Community and Environmental Sociology 573: Community Organization and Change

The web address for this syllabus is:

Professor: Randy Stoecker
Office:  Ag Hall 340d
Office Hours: by appointment
Phone:  890-0764

Spring, 2017
M 4:00-6:30pm
2104 Chamberlin

WELCOME... Community Organization and Change.  This course will focus on the rich history and contemporary practices of the craft called community organizing.  This is the work of the famous Saul Alinsky, the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and more recently people such as Barack Obama and many people who aren't famous.  It is, fundamentally, about oppression and inequality and the struggles for social change that come from them. 

Course and learning Goals

The university administration now also requires syllabi to include learning goals. My main goal for this course is for you to learn about the philosophy, history, and practices of community organizing. We will develop other and more specific goals during our first class meeting and they will then be included here

Our department has agreed to the following learning goals for the overall curriculum: 1. Understand how social science arguments are constructed and evaluated. 2. Develop ability to assess data quality and understand whether particular data is appropriate to answer specific questions. 3. Learn general theories on basic social processes, especially those related to the relationships between society and the environment and the social organization of communities. 4. Learn communication skills in the social sciences.

Statement on Diversity

The Good Society will not come from an exclusive and very powerful few people representing only one set of experiences. It will come from many voices representing many life experiences. Likewise, the best knowledge will come from many voices speaking and listening and combining their wisdoms. I will do everything in my power to create a classroom environment that welcomes and includes diverse perspectives, especially perspectives that have been historically silenced through one or another form of structural discrimination. I welcome the voices of people of all races, ethnicities, and nationalities; all sexual and gender identities; all body types; all spiritualities; all economic classes; all language backgrounds; all family types; all combinations of abilities and learning styles; all participation in international, national, and community service including activism and protest. And I encourage those who feel invisible in relation to these diversities to educate me so that I can welcome you as well. I cannot promise you a "safe" environment. In the current state and national political climates there no "safe spaces," not even for me. I can only promise you that I will do my utmost to create a "brave space" where people can hopefully gradually feel powerful enough to speak from their experiences and contribute to knowledge diversity for all of us. I will also admit that I will do that imperfectly and welcome you to hold me accountable so that my deeds live up to my words.

Learning Needs

It is very important to me that everyone is able to maximize their learning in this class. While, of course, you are responsible for much of that, I am responsible for creating a space where your learning style is respected. I always welcome, and will actively seek, feedback on how well the class process fits your learning style. I also welcome you to inform me of any learning needs that require adjustments in how the class materials are presented and how the class process is organized.

My Philosophy of Education

When teachers realize they still have things to learn and students realize they have things to teach, and when everyone is in an atmosphere where both students and teachers are encouraged to learn and teach, everyone benefits.

My job is to create and maintain a learning atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable taking intellectual and interpersonal risks, and to help you do your part in maintaining that atmosphere. I welcome critiques of ideas, especially my own. In the end, the best learning comes from connecting through our differences, especially if we practice respect for each other as people while we question and criticize each other’s ideas.

Professor Consultations

Please feel welcomed to consult with me whenever you have a question about course assignments, lectures, discussions, readings, or project activities. I will gladly discuss questions you have about the course material and our class process. Please also fee welcomed to consult with me whenever you find yourself interested in the issues raised in the course and you want to discuss further or get more information.

Student Rights and Responsibilities

You should know that you have specific rights that include accommodations for religious observances, physician-documented illnesses, and disabilities. You also have the right to appeal grading and disciplinary procedures that normally begin with contacting the chair of the department, Gary Green, or 608-262-2710. If you do not feel comfortable contacting the chair you can contact the CALS Dean’s office at Of course, my goal is to structure and facilitate the course in such a way, that you feel comfortable contacting me about concerns you have.

You also have specific responsibilities that include things like avoiding plagiarism, not cheating on coursework, and treating each other with respect.

Another right/responsibility you have in this course is to collectively determine other rights/responsibilities and I will facilitate a process during our first class meeting for that purpose.

