problems using local resources (and accessing external resources as needed). Community organizing, here, leads to community SELF-development.

I agree with Mr. Snow that we should define our terms, but do not agree that community organization and community development are different. As with the WN example, community organization is a part of the larger development process.


Deb Deb Johnson Development Communication World Neighbors 4127 NW 122 Street Oklahoma City, OK 73120 USA Phone: (405)752-9700 Fax: (405)752-9393 e-mail: >>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<< World Neighbors is a non-profit, international development organization whose purpose is to strengthen the capacity of marginalized communities to meet their basic needs.

[I've asked Deb Johnson for additional information on World Neighbors, including some examples of projects it sponsors.

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 8 Dec 1995 12:32:56 CST Posted by David Swain <>

I seem to have been designated the resident practitioner in this discussion. The reality of this is that I have a schedule that won't quit, making it difficult for me to keep up with the interesting postings I keep getting, much less having time to think about them or to respond adequately. This message contains thoughts generated by several recent postings.

[Ed: I've heard from several other seminar participants that the flow of messages is somewhat overwhelming, and will attempt to spread them out and limit them to the main topic. -- WP]

RE: technical expertise/CDCs vs. CO/university involvement (Randy Stoecker, Luther Snow, June Thomas and perhaps others):

[Ed: These comments can be found in the files HISTORIC DISCUSS, THOMAS INTRO, and U-MASS ARCHIVES, among others, by sending e-mail to with the messages:


For David Swain's own introduction and description of JCCI about which he writes below, add to the above messages: GET SWAIN INTRO]

The JCCI model about which I've written starts with the premise that positive community change can't occur without knowledge. Some of the needed knowledge is readily available for those committed to find it (or extract it from reluctant possessors). Other knowledge is more technical, less easily discovered, assimilated, and understood as a basis for action.

I heard a local neighborhood activist this week tell of the five year process she led to defeat and then negotiate for an acceptable alternative cogeneration plant. They relied on help from expert scientists and attorneys to learn about and understand the technicalities of coal-fired electric generation, production of paper from pulp, heavy construction in environmental wetlands, and a raft of federal and state laws and regulations relating to each of these. Without all the "research," the effort would have been a failure. In this case, lots of volunteer expert talent was made available; the first corporate giant was slain and the second tamed.

Elsewhere on the Internet, I've run into an interesting related concept--community-based research. There's a discussion listserv called scishops which is discussing how university-based research can be used successfully (pro-bono or otherwise) to assist in community or neighborhood improvement. The model comes from the Netherlands, where university community-based research seems to be institutionalized--a part of the expected output of research institutions of higher education. In the U.S., Dick Sclove of the Loka Institute in Amherst, MA, is the energy behind the scishops list and has just published a book called _Democracy and Technology_ (which I haven't yet read).

[Sclove, Richard E., DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY New York : Guilford Press, c1995. ]

Primary concerns of scishops have been the issue of empowerment of neighborhood groups and how to do research with rather than for such groups. June, did you know about this?

The address of scishops is:

I can't find the address to subscribe, but it can be found on the Loka Institute's web page at:

Community organization and community-based research strike me as facilitation processes for empowerment and improvement. Community development, as being described for CDCs, is actual, physical development of a neighborhood or other geographic area. Interestingly enough, CDBG long ago expanded the definition of community development to include the development of human resources (some of which is community organization and some of which is social services) in target neighborhoods.

Returning to JCCI, our study process is clearly facilitative. We intentionally do not "do" anything. Our study committees spend great amounts of time learning and understanding complex community issues. The study process concludes with their making recommendations for action by _other_ decision makers and institutions in the community. Then, our implementation process combines educational efforts on the contents of our recommendations and "lobbying" (for want of a better term) to get action on each recommendation. Sometimes, gung-ho members of implementation task forces get into a "let's just do it ourselves" mode (or mood). That defeats the process, however, because the goal is to get the community and its decision makers to respond and, in some fashion, to institutionalize the changes JCCI volunteers have recommended. As a "technical" staff facilitator, I work hard to keep the volunteers focused on the prize, which is positive social/civic/public policy change in the community. Like community organizers themselves, the task force volunteers are working to work themselves out of a job.


******************************************************** David Swain Associate Director Jacksonville Community Council Inc. 2434 Atlantic Boulevard, Suite 100 Jacksonville, FL 32207

phone 904-396-3052 fax 904-398-1469 ******************************************************** ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 8 Dec 1995 17:50:11 CST Posted by Carl Milofsky <>

Being a first time chatter on this list, I'm not sure this address will go where it's supposed to, but I'd like to comment briefly on Stan Wenocur's comment re: CDCs and community organizing. My experience is that there is indeed a sharp distinction between the two. But Wenocur's definition seems to limit community organizing to political work. Most groups that organize the community in my experience are other than explicitly political. Explicitly political groups have a role to play, but I think it's important to think of the political groups in the context of a spectrum of local associations. One of the challenges for people who would like to see communities more organized is how activity from different kinds of organizations can be drawn together and made synergistic or integrative.

Carl Milofsky Department of Sociology and Anthropology Bucknell University

[Carl is the co-author with Albert Hunter of two papers to be presented to the seminar, "The Force of Tradition at Toynbee Hall: Culture and Deep Structure in Organizational Life" (the next paper) and "Where Nonprofits Come from: A Theory of Organizational Emergence," along with an introduction to the two papers. In the latter paper, Carl deals at length with the topic of the various types of community organizations, including but not limited to those that have primarily political objectives.

