Is organizing democratic?
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Tue Jan 3 18:00:51 CST 2006
[ed: thanks to Candee and Jerry for engaging the discussion.]
From: Candee Basford <candee at bright.net>
When I've been 'organized " to speak at hearings or write letters to my
government I've felt conflicted. ON the one hand, I may have been empowered
for a brief time, in part because I did something new and bold like finding
my way to the state capital or speaking in front of really important people.
But later I felt like a pawn because I was literally told what to support
and how to support it, in this instance increased funding for special
education services. The organizers message, "we know what needs to be done
to make things better, just do it and then you can go away (until we need
those experiences of being organized feel a lot different than the times
when I've Participated in learning groups, when I've learned with others
over time, discovered my own powerful questions, took action and came back
together again and again to learn more about what just happened.
IN those times, I found power from within and power with others. I
discovered how to move forward in spite of the muck. I discovered where to
invest my energy as I became more clear about what mattered. At the same
time, we quickly lost any certainty that there was one clear strategy to
social change. We learned that improvisation was not only important but
necessary if we really expected anything new to happen.
A note to myself here - that first experience, the one of being organized to
increase special education funding resulted in just what the organizers
wanted - increased funding. Indeed, because of that increase in funding
more professionals were hired but, as far as I can tell, nothing much
changed for people with disabilities.
Seems to me that the two experiences invite different perspectives of
people & problems - invitation and approach.
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From: jerryhoffman <jerryhoffman at earthlink.net>
What's the motive here? Is it to talk about whether organizing is part
of the democratic process? That answer seems too obvious. Is this a
critique of an organization's involvement in organizing? That is, if an
ACORN fell out of a tree, and people weren't there to notice that it
fell, would there be any organizing? Of course there would. People
organize because they're being screwed in someway, by someone, and they
want to turn-around that set of circumstances. By doing so, they turn
the position of power to be more favorable to them. That's empowerment.
If an organization has its own agenda that is not indigenous to the
people, then this turns from organizing to coercion. People are being
coerced, not organized, for the organization to win something. This is
just another form of power. People who must live daily with the
consequences of organizing must make all the decisions along the way.
Whether the issue is housing, loan sharks, health care, corporate raid
of education funding, whatever, the people who benefit from the results
of organizing are the leaders, the researchers, the messengers, the
public correspondents, the informants, the agitators, the negotiators,
If an organization is confused about this, then they're selling out the
self-interests of that community, and should consider either reframing
its role or dissolve. That's a dangerous game to play with peoples lives.
They don't need ACORN , and would that organizing lead to direct
actions and wins for community folk?
> From: Benjamin Shepard <benshepard at mindspring.com>
> what is acorn doing? is it
> democratic? is it empowering people?
> [ed: I don't know the source of the blog about ACORN, or its accuracy,
> but I do know the critique, and it has been leveled at organizers
> since the day Alinsky gave his first press interview. Should
> organizers simply organize or do they get to lead as well? When is a
> deal a sellout? Who gets to decide, and at what level, in community
> organizing? There are no easy answers, but it is a worthy discussion.]
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