Washing Dirty Laundry: Organic-Activist-Research in Two Social Movement Organizations* 

Lisa Sun-Hee Park

e-mail: parklisa@merle.acns.nwu.edu

David Naguib Pellow**

e-mail: pellodav@merle.acns.nwu.edu
Department of Sociology
Northwestern University
1812 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, Illinois 60208-1330


Dirty Laundry and Participatory Research
Washing Dirty Laundry 
Washing Dirty Laundry at RPT and KWH
Dirty Laundry within the Social Movement Organizations
Dirty laundry within the Community
Social Movement Dirty Laundry
Organic-Activist-Research in Communities of Color by Scholars of Color 


This paper is a comparison of two social movement organizations--of which we are members--that 'wash' their 'dirty laundry' in order to maintain solidarity and manage "frontstage" impressions. We view this process of washing dirty laundry as a normal and routine practice that deserves systematic attention by participatory researchers. Participatory researchers often maintain a separation between researcher and community activist roles. We argue that this need not be the case--that academics can practice organic-activist-research in communities, organizations and movements--under particular circumstances. We also analyze and offer pragmatic solutions for dilemmas we faced in this endeavor.

So the question is do we let this dirty laundry pile up in the basement
or do we wash it? Because sooner or later someone is going to smell it.
-RPT activist


This paper investigates the processes through which members of two grassroots social movement organizations (SMOs) manage sensitive, potentially harmful information within their own organizations, communities, and movements. In this reflective analysis we draw upon our experiences as organic-activist-researchers and as members of an African American environmental justice organization and a Korean American women's domestic violence advocacy organization in a large U.S. city. In defining potentially harmful internal information as "dirty laundry," we will position this concept within a participatory research (PR) framework. Placing these SMOs at the center of our analysis, we will illustrate the processes through which these organizations manage or "wash" dirty laundry internally, that is, within the confines of their respective organizations, communities, and movements.

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Dirty Laundry and Participatory Research

Social movement theorists argue that "[m]ovement participants... must deal with internal factionalism" (Morris and Herring 1987:169, see McAdam 1982) and that "challenging groups" must have internal organization which may consist of "various forms including established institutions, professional and informal networks, and formal movement organizations" (Morris 1981). In this paper, we focus on three of these arenas of loyalty--the SMO, the community, and the social movement.

One can view peoples of color' social movements, social movement organizations, and entire communities as three distinct but interactive social constructs that emerge and sustain themselves through "oppositional consciousness" (Morris and Mueller 1992) in relation to the dominant power structure and society. These constructs--or what we call "arenas of loyalty"--are relatively "safe spaces" (Evans and Boyte 1986; Gamson 1995) where not only the pressures and assaults from the outside world are absorbed and endured, but where sensitive and potentially compromising information and actions emerge and are routinely managed or 'washed.' Dirty laundry therefore can be thought of as a "social fact" (Durkheim 1982) that deserves systematic exploration.

Whether practicing as collaborators or consultants to communities, participatory researchers often maintain a categorical separation between the role of the researcher and activist (Cancian 1993; Elden and Levin 1991; Reardon, Welsh, Kreiswirth and Forester 1993; Stoecker and Beckwith 1992; Whyte 1991). We contend that such a division need not be so distinct. After all, "[a]cademics... do not cease to become members of the community by going to work in a university" (Hall 1992:25). As an African American and Korean American, we are members of subordinate populations with whom we share intimate cultural understandings and history. As activist-researchers working in our indigenous communities and social movements, we thus conceive of what we do as inseparable from who we are. We think of ourselves as "organic-activist-researchers"1 because we come from the communities we work in, much of the knowledge we employ in scholarly arenas originates from those same communities, and our research and activism have direct impact on our lives. Gramsci (1971) contrasted what he called the "organic intellectual" with the "traditional intellectual." The first is the type of philosopher who emerges outside the university and within society. The second emerges within the university and largely apart from society. Our model of the "organic-activist-
researcher" is a hybrid of Gramsci's in which our cultural, ethnic, racial, gender and/or immigration statuses provide us access to these organizations' intimate "backstage" (Goffman 1959) where we have come to understand and observe the centrality of dirty laundry. In practice, this model presents the organic-activist- researcher with a number of dilemmas, which we will address later in this paper.