All comments in this discussion are available by sending e-mail to with the message: GET HISTORIC DISCUSS

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Sat, 23 Dec 1995 16:46:08 CST Posted by Bob Fisher <bfisher@UH.EDU>

I would like to quickly apologize for not responding sooner to comments on my paper [ed: for a copy of the comments, send e-mail to with the message: GET HISTORIC DISCUSS] I read them all, with great interest, as they appeared, but after making a decision to not respond directly to the first few, I found myself so far behind, not to mention swamped with other work, that I figured I would just wait until I had some time to respond to most of the comments. My comments will be brief and respond only to selected issues raised by commentators. Before going further, however, I would like to thank Wendy Plotkin for having the idea for this seminar, and doing such a splendid job with it.

Like Robert Slayton, I too am concerned about recent trends in community organizing. The historical overview piece serves as a vehicle for critiquing current CDC and IAF efforts, both of which are important and valuable but clearly in need of some critical commentary. We need to be talking more about the directions of activism, and where to be putting energy.

As to the comment on the Los Angeles trend of organizers as celebrities (a $10 million/yr. contract to do welfare rights work?), I think it's more the threat of becoming interest group brokers rather than social action activists.

Where the Christian Coalition fits into the model? It's a political activist type, just with rightwing ideology, which also emphasizes the importance of ideology in organizing efforts.

I found Michael Byrd's discussion of CO in light of the Houston Oiler departure to Nashville reflective of the kinds of issues that dominate contemporary public debate, even discussion about community organizing. Personally I am glad to see the Oilers leave. They are not very good, and when they were, well, Texas football frenzy is not a pretty sight. Back to my original point, moves of corporate entities like the Oilers do reflect how citizens are forced to accept (or less often decline) the demands of big capital, how cities must compete with each other for uniqueness and world class status in a tough global market, and how, combined with a highly conservative discourse which limits issue legitimacy, this affects the strategies that organizers and organizations adopt.

Similar issues are raised by Kevin Murray, who spoke to the issue of the plight of Bridgeport, Connecticut and the lack of debate there over the current casino issue. Again, cities do seem to require a consensus for economic development projects; let's all get behind the new football team (Nashville Cats or Katz?) or the destined-to-fail plan to save our fair city. Maybe forming organizations more like those Murray used to work with, City Life, is a better response. If consensus is so important, is not it possible that organizations offering something other than consensus, organizations more confrontational and oppositional strategies, might have some impact? Clearly, in our era such efforts could be delegitimized simply by their "radical" tactics. But consensus strategies haven't accomplished all that much.

Stephen Barton and I agree that Alinsky's goals were never radical (though he did call himself a professional antifascist in the 1930s), but IAF tactics and demands have changed over the years depending on the context. Perhaps I could be criticized for expecting too much from Alinsky organizing, but I think that there is more in my critique of changes in IAF than my expectations being disappointed

Barton and I also agree on the fundamental importance of progressive social movements to bring about changes in which we're interested. My work began initially from a social movement perspective. That's why it remains connected closely to social movement theory (see Stoecker's comments). But the more I studied CO the more I discovered that there were lots of other groups doing something quite similar, and that a history of community-based organizing needed to include them as well. Which kinds of efforts are most salient in any time period seems to be largely related to the nature of the social struggle of the era, of which social movements are a critical element.

John Betancur raises a host of good issues and offers important suggestions for future researchers, especially related to issues of CO funding. On his comment that my analysis of CO sounds reactive, most CO is reactive. As to his critique that my work sounds too structural (the paragraph above shouldn't hurt his case), of course local politics and culture and human agency matter, but the '80s and '90s do seem to have produced similar reactions, if not everywhere then at least most places. I do think most of this is tied to the profound global changes occurring, and the global restructuring pressures being felt worldwide.

Randy Stoecker's work is widely known, and I am glad he was invited to comment on the paper. I agree with him on the limits of new social movement theory. I wrote an article for the _Journal of Urban History_ a few years ago which spoke to its virtues as well as limits. [ed: A description of this article in available by sending e-mail to with the message: GET MOVEMENT THEORY] But for CO practitioners looking for an explanation as to why their work is so important in our contemporary context, I find new social movement theory to be a most helpful, if limited, explanation.

As to the recent labor struggles and their relation to CO, it's too soon to tell. At the least, as Joe Kling and I laid out in a book a few years ago, _Mobilizing the Community_ [ed: MOBILIZING THE COMMUNITY: LOCAL POLITICS IN THE ERA OF THE GLOBAL CITY (Newbury Park; London: Sage, 1993)], labor is clearly one element, an important one, in any future mass mobilizations. But it is also clearly only one, not the vanguard force any longer. Labor does reintroduce issues of class, which gets lost in most contemporary organizing. Thus recent union efforts are very important, especially if these efforts bring to coalitions an analysis of our contemporary political economy and strategies for addressing the unconscionable redistribution of income upwards that it promotes. I too think that one cannot treat COs as simply new social movements, but I'd suggest using new social movement theory, just like any theory, where it fits and is most helpful. Like resource mobilization theory, new social movement theory is limited. These are not grand theories, after all; they are not intended to explain everything about organizing. Lastly, I look forward to Randy's paper on women-centered organizing. There is a growing literature in social work on this topic -- see works of Ruth Brandwein, Marie Weil, and Cheryl Hyde, for starters. The trick is to avoid the analysis of "difference feminism," which assumes that women bring something intrinsically to organizing that men do not.