The generally accepted role of the participatory researcher is to contribute "what we have to offer, namely theory and research skills" (Stoecker and Bonacich 1992: 9). While this is ordinarily the case, our contributions often extend beyond our academic training. As the assistant policy coordinator to the environmental justice SMO, Pellow's work included providing transportation, lobbying local and state lawmakers to pass environmental legislation, and co-authoring grant proposals, policy reports and surveys with fellow members. As a board member of the domestic violence SMO, Park also co-wrote grant proposals, contributed time and energy in providing child care, transportation, language translation, community education and directing a volunteer training program. More importantly, as these tasks indicate, our work with these organizations is not characterized by the completion of one or more projects, as is the case with most PR. Rather than serving solely as researchers for these organizations, we are in fact members in decision-making positions. Our experiences thus expand the boundaries of PR, moving beyond the accepted separation of activist/researcher and community member.

Participatory researchers' accounts of community-based action are often outcome--rather than process--oriented (Stoecker and Bonacich 1992). We argue for an emphasis on the practice of washing dirty laundry as a process because it is an integral component of "impression management," the inner workings of much of what Goffman (1959) referred to as "backstage" behavior. The "back region" or "backstage" is, in Goffman's words, "where the suppressed facts make an appearance" (ibid:112). Ours is not an attempt to prevent dirty laundry from arising. Indeed the point here is that dirty laundry is a normal and routine reality that deserves systematic attention by participatory researchers.

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Washing Dirty Laundry

In this paper, we take advantage of our insider status and focus on the washing rather than the airing of dirty laundry. By "washing," we are describing how activists manage sensitive information within an organization, community and/or social movement. We will document the "cycles" through which social "dirt" moves through arenas of loyalty. We wish to clarify that our conception of "dirty laundry" is related to, but distinct from, G.T. Marx's notion of "dirty data" in that rather than focusing on cover-ups, illicit and/or immoral activities (Marx 1990:80), "dirty laundry" consists of routine, legal activity and information that activists perceive might be harmful to the organization, community and/or movement if made public.

In the following section, we will introduce two social movement organizations. Then, we will illustrate the processes through which these SMOs wash their own dirty laundry as well as the dirty laundry of their communities and larger social movements. Finally, we will conclude with a discussion of the dilemmas associated with organic-activist-research.

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Washing Dirty Laundry at RPT and KWH

Residents Pulling Together (RPT): An Introduction

Residents Pulling Together (RPT), a grassroots environmental justice organization, has for more than a decade struggled to address industrial pollution's impacts in an African American community in a large U.S. city. RPT is an African American organization with five staff personnel, two hundred dues-paying members, and a shoe-string budget. It is important, however, to understand that RPT is not a "localized social movement" (Stoecker 1995) in that the organization and its members, as part of a national network, regularly travel around the country advocating changes in environmental policy at the federal level. Since its founding in the early 1980's, RPT remains in a dilapidated neighborhood isolated from the city. Situated in a region many call a "sacrifice zone" (Bullard 1993), RPT is surrounded by a multitude of polluting industries and landfills. Activists describe this community--locally known as "the Flats"-- as "economically poor, politically unaware, and environmentally unhealthy." The Flats is home to over 8,000 residents, has the third highest neighborhood poverty rate in the city, and is located in the zip code with the second highest volume of toxic industrial releases in the city.

Korean Women's Hotline (KWH): An Introduction

KWH is a non-profit, community-based organization (CBO) that provides crisis intervention for battered and sexually assaulted Korean American women. Founded in the early 1990's by three Korean American women, KWH is located in a large U.S. city with a Korean population of over 100,000. The community is tightly knit, fairly self-sufficient and in many ways is a "micro-society" with many of the same services and institutions found in the larger society. For instance, there are over 100 Korean churches, 16 social service providers, several banks and a variety of merchants. There are also several daily newspapers, weekly papers, and television and radio stations.