Stan Wenocur, whose work I also regard highly, argues that conditions will have to get much worse before the necessary social movement occurs. Maybe so, but much worse for whom? Conditions are pretty nasty now for lots of folks, especially poor people, and especially poor people of color. In the meantime I agree about building organizations that are inclusive and seek to counteract fragmentation of progressive groups.

As to the potential of IAF, who knows? My article may be overstated in terms of the "moderation" evident in current IAF; that is, that Alinsky organizing always had moderate aspects and the current IAF hasn't dropped its populist politics and longterm commitment to social change. Nevertheless, the kind of work they tend to do now, and the work, I would add, that the context seems to force them to do (school-based organizing, CDC work, etc.) has this most impressive organizing effort looking more mainstream. Point is, as I noted earlier, there is so little critical discussion about the leading progressive organizing efforts, of which IAF still has to be considered the most influential.

I think I will stop here for dinner, and return later to address some of the other comments.

Bob Fisher Graduate School of Social Work University of Houston Houston, TX 77204-4492 email: fax: 713 743-8149 tel: 713 743-8112 ========================================================================= Date: Tue, 26 Dec 1995 14:46:39 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET> Subject: TOC: LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE: NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZING IN AMERICA

Later, I'll be posting the conclusion to Robert Fisher's comments on the responses to his paper.

Prior to that, I'd like to post the Table of Contents of Bob's book, LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE: NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZING IN AMERICA. As is evident from the chapter headings, the book is a historical overview of neighborhood organizing in the U.S., and includes a discussion and sources on community-based development. It will be reviewed later in the seminar by historian David Hammack, a review delayed due to a gap in communications between the publisher and H-Urban's parent organization, H-Net.

I asked Bob to participate in the seminar, and was happy to have his offer to include the paper, "Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Context," because of his interest in describing the historical roots of community organizing. I believe that this paper, LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE, and the collection COMMUNITY ORGANIZING FOR URBAN SOCIAL CHANGE: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE (of which I'll post the Table of Contents after this), are equally important in demonstrating the diversity, longevity and evolution of neighborhood-based movements in America.


Acknowledgements ix Introduction xi

1. Social Welfare Organizing, 1886-1929 1 2. Radical Neighborhood Organizing, 1929-1946 32 3. Conservative Neighborhood Organizing, 1946-1960 66 4. The Neighborhood Organizing "Revolution" of the 1960s 98 5. The New Populism of the 1970s 132 6. Community Organizing in the Conservative 1980s 168 7. Conclusion: The Nature, Potential, and Prospects of 210 Neighborhood Organizing

Notes & References 235 Bibliographic Essay 263 Index 279

Bob is one of only a few authors to attempt such a comprehensive historical overview of these movements in the U.S., drawing on the work of historians as well as planners, political scientists and sociologists. There are other historical overviews of social movements outside of the U.S., including the Marxist and post-Marxist approaches of Manuel Castells' THE CITY AND THE GRASSROOTS (1983) and Stuart Lowe, URBAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: THE CITY AFTER CASTELLS (MacMillan, 1986), which portray and analyze such movements as the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strike, the 1970s' "ratepayers" (i.e. taxpayers') movement in the United Kingdom, and the Madrid Citizen's Movement of the late 1960s in Spain, in which neighborhood organizations emerged as one response to Franco's authoritarian regime.

I am interested in receiving retrospective reviews and/or discussion of these books or of recent books examining the European, Asian, and African histories of community organizing.

Wendy Plotkin COMM-ORG ========================================================================= Date: Wed, 27 Dec 1995 16:24:47 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET> Subject: Abstract of Miller on Neighborhoods in U.S. History

As I indicated in an earlier posting, a second collection of historical essays on community organization is Robert Fisher & Peter Romanosky, COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION FOR URBAN SOCIAL CHANGE: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981).

Below is the Table of Contents of this collection, indicating the various essays, including one by Bob Fisher on the evolution or "life cycle" of some community organizations that is relevant to the second set of responses he has made to the comments on his paper (and which I'll be sending out later).

In this posting, I've included an abstract of an essay by Zane Miller on "The Role and Concept of Neighborhood in American Cities." One of the debates among current community organizers and developers and among those who study social movements is whether the neighborhood is in fact the appropriate level at which to organize -- given a global economy, what are the benefits that are derived by working at the neighborhood level?

As the abstract below shows, it has not always been assumed that neighborhoods are appropriate units for political or social action; in fact, the concept of neighborhood is relatively new in the U.S., according to Zane Miller, a professor of history at University of Cincinnati and one of the leading historians of the neighborhood. He argues that acknowledgement of "neighborhoods" as significant entities was a response to the industrial society and the spreading and sorting out of the city by class as a result of streetcars and other mass transit innovations of the late 19th century.

In this essay, he explores the changing ideas about the neighborhood and the effect of such external events as the U.S. civil rights movement and the Vietnam war on neighborhood actions and attitudes.

Miller ends on a negative note in comparing the neighborhood organizing of the late 1960s and after to that of earlier periods, a point that would be an interesting one to debate (and in fact, the late 1960s, the New Left, and community organizing will be the subject of a later paper in the seminar.)

I invite those of you who are more familiar with current literature on the history and theory of the "neighborhood" to suggest sources of the 1980s and 1990s that update and/or contest Miller's arguments.

Acknowledgements ix Introduction xi

The Role and Concept of Neighborhood in American Cities by Zane L. Miller 3

Describes changing perceptions of cities and neighborhoods in U.S. history. Argues that neighborhoods as distinctive units did not emerge until after 1880, when availability of affordable mass transit allowed spreading out and created a city of "communities," the "organic" city in which cooperation among the parts was essential for the city to thrive. Describes the effects of the new concept of the city, including a desire to annex areas to reflect the expansion of the "community" as it spread physically, and the creation of an Association of Urban Universities" to put the services of the city colleges to work at improving the city.

Also led to the "neighborhood revolution," in which neighborhood improvement associations formed to improve and advocate for improvement in services. The associations federated after a time to increase their collective power, and actively involved themselves in city politics and programs.

The settlement house movement followed, and, according to Miller, failed to achieve greater significance due to its domination by middle class organizers from outside the community.

This was followed by the community center movement, in which local schools were the sites of multi-functional community centers which increasingly were staffed by professional "social workers."

The period from 1920 to 1950 saw a de-emphasis on neighborhoods, led by the Chicago school of sociologists including Robert Park and Louis Wirth, and later Ernest Burgess. Epitomized in the volume THE GOLD COAST AND THE SLUM, by Harvey Zorbaugh, the theorizing against neighborhoods as vital organs inside the city was based upon a perception that social and economic mobility had made them insignificant. These theorists called for perception of the city as an entity in itself, and argued that attempts to improve it should be based on the city as a whole or on social characteristics and other non-geographic factors. These same theorists were interested in metropolitan planning in which the area outside of the city was considered in all planning efforts. They also relied on experts to carry out civic improvement plans, and a standardization of the ideal city across the nation.

Political manifestations of this denigration of neighborhoods as important urban units include the turn to at-large elections and the city manager form of government. Miller uses Cincinnati as an example of the trends that he argues occurred in all U.S. cities.

Miller also argues that even Alinsky characterized this change in that he was more concerned with "people" or "interest" groups than with neighborhoods. At the same time, this was the period when regional planning was most admired with the popular acclaim of the Regional Planning Association of America. According to Miller, public policy emphasized balanced growth including cities and suburbs, and saw resettlement rather than revitalization of inner city as solution to neighborhood deterioration.

Miller sees the 1950-1968 period as one in which the popularity of psychology led to perception of the city as a collection of individuals and less of an organic entity, and in which diversity was acknowledged and applauded. The differences in individuals could be manifested in neighborhoods, and so new respect for neighborhoods arose. In a path-breaking work, THE COMMUNITY PRESS IN AN URBAN SETTING, sociologist Morris Janowitz was credited with reigniting interest in neighborhoods as units of analysis in the city, demonstrating how the over 100 commmunity newspapers in Chicago at that time attempted to create a sense of community, similar to other neighborhood institutions. Janowitz argued that within the larger city and metropolitan area, neighborhoods served a function of maintaining the more traditional values of the village and town that thus were not entirely lost as the U.S. modernized.

The new interest in neighborhoods was apparent in federal policy in the shaping of the 1954 urban renewal acts and in various federal agencies and boards such as the 1954 ACTION (American Council to Improve our Neighborhoods) program, supported by President Eisenhower and funded by the Ford Foundation. Local ACTION-like groups formed to shape neighborhood policy and planning, including urban renewal. The emphasis in these years was on cooperation between neighborhoods, cities, states and the federal government, implying that trust existed among all of these levels.

The period after 1968 was one of community advocacy, in which the failure of public policy to satisfy the desires of many neighborhood residents in the 1950s and early 1960s led neighborhood leaders to challenge the federal and state governments rather than to integrate into their policies. Specifically leading this movements were African-Americans who saw that their attempt to assimilate via the traditional routes of education and occupational improvement did not lead to overall improvement in their conditions. They called for community control, and the same call was adopted by white ethnic groups who wished to control the destinies of their neighborhoods. Communities became contenders for what was seen (in the Vietnam guns-and-butter economy) as limited resources that would be transferred to elites without effective intervention on the part of the underdogs.

In this environment, the call for citizen participation became a call for complete control over decisions affecting the local community. In addition to normal modes of democratic decision making, "outdoors" types of activity such as protest marches and demonstrations expressed demands. Miller sees this as a negative period, and implies that among community activists expressive individualism actually outweighed the desire to develop consensual communities.

Miller closes this pre-1981 essay by arguing that a new conception of neighborhood was still being shaped, with a sense of alienation pervading all levels about how to improve the polity. He argues that there was a danger of nostalgia about neighborhoods that could obfuscate the economic, social, political and institutional realities of late 20th century life in the U.S.