As a fledgling organization run entirely by women (many of whom are young) with little financial and social support, KWH occupies a precarious position in the Korean community. KWH challenges the local patriarchal power structure through its open campaign against domestic violence; a taboo subject many community leaders would rather not discuss.

(In the case material that follows concerning RPT and KWH the authors are Pellow and Park, respectively.)

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Dirty Laundry within the Social Movement Organizations

Residents Pulling Together (RPT)

For the three years I have been with RPT, not a week goes by without some mention or gripe about Rachel, the organization's director, who appears to run RPT as a one-person show. She is a charismatic leader, whose name is recognized around the nation in policy and movement circles, but whose organization shares little recognition. She embodies what organizational theorists dub the "myth of the triumphant individual" (Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars 1993) wherein one person takes credit for achievements that would have been impossible without the aid of many others. John, an RPT member, argues that Rachel is a figurehead in the movement, a symptom of the general "crisis in Black leadership" (West 1993). She is what John calls an, "...'acquired leader.' That's basically what black so-called leadership is. It's people identified externally as being your leader and basically what happens to them is they get co-opted to such a degree that they basically serve the interests of the external forces who anointed them."

Another member, Celeste, complained, "I'm sick of RPT and Rachel and the way they boss you around like they're somebody!" Vice president, Simone, who serves as public affairs coordinator, fundraiser and accountant informed me, "I don't feel appreciated around here and Rachel seems to want to take all the credit for what we're doing."

When members perceive their organization as overshadowed by its leader, this creates a potentially harmful situation. Any hint of decline or internal division would likely create image problems and result in funding difficulties for RPT. There were two strategies by which we, as members, washed this dirty laundry. First, as the quotations above indicate, we vented our frustrations and came to a consensus that this was indeed a problem. Second, as a more formal strategy, we began developing a stronger board of directors and creating new programs. A more active and powerful board would help remind the director that she did not have a monopoly on decision making, thus serving as a checking and balancing force; developing new programs entailed hiring more staff members, who served as a tangible measure of the organization's strength and growth. We are still in the process of completing these projects today.

My role in this process was neither pivotal nor insignificant. As a concerned member of RPT, I agreed with the others that Rachel's charismatic leadership style was unsustainable and that RPT needed a stronger foundation. Two other members and I developed new programs and secured new funding for RPT. This was a way of re-examining our long term survivability as leaders in the environmental movement. Some months afterward, during a staff meeting, RPT member John delicately raised this question with Rachel and, to our surprise, she acknowledged that she had been aware of this problem for quite some time. She also agreed that to, as she put it, "convince our funders that this is RPT, not Rachel," stronger programmatic emphasis was necessary. Although no member directly confronted Rachel with this problem on a personal level, by framing it as an organizational issue we feel we are managing it while admittedly falling short of actually solving it.

Korean Women's Hotline (KWH)

Given KWH's precarious position in the Korean community, the organization must maintain the appearance of internal solidarity. In presenting a united front, we KWH members describe ourselves as an egalitarian, consensus-oriented organization that fosters a sense of sisterhood among the women involved. Kim, one of the founders, described her experience with KWH: In addition, our philosophy statement reads, "We will work collectively to promote the philosophy of equality without regard to race, class, gender, sexuality and disability. We will exercise this principle of equality though a consensual decision-making process."

In many ways, KWH successfully upholds these standards. We host annual retreats for the sole purpose of reaffirming members' commitment to non-hierarchical practices. At one particular retreat, however, an incident transpired in which one board member accused another of classism. This accusation stemmed from mounting tensions among members from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Our shared sisterhood as Korean American women did not eliminate these class disparities and, in this case, the difference was vast. One volunteer's household income ranged in the millions while the other barely sustained herself above the poverty line (similar to most clients). The fur coats, diamond bracelets, and expensive foreign-made cars, as symbols of social stratification, challenged the group's agreed objective of equality. The volunteer who raised this issue previously told the author "...there's so much dichotomy and so much friction going on within the organization that I couldn't really tell you what the character of KWH is or what keeps it together as an efficiently run organization because, to be honest with you, I haven't seen it."