From Grass-Roots Organizing to Community Service: Community Organization Practice in the Community Center Movement, 1907-1930 by Robert Fisher 33

"A Cluster of Interlacing Communities": The Cincinnati Social Unit Plan and Neighborhood Organization, 1900-1920 by Patricia Mooney-Melvin 59

Harlem Communists and the Politics of Black Protest by Mark Naison 89

Tenant Organization and Housing Reform in New York City: The Citywide Tenants' Council, 1936-1943 by Joseph A. Spencer 127

The Citizens' Council in New Orleans: Organized Resistance to Social Change in a Deep South City by Neil R. McMillen 157

Environmental Constraints on Neighborhood Mobilization for Institutional Change: San Francisco's Mission Coalition Organization, 1970-1974 by Stephen R. Weissman 187

Community Organizing in the 1970s: Seeds of Democratic Revolt by Harry C. Boyte 217

BIBIOGRAPHIC ESSAY 239 INDEX 247 ABOUT THE EDITORS & CONTRIBUTORS 257 ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 29 Dec 1995 12:38:03 CST Posted by Bob Fisher <bfisher@UH.EDU>

I am writing this response in a too hurried fashion to do the comments justice. But I assume that these debates will come up again during the course of the seminar and so feel less burdened by a need to respond in greater depth to the multitude of issues raised by the commentators.

Mat Thall has done a good deal of thinking about the politics of CDCs, and a great deal of work with them. We should probably just agree to disagree about the usefulness of CDCs. I am closer in my thinking to Stoecker's comments. But I think there is a larger point to be made, perhaps obvious to all, about these debates over contemporary strategy. While we may differ about the best way to achieve social change in our current context, there is clearly no single path and this is definitely a period for a "popular front" approach to the work of each other. Public life is under attack. Neoconservative discourse rules. Whether working on CDCs or more social action-oriented forms of community organizing, whether moderate or not, the debates between us are ones between allies rather than opponents. While I am convinced the moderating tendencies are not in the best long-term interests of building organizations and movements for social change, I also understand the good and important work done by the folks I write about.

Regarding Mat's query about graduate students interested in community work, I am chair of a program in Political Social Work at our school which educates graduate students for careers in social change. They think the problem is the lack of employment opportunities, not their lack of willingness to "roll up their sleeves and get some dirt under their fingernails."

Luther Snow wants to clearly distinguish between community organizing and community development. I understand the impulse, I think, but don't agree with the argument. I am personally much more interested in community organizing than community developments efforts, because they are more directly tied to a social change agenda and in building constituencies for social change. But my work on the history of community organizing led me to understand the interconnection between community organizing and community development, not to mention the more social work form of "community organization" as well as neighborhood improvement association efforts. In contemporary community work certainly CO and CD are intertwined, in organizing in efforts like IAF and ACORN, which also do CDC work, and in development and alternative service projects which engage in "political" work. Wendy Plotkin notes that she started the idea for this seminar with a focus on community development efforts, and then brought in community organizing to make the discussion more interesting and complete. For another perspective on the relation between these forms of community organizing, and others, see some of the work by Jack Rothman et al. eds. _Strategies of organizing, and others, see some of the work by Jack Rothman et al. eds. _Strategies of Community Organization_ (F. E. Peacock) and Marie Weil's typology of organizing approaches in recent _Encyclopedia of Social Work_.

Lastly, I like Carl Milofsky's idea of "understanding how activity from different kinds of organizations can be drawn together and made synergistic or integrative." How do community development corporations contribute to the cause of social change? contribute to expanding public life in a context pushing people increasingly into private worlds? contribute to empowering citizens and promoting social justice and economic democracy? But in the process of understanding how these efforts are linked, I see them all as political, that is they are about building a more effective polis and ultimately about who has the power to make what decisions in the public world. Some efforts are more consciously (Carl uses the term explicitly) political -- the ones I tend to group as "political activist." But clearly CDC efforts, not to mention others in the history of community organizing, are very much part of and affected by politics and the nature of social struggle in any given era.

I look forward to discussing these issues further.

Bob Fisher Graduate School of Social Work University of Houston Houston, TX 77204-4492 email: fax: 713 743-8149 tel: 713 743-8112

[Ed. Jack Rothman is editor with John L. Erlich & John E. Tropman of STRATEGIES OF COMMUNITY INTERVENTION : MACRO PRACTICE, 5th Ed. Itasca, Ill.: F.E. Peacock, c1995. He is also the author of an older article "Three Models of Community Organization Practice" in Fred M.Cox and Charles Garvin, eds. STRATEGIES OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION: A BOOK OF READINGS (Itasca, Ill.: F.E. Peacock Publishers, 1974) and PLANNING AND ORGANIZING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE: ACTION PRINCIPLES FROM SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974).

The ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIAL WORK is an annual compendium of essays on topics in social work. The article Bob refers to above is Marie Weil and Dorothy N. Gamble, "Community Practice Models", ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIAL WORK, 19th ed., (Washington, D.C.: Natl. Assn. of Social Workers, 1995).

In a following note, I'll abstract this article.

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 29 Dec 1995 16:00:42 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET> Subject: ABSTRACT of Weil & Gamble, "Community Practice Models"

Marie Weil and Dorothy N. Gamble, "Community Practice Models", ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIAL WORK, 19th ed., (Washington, D.C.: Natl. Assn. of Social Workers, 1995).

In this article, Weil & Gamble offer a look at the "roots of community practice," including settlement houses, the charity organization movement, the labor movement, and community organizing activities of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. (Among these activities was the establishment by Lugenia Burns Hope, an African American organizer, of the "Neighborhood Union" in Atlanta in 1908, as described in A.E. Johnson, "The Sin of Omission: History of African-American Women in Social Work" in the JOURNAL OF MULTICULTURAL SOCIAL WORK, I:2, 1-5.)