The retreat concluded after we reminded ourselves of the need to present a cohesive image in the face of numerous oppositional forces in the community who would cheer at any sign of division within the group. We understood that the social inequalities that existed prior to the meeting were still with us. Nonetheless, we made significant progress by acknowledging our differences. In certain respects, the agreed outcome to dress casually during KWH functions appears superficial. On the other hand, I reminded them of the realities facing our group and that addressing the "poor without pity and privilege without guilt" (Higginbotham 1993) is a tremendous challenge facing all organizations. Thus, in our effort to engage in impression management, KWH washed its dirty laundry--in the form of internal class division--to maintain the appearance of organizational solidarity.

Through internal impression management, both KWH and RPT washed the dirty laundry of difference and division within their organizations. RPT's process, while not confrontational, included a formal, structural response; KWH's process was the converse--very confrontational and informal. Both processes resulted in positive outcomes.

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Dirty laundry within the Community

Residents Pulling Together in the Flats

RPT's internal charisma problem provides a bridge into the discussion of the conflicts RPT has had with community leaders. Like most impoverished neighborhoods, the Flats has a "hierarchy of needs," (Mohai 1990) in which ecological sustainability is not the highest priority for the average resident. This presents RPT with a serious problem of legitimacy from both inside and outside the community. Not surprisingly then, most dues-paying members come from other parts of the city. One fellow activist, put it this way: "In this society, you don't effectively motivate anybody or anything unless you're employing them. The alderman has got more people mobilized in the community than RPT because it's like you might get a job."

As Simone admitted at an advisory committee meeting, "....our support base is outside of the community...." RPT's lawyer once confided in me a similar concern: This lack of support, however, does not result from a corresponding lack of effort on the part of our organization. In addition to hosting community health and environmental awareness fairs we provide job training classes, energy assistance, earned fare employment, sex education services, and canvass door-to-door periodically to disseminate information about local environmental quality and the organization's campaigns. Lack of local support is problematic for any community-based organization in that its very existence and claim to legitimacy are that it represents local concerns. At first glance, this lack of support might appear as RPT's dirty laundry. However, if RPT were to publicly air the community leaders' failure to support their cause, it could damage the leaders' reputations, thereby becoming the community's dirty laundry. Opposing the call for a clean environment might mark a local physician, a community council president, or an alderman as an uncaring, self-serving individual. RPT manages this lack of support by appearing at community gatherings and meetings and confronting local authorities. Our presence prompts an acknowledgment of local environmental deterioration and, in so doing, leaders must recognize RPT as a legitimate entity.

In the summer of 1993 RPT's director and I attended a large meeting at the Flats community center. The neighborhood physician organized this meeting to announce plans for the construction of a new health clinic. We at RPT were concerned because, unknown to most residents, much of the clinic's funding came from a waste management corporation that operates a nearby landfill. This corporation also owns an abandoned incinerator that was shut down due to RPT's protest efforts. Rachel told the meeting attendees that the community should resist this corporate "buy off" in light of what she viewed as the company's responsibility for many suspected environmentally-related illnesses among residents. She then exposed the clinic's funding sources in the following exchange with the community doctor: In this case I was verbally silent but symbolically effective. Before the meeting Rachel told me to "dress nicely but don't say anything. If they ask, just tell them you're with me to keep them guessing." As a new member at the time, few people recognized me and many thought I was a lawyer. This perception may have lent legitimacy to Rachel and RPT as the doctor, residents and other community leaders present took her concerns seriously and agreed to disagree through this confrontational internal meeting.

Korean Women's Hotline

Like RPT, KWH finds itself in a situation in which, despite its status as a community-based organization, it receives little community support. From the community's perspective, KWH has committed the forbidden act of rejecting established cultural norms. During an interview, a male community leader described domestic violence in the Korean American community in this way: "It's the oriental way--to be silent and to suffer. I think that's one of the reasons why women take punches from their husbands and still keep going--taking care of their children, their family and put them in nice schools. That's strength and that's power."