Most of the essay is devoted to outlining 8 models, including

o neighborhood and community organizing (identifying and strengthening the resources of a local community and achieving necessary specific changes) o organizing functional communities (organizing non-geographic groups of people, such as women, gay & lesbian communities)

[For a syllabus on the history of "Sex, Gender and Sexuality in the City", including attention to the gay and lesbian community in early Philadelphia, send e-mail to with the message:


o community social and economic development (i.e. CDCs) -- observes a shift from earlier emphasis on economic development models, noting

"In this new typology...the model merges social and economic development in recognition that for effectiveness in low-income and oppressed communities, social development must accompany economic development for either type of development to be successful," citing a 1991 report by the National Congress for Community Economic Development, HUMAN INVESTMENT--COMMUNITY PROFITS (Report & Recommendations of the Social Services and Economic Development Task Force). Washington, DC.

In another section, the Weil & Gamble write "Successful social and economic community efforts have combined development of housing, community-owned small businesses, and support services such as day care for children and seniors. Increasingly, more sophisticated economic development groups are incorporating major social and service development components into their missions. For example, the Bethel New Life Corporation in Chicgo initially focused on housing development, expanded to job training and business development, and more recently added day care centers for children and elderly people as a social service to enable community members to work, create jobs, train for work, and support further economic development." (585)

o social planning (includes the identification of social problems, the development of services to address them, and the eventual coordination of the resulting services, among other activities)

o program development & community liaison (development of specific programs, soliciting the input of the affected community to assess the effectiveness of the programs)

o political and social action (attempts to address inequality, injustice, and inadequate access to power and opportunity through pressure on public policies and policymakers and on private institutions).

o coalitions (mutual action on the part of "separate groups to work together for social change")

o social movements (informal and formal organizations with the agenda of effecting or "preventing radical or reformist type of change.")

Weil and Gamble observe that many organizations and/or actions combine these types, and, more significantly from a historical viewpoint, shift from one to the other over their lifetimes.

They then offer four trends identified by one of the major text in community organizing: H.J. Rubin & I.S. Rubin, COMMUNITY ORGANIZING AND DEVELOPMENT, 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1992. These trends include

o "increased attention to issue-based organization," o "increased emphasis on community-based economic development," o "community organizations becoming permanent political actors", and o "new emphases on both neopopulist and feminist ideologies and practice strategies."

In addition, Weil and Gamble analyze changes anticipated in the types of practices they describe. Interestingly, in looking at "neighborhood and community organizing," they ask about the effect of electronic communication upon community members' identification with and interest in committing time to a geographic community in which proximity is the major tie. They assert that there is no certainty as to "impact" on "community organization" of "high-tech communication among grassroots groups in different communities, regions, or nations...."

Consistent with their earlier discussion of community development, they suggest that "There will be a continuing need to combine economic and social development strategies to respond to the comprehensive needs of urban and rural communities." (590)

I'll leave the rest of the future trends to those who have an interest in obtaining and reading the article in full.

Wendy Plotkin COMM-ORG ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 29 Dec 1995 16:24:01 CST Subject: INTRO: Ted Koebel & COMMENTS: Neighborhood Organizing... Posted by Ted Koebel <>

First, a short personal introduction. I direct the Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech and teach in the departments of Urban Affairs and Planning and Housing, Interior Design & Resource Management. I've been at VT for the past five years. Prior to VT, I was at an urban research center at the University of Louisville for 14 years & prior to that goes back too far for anyone but my family to be interested in. Throughout my career, I have been actively engaged in community development, primarily through nonprofit housing corporations. Hence, my interest in this discussion is both as an academic and a practitioner.

My apologies for lurking in the wings on this discussion & waiting until now to post. I have thoroughly enjoyed the discussion & have found it quite instructive. I regret I don't have time to develop my comments more fully, but I do have some concerns that warrant airing.

On first reading I fully agreed with Fisher's claim that CDCs have been coopted by their reliance on government funding for housing development. The problems facing nonprofits dependent on government funding have also been detailed by Smith & Lipsky (_Nonprofits for Hire_), who develop a similar argument (without Fisher's underlying critique of capitalism, which I find less convincing and generally only arguable on ideological grounds). Government contracting does reduce and possibly eliminate CDCs' protest voice; it can result in a shift of goals from broader community development concerns to the specific tasks funding is available for; and it results in the professionalization of the sector. When community conflict is encountered, the "responsible" CDCs can be pitted against (or used to shield governing coalitions from) the more politically marginal voices of protest.

Now for my concerns, which are 1) all exchange relationships involve modification of behavior in order to maintain the relationship and are thus "coopting"; 2) governing coalitions or regimes, as largely described in Clarence Stone's work, are partially rooted in the ability to get things done, to deliver short-term benefits, and to provide selective incentives. Reliance on philanthropic funding (whether from foundations, United Way, or similar mechanisms) would probably have many of the same effects on CDCs as government contracting. I can't think of any funding sources, short of a foundation or person philosophically committed to community organizing and protest, that wouldn't have expectations and requirements that would move the recipient away from overt protest. But CDCs aren't the only parties to these exchanges that have their behavior modified. The contracting relationship also modifies government; the participating CDC gains influence over policy; and government becomes dependent on CDCs to deliver important services. As an advocate of the principle of subsidiarity, which in this country is not well articulated, I believe this to be beneficial.