KWH members strongly disagree with this interpretation of women's power. A staff member replied, "For over a thousand years, women have been culturalized as submissive and weak by presenting images of powerless women as beautiful." One member describes KWH's relationship with the community in this way: "... the community is run by 40 or 50 older generation men who fear women who get together to do something. It's more like a war between them and us."

This lack of community endorsement is not unusual. Tierney (1982) writes that ever since domestic violence became a visible social problem (largely through the efforts of community-based crisis centers), movement organizations received funding from sources outside the community. Ironically, as in RPT's case, KWH members have defined this issue as the community's dirty laundry and has garnered some local support or at least acknowledgment of the organization and its cause. This acknowledgment was evident during my interviews with community leaders as they reluctantly recognized spousal abuse as a problem. As one leader put it, "...we thought it was a woman's problem and we just weren't interested...." KWH has become an active participant in community events by threatening to air the community's lack of support. The community learned this lesson the hard way during one public event in which two KWH members stormed the stage and took over the microphone to protest our exclusion from the agenda. I provided support for my co-members by accompanying them to the event and looking after the children of one activist who was busy addressing the audience. This incident, coupled with periodic coverage in a major Korean newspaper, has forced community leaders to "save face" by acknowledging the importance of what was once seen as a non-issue.

Both RPT and KWH experience an uneasy relationship with their respective communities. Although they lack strong community support--which, for an SMO/CBO, poses a threat to organizational maintenance and legitimacy--both have found creative methods of co-existing. Both organizations decided to wash, rather than air, this dirty laundry because by doing so they can avoid endangering their chances of receiving outside funding and prevent further alienation of community residents and leaders. Through parallel strategies of contesting and confronting sensitive issues in the "backstage," RPT, KWH and their respective communities engaged in internal impression management whereby all parties "saved face."

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Social Movement Dirty Laundry

Residents Pulling Together and the Environmental Justice Movement

In the last decade-and-a-half, poor, working-class and of-color communities in the United States have responded to the disproportionate toxic and hazardous facility siting in their neighborhoods--a practice called environmental injustice and/or environmental racism--with the Environmental Justice Movement (Bryant and Mohai 1992; Bullard 1990, 1993, 1994; Lee 1987). The Environmental Justice Movement is at once a part of and apart from the more traditional environmental movement. We have observed the tense nature of this relationship in the charges of discrimination and neglect by activists and organizations of color. In 1990, U.S. environmental justice leaders charged the "Big Ten" national environmental organizations with ignoring the plight of other 'endangered species,' namely urban and rural people of color (Bryant and Mohai 1992; Bullard 1990; Shabecoff 1990). Environmental Justice leaders argued that the larger movement's "definition of the [environmental] situation" (Thomas 1969) revealed a marked insensitivity toward social and racial justice. These internal divisions along racial and class lines constitute the environmental movement's dirty laundry. Activist-scholar Robert Bullar writes "The larger movement is doomed to the charge of being an elitist movement that cares more about 'protecting the environment from humans' than about 'protecting humans from the environment'"(Bullard 1990:117).

What scholars of environmental justice have missed entirely, however, is that both the mainstream, mainly white environmental movement, and the working class/people of color led environmental justice movement are curiously interdependent. That is, many organizations in the latter movement often may receive technical, legal, and/or monetary assistance from the larger groups. Conversely, however, the larger organizations use these relationships with environmental justice organizations to secure legitimacy within communities of color and with foundations. Thus, RPT members and activists in other environmental justice organizations commonly charge the "Big Ten" with racism and cornering the market on environmental justice funding. Andrea, an African American member of an environmental justice organization in a nearby city contended, "the 'Big Ten' environmental groups couldn't identify with what people of color in the movement were doing" but more disturbing is her view that "These white people are trying to capitalize on it [environmental justice] now that there's money available." RPT activist, Simone, argues, In this city and around the nation, predominantly white environmental organizations have in fact used RPT's name, without consent, in grant proposals that were then funded. These organizations thus solicit funds to address environmental racism without informing or working with SMOs and/or communities of color. This hostile relationship is the dirty laundry of the entire environmental movement.