CDCs are drawn to housing for several reasons. It is a pressing need in low-income communities, it is part of their overall mission in most cases, and it can be funded. Housing programs have built the organizational capacity of many CDCs and these CDCs have in turn improved the lives of many people. Whole communities have not been rebuilt, but there have been important contributions at the neighborhood level as well as the individual level. These are not small accomplishments.

Yes, CDCs give up their ability to overtly organize and protest against the governing regimes that they have joined (usually at the periphery). They no longer have the pure voice of the prophet in the desert. But the limitations of protest have been noted by Stone, from whom an extended quote is better than my own recasting.

"Stable coalitions develop most readily around concrete efforts at problem solving that promise significant material benefits both to individuals and to groups. These are interactions that provide positive reinforcement in the form of tangible and short-term benefits, in which the parties experience an immediate win-win payoff even if there are other . . . dimensions of the issue in which one or both side have losses. . . . "Contrast the dynamics of protest and how they fail to build wide circles of exchange and trust. Protest tactics generally depend on intense emotions, stirred up by the immediacy of a threat. Consequently, protest participants tend to trust only those who share their intensity and are wary of influences originating outside the experiences they know. In this way, protest groups have a built-in limitation on the scope of support they can mobilize. . . . protest groups tend to be segmented and ephemeral." (Regime Politics, p211).

I do not want to cast this in either-or terms. CDCs which have gained access to funding, have built their organizational capacity to plan, manage and implement development projects, and have become "respectable" members of broader community service coalitions have much to offer poor neighborhoods and the broader community. At the same time, the prophet (and group) who stands against, who condemns, who points out our failures creates opportunities for change that are seldom created within the stable coalitions that CDCs have joined. Unless one rejects all compromise and accommodation as failure, strong voices in opposition can create opportunities for progress through existing governing coalitions (and at times expansion of those coalitions). The prophet is not invited to the table to bargain except on rare occasion and then only briefly.

My point is that progress depends on strong CDCs which are capable of negotiating from within governing coalitions, as well as on periodic protest generated through community organizing that focuses on grievances and injustices. A more sophisticated model, in my judgment, is one which honors both. It behooves CDCs to recognize the value of community organizing and their own limitations in pursuing such organizing. Even though they are undercapitalized, they should look to support community organizing efforts, perhaps funding organizers directly or through other organizations. And they should be honest about their own limitations as "voices" of the community. At the same time, community groups organized in opposition to a governing coalition (or around some specific community problem) should recognize the importance of CDCs that have become part of stable coalitions of government and private organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit).

In closing, I want to express my appreciation to Wendy Plotkin for organizing and managing this excellent forum and to Bob Fisher for a provocative and thoughtful essay. I hope my comments have elaborated on important nuances, but do not distract from the important contribution his essay can make in balancing the current euphoria over CDCs.

Ted Koebel

Theodore Koebel Center for Housing Research Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA 24061-0451 (540)231-3993 FAX (540)231-7157

[The citation for the Smith & Lipsky volume, some other works by Lipsky, and Clarence Stone's work are:

Steven R. Smith & Michael Lipsky. NONPROFITS FOR HIRE : THE WELFARE STATE IN THE AGE OF CONTRACTING Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1993. 292 p.

Michael Lipsky PROTEST IN CITY POLITICS; RENT STRIKES, HOUSING, AND THE POWER OF THE POOR. Chicago, Rand McNally <1969, c1970> 214 p.

Michael Lipsky STREET-LEVEL BUREAUCRACY : DILEMMAS OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN PUBLIC SERVICES New York : Russell Sage Foundation, c1980. 244 p.

Stone, Clarence N. REGIME POLITICS : GOVERNING ATLANTA, 1946-1988 University Press of Kansas, c1989.

Abstracts of these works, old and new, are welcome, as always.

-- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG] ========================================================================= Date: Fri, 29 Dec 1995 17:15:34 CST From: Wendy Plotkin <U13972@UICVM.BITNET> Subject: TOC: Keating, et al, eds. REVITALIZING URBAN NEIGHBORHOODS

Thanks to Bob Fisher for making available the paper "Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Context". This paper is an earlier version of a paper that will be available in a new collection of essays, REVITALIZING URBAN NEIGHBORHOODS.

The Table of Contents of the book follows:

REVITALIZING URBAN NEIGHBORHOODS by W. Dennis Keating Norman Krumholz Philip Star University Press of Kansas



Dedication (to Rob Mier) [For an on-line obituary of Rob Mier, send e-mail to with the message: GET MIER OBIT]


Introduction: Neighborhoods in Urban America 1 by Dennis Keating

Introduction to Section I: Growth and Evolution of Urban Neighborhoods 15

1. America's Urban Mosaic: Immigrant and Minority Neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio 18 by Edward M. Miggins

2. Neighborhoods in Transition 51 by W. Dennis Keating and Janet Smith

3. Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Context 84 by Robert Fisher

4. Past Federal Policy for Urban Neighborhoods by W. Dennis Keating and Janet Smith 107

Introduction to Section II: Neighborhood Decline and Attempts at Revitalization 123

1. Urban Politics and Progressive Housing Policy: Ray Flynn and Boston's Neighborhood Agenda by Peter Dreier 130

2. Social Justice and Neighborhood Revitalization in Chicago: The Era of Harold Washington: 1983-1987 173 by Robert Giloth

3. Neighborhood Organizations and Community Planning: the Case of the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program 200 by Susan S. Fainstein and Clifford Hirst

4. Los Angeles Neighborhoods Respond to the Civil Unrest: Planning an Adequate Tool? 235 by Jacqueline Leavitt

5. Faith-Based Community Development and African-American Neighborhoods 281 by June Thomas and Reynard N. Blake, Jr.

Introduction to Section III: The Community Development Movement 312

1. CDCs as Agents of Change: The State of the Art 317 by Avis C. Vidal

2. The Community-Based Housing Movement and Progressive Local Politics by Edward G. Goetz

3. Community-Based Housing Organizations and the Complexity of Community Responsiveness by Rachel G. Bratt

Profiles of Leading Neighborhood Figures

Section IV. Urban and Metropolitan Development Policies

1. Metropolitan Development and Neighborhood Revitalization by Norman Krumholz

2. Friend or Foe? The Federal Government and Community Reinvestment by Gregory D. Squires

3. Neighborhood Revitalization: Future Prospects by Norman Krumholz and Philip Star

Selected References About the Authors

Wendy Plotkin COMM-ORG ========================================================================= Date: Sat, 30 Dec 1995 06:03:46 CST Subject: INTRO: Herbert Rubin & COMMENTS: "Neighborhood Organizing..."

Posted by Herbert Rubin <>

I too have been lurking enjoying the debates on CDCs.

I write about both community organizing and development and do some teaching in the area. Let me provide some self-citations that defend the community based development model.

"Being a Conscience and a Carpenter: Interpretations of the Community Based Development Model." Forthcoming _Journal of Community Practice_

"Renewing Hope in the Inner City: Conversations with Community Based Development Practitioners." _Administration and Society_ May 1995 27:1 pp. 127-160

"There Aren't Going to be Any Bakeries Here if There is no Money to Afford Jelly Rolls: The Organic Theory of Community Based Development." _Social Problems_ August 1994 Vol 41:3 pp. 401-424

"Understanding the Ethos of Community Based Develop- ment: Ethnographic Description for Public Administrators." _Public Administration Review_ Sept-Oct. 1993 Volume 53: number 55 pp. 428-437 reprinted in Roger L. Kemp (ed) _Economic Devel- opment in Local Government_ Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company (1995).

"Community Empowerment within an Alternative Econ- omy." pp. 99-121 in D. Peck and J. Murphy (eds.) _Open Institutions: The Hope for Democracy_ West- port Connecticut: Praeger 1993

I'm well along on a book trying to defend the possibilities for community baased development. Book tries to show the interplay between ideology and organizational pressures in doing deals.

Sincerely, Herbert J. Rubin

******************************************************************** Herbert J. Rubin 815-753-6424 Sociology Northern Illinois University DeKalb, Illinois 60115 ********************************************************************* ========================================================================= Date: Mon, 1 Jan 1996 18:51:47 CST Subject: Re: Abstract of Miller on Neighborhoods in U.S. History Posted by Carl Milofsky <>

Thanks for the abstract of the Miller essay. I found myself puzzled by some things. First, while middle class people did dominate settlement houses at the end of the 19th century and that might have contributed to their ultimate decline, at Toynbee Hall the decline seemed due more to the appearance of welfare state theory which made neighborhood level interventions seem irrelevant in England. While that movement was not as strong in the US, there certainly was also a turn to macro-level intervenion here that resulted in the New Deal and de-emphasized neighborhoods as the proper point of action.

The account of how the Chicago School of the 1920s to the 1940s undercut interest in neighborhoods was new to me. Burgess's theory of metropolitan development and Wirth's theory of urbanism fit Miller's story. But meanwhile Burgess also identified natural neighborhood areas in Chicago and started the Chicago Community Factbook which continues to be produced and has become the standard for defining Chicago neighborhoods. Miller mentions Janowitz's classic on the community press, but ignores the intellectual descendents of that book by Gerald Suttles (THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF COMMUNITY, Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press 1972) and by Albert Hunter (SYMBOLIC COMMUNITIES: THE PERSISTENCE AND CHANGE OF CHICAGO'S LOCAL COMMUNITIES, Chicago: Univ of Chicago Pr 1974). I found myself wondering the extent to which the Janowitz/Suttles/Hunter group had resurrected a real tradition of the Chicago School's support for neighborhood theory, or whether they had romanticized the Park/Burgess era.

Incidentally, while Miller might be correct that the Chicago School people of the 1930s preferred metropolitan interventions to neighborhood ones, my understanding of why interest in neighborhood theory declined was that the growth of mass society theory seemed to make neighborhood theory irrelevant or incorrect. Mass society theory grew because of European totalitarian movements and the belief that community decline was responsible for authoritarian politics. American social scientists anxiously began looking for evidence that similar social trends (the decline of community, the growth of authoritarian political movements like McCarthyism) would undermine democracy in America. Janowitz book was written specifically to counter this nihilist fear, arguing that incentives for community building existed in mass society. (That explanation, incidentally, comes from a class I took with Morris Janowitz on urban social policy in about 1977.)

Carl Milofsky Department of Sociology and Anthropology Bucknell University .