RPT members and a number of other SMOs led by people of color in the region decided to form a coalition amongst organizations of color and predominantly white SMOs for the purposes of working out these differences. I and other leaders stressed that, as one activist put it, "Environmental Justice means a multicultural movement for ecological and social justice led by people of color." I posed the question, "where do non-people of color fit in?" and Rachel answered that "the white people are going to be a part of it because they've been working on this for years. It's just that the people of color will lead." We now are working toward building a regional environmental justice coalition and have secured funding to do so.

Korean Women's Hotline and the Domestic Violence Movement

The domestic violence--or battered women's--movement began in the mid-1970s. According to the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project, there are currently more than 1400 shelters, hotlines, and safe-homes nationwide. The Project states that "Effecting systematic changes, dispelling the myths about domestic violence, and promoting victims' rights remain ongoing challenges to the movement" (NWAPP). What is not included in this list of challenges is the embarrassing problem of racial discrimination within the movement. Certainly this issue is neither new to this movement nor to the women's movement at large (Chow 1987; Collins 1991; Giddings 1984; Lam 1994; Moraga and Anzaldua 1981). Perhaps what is most embarrassing about this internal racial discrimination is its persistence. Lam (1994) writes, "... the current feminist discourse in the United States [is one] where white "professional" or bourgeois feminists typically speak of, or for, the general experiences and needs of women, of whom they of course constitute but a small subset" (ibid: 866).

KWH encountered discriminatory behavior toward immigrants during its efforts to secure emergency shelter for non-English speaking battered Korean American women. On several occasions, mainstream shelters with empty beds have denied KWH's clients admittance despite KWH's offers of translation services. This anti-immigrant behavior creates a problem for the Battered Women's Movement because, unlike other cases of cultural insensitivity, the movement cannot place the blame on inadequate funding or other external constraints. For example, the inability to provide a variety of cultural foods and bilingual employees is understandable for shelters on shoe-string budgets, but denying an available bed is an internal problem.

In response to this mistreatment, I wrote a letter of complaint to the shelter involved on behalf of KWH and mailed a copy to the national domestic violence organization. In this letter, we requested an amendment to the by-laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of language. The first incident occurred in 1993 and unfortunately recurred one year later. KWH members agreed to take action against the shelter again while not going outside the movement networks due to our reliance on the few available shelters in the area. We viewed airing the dirty laundry as an act of last resort; taken only if our demands were not adequately addressed.

What the above stories illustrate are the ongoing struggles--within the environmental and domestic violence causes in particular and in social movements in general--between people of color and white activists over charges of racism and neglect. Equally important, however, are the struggles over leadership, agenda-setting and decision-making power. In neither case did the local SMO decide to air this dirty laundry publicly, but instead made efforts to manage and resolve the dilemmas. In both cases the outcomes have yet to unfold, but the stresses of cultural and racial discrimination continue to plague both organizations and the larger social movements. In both cases the researcher acted only as a member of the affected organization.

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Organic-Activist-Research in Communities of Color by Scholars of Color

A central question in participatory research concerns the role of the researcher. This question presents difficulties for organic-activist-researchers because the answer calls for a distinct separation between the researcher and the "community" (Stoecker and Beckwith 1992). First, as indicated earlier, there is no "sharp division of roles" (ibid:209) between activist and researcher or SMO member and university employee in our cases. Our roles and personal characteristics transcend the accepted, often limited scope of PR. The organic-activist-researcher then is, in a sense, a walking paradox, a schizophrenic individual straddling at least two, often conflicting, communities or arenas of loyalty.

Both authors are caught between the ideals and strains embedded in African and Asian American upward mobility and whether the association with a respected university represents an individual or group success, or neither.2 That is, when Pellow informed RPT members that he was affiliated with a university, in the same conversation he was applauded for 'having a good education' and reminded that "that's the place where they put out studies that claim poverty is the fault of Black folks." At KWH, Park is constantly reminded that the university is the site of the simultaneous celebration of the myth of the Asian American "model minority" (Takaki 1989) and the often violent backlash against calls for Asian American studies. Historically, there has been significant tension between universities and communities of color (see Blauner and Wellman 1973; Montero 1977). As an institution, the American university has denied people of color equal access and neglected to provide culturally relevant curricula, in addition to often behaving as a "growth machine" (Molotch 1976) actor by gentrifying our communities (Taub 1994).3 Our ability to gain the trust of our fellow activists then is at once a cultural expectation and a hard-earned social achievement.

Second, there is no single definition of "community" (Stoecker, this volume) as this term can embody geographic, cultural, religious, and/or political boundaries. We, like many of our fellow activists, do not live and work in the same micro-geographic space, but share common history, language/dialect, and political orientations. Koreatowns across America are marked by the presence of Asian Americans who work in town by day but who often reside outside of these areas. Likewise, the idea of the "African American community" is not bound by spatial or socioeconomic limitations. When Pellow explained to RPT activist, Celeste, why a fellow African American university colleague felt she had to choose scholarship over activism, she replied: We also must ask whether our presence in these SMOs was an aid or a hindrance in their washing dirty laundry. The case narratives demonstrate that, as active members of these organizations, our roles varied depending upon the situation. Both authors were involved in addressing the internal problems of SMO, community and movement in so far as we voiced our opinions and acted in what we felt were the best interests of these arenas of loyalty. However, unlike most university researchers, as continuing SMO, community, and movement members, we are directly accountable to these institutions and the individuals within them.

A related dilemma arises in that by publishing this article about two organizations washing their dirty laundry, we are, by our own definition, airing that same dirty laundry. This is a valid concern. Activist-scholars have always labored over deciding which arena of loyalty is the most important--the university or the community--and whose interests it serves by writing about a particular subject(s). Our solution is a pragmatic one; we are members of a university community and our SMOs, communities of identity, and social movements so we must manage these often contradictory and conflicting arenas of loyalty without compromising any one. In order to survive as academics we must publish our research findings, but to protect our communities and SMO colleagues we have a) provided members with copies of our work for comment, criticism and disclosure4 , b) we employ pseudonyms for the city, organization and individuals' names in this paper, and c) we deliberately chose cases that, if ever tied to these actual organizations and members, would have less harmful effects than other cases we could have reported.

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In this paper we argued that, in certain situations, participatory researchers can move from an academic researcher role to an "organic-activist-researcher" role. Organic-activist-research challenges and extends traditional PR. Participatory research remains a transaction-driven process wherein researchers provide technical assistance in exchange for career mobility and community improvement while activists give up their time, labor and indigenous knowledge for funding increases, organizational and community development. In our cases, this exchange does not occur. Our use of shared indigenous knowledge and multiplicative role-positioning of both the researcher and the activist shifts the traditional, transaction/project-driven participatory research model to one that is relationship-based.

Though each case was not without dilemmas for the activist-researcher and yielded varying degrees of positive and negative outcomes, the process was the point of our focus. While participatory research has so far provided significant ways to build bridges between researchers and communities, more rigorous and challenging models are necessary to help sustain and develop grassroots organizations, communities and social movements.

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*We would like to thank Randy Stoecker and our fellow activist sisters and brothers at KWH and RPT.

**Authors' names appear in alphabetical order 

1. Rubin describes "organic theory" as a "set of coherent principles that guide the actions of those involved in social change. The concept 'organic theory' contrasts with 'academic theory' in which explanatory systems are derived by those removed from immediate action" (1994:402-3)

2. e.g. The contradictions are most readily embodied in "Lifting as we climb" the motto of the Black Women's Club movement of the late 19th century.

3. Universities are often viewed as the institutional source of academic imperialism which often extends to the point of physically altering and destroying urban communities as universities grow and acquire neighborhoods. Thus when the 'ambassadors' (read 'ethnographers') from these institutions venture into especially vulnerable communities it is analogous to missionaries and scouts arriving to size up, objectify, and ultimately commodify a people and their land.

4. We both provided copies to members of each organization, and the responses we received ranged from "I didn't see anything wrong with it" to "Even though you tried to disguise it, it was obvious to me that you were talking about KW.H" Overall it would be fair to say that while no one was especially stimulated by our paper--a common response from fellow activists (see Stoecker 1994)-- no reader recommended that it not be published.

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