The Syllabus Process

Because this is a course in community organizing, much of the course will be experiential.   That includes the construction of the course itself. This is only the initial syllabus.  During the first course meeting we will have our own "community" meeting where we will develop learning goals and strategies.  We will focus on three topics:

  1. what everyone wants from the course:  our learning goals will come from this
  2. what each person can bring to the course:  our learning strategies will come partly from this
  3. what principles and ethics will govern our interactions as a group: our learning strategies will come partly from this

I will then produce a full written syllabus. Please note that this will not be a free for all.  The focus of the course will be strictly community organizing--how people who are historically excluded from power by discriminatory economic, political, social, and cultural systems can develop their collective abilities to get power.   I will also demand significant reading and writing (typically 60-100 pages a week of reading and 30-50 pages of writing for the semester).  So you need to come prepared to engage in a process that involves real work.

Resources for Constructing the Course

Besides my own past syllabi at,,,,,there are a variety of syllabi at


Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos, Tools for Radical Democracy


Here are the course requirements we developed in class, and finalize them by the end of the second week of class.

1. "What I want and what I bring essay (described below). Due beginning of class on January 23. 10 points. -1 point for each day late.

2. Reactions (at least 250 words per week (so 500 words if you write on two weeks), or you can do comparable length audio or video reactions. You must cite specific parts of *all* required readings from the period you are reacting to and interpret, critique, compare/contrast. You can also include information from the class covering those readings.

3. Projects--A project can be worth up to 21 points (you can also do more than one project but all can total a max of 21 points), with about 1 point per hour of work put in (roughly based on the 6 hours outside of class that you should spend doing readings and preparing reactions). Projects will require a proposal by Feb 20. I reserve the right to not accept projects that are not proposed by that date. A project update or draft is due by April 17. I reserve the right to not accept projects that are not proposed by that date. The final project is due before the start of the designated finals time (-1 point for each day late). Projects can be anything relevant to community organizing, and can include prepping and facilitating a class segment.

4. Attendance--You get one "free" absence. Subsequent absences will result in -3 points. You can recover points by an extra reaction based on the recommended readings for the day you missed, due by designated finals period (-1 point for every day late).

Graduate Students--In the grading system below, add 15 points. You can accomplish those 15 points by any method we both agree on.

Grading Note that in this system you can choose your grade. There are 136 possible points. You can choose how many points you want to accumulate to achieve the grade you want. The grading scale below is based on points, not percentages.

Grading scale: 93 and up = A, 88-92 = AB, 83-87 = B, 78-82 = BC, 70-78 = C, 60-69 = D, <60 = F


Week 1, Jan. 23:  Introduction and Course Design

In order to have a productive discussion there will be both a reading assignment and a writing assignment due at the beginning of the first class meeting on January 23.  When you do the reading, bring questions, objections, critiques, and reactions to talk about in class.  When you do the writing, do it to contribute to our planning the rest of the course.

Reading Assignment:

Randy Stoecker.  2010.  Has the Fight Gone out of Organizing?  Shelterforce, spring. (read all four pages) .

Mike Miller.  2010.  Alinsky for the Left:  The Politics of Community Organizing.  Dissent

Ellen Ryan.  2010.  Whatever Happened to Community Organizing?  COMM-ORG Papers

Gary Delgado.  2009.  Reflections on Movement Building and Community Organizing.

(I feel a need to post a disclaimer about this article, since professors in Wisconsin no longer have strong tenure protections and therefore can have their positions threatened by people in power who don't like what they offer their students. Please don't read this article as a statement of fact but as an editorial. I mostly am interested in the last section, which is more a critique of many of you and I, than I am of the earlier sections.) Gary Potter. 2016. No pasarán!Anti-Fascist Organizing in the Era of Trump.

Writing Assignment:

Due no later than the beginning of class on January 23, is a minimum 500 word essay on what you want from the course and what you are able and willing to bring to the course.  Please upload your essay at Learn@UW, using the "assignment" and then "dropbox" link at the top of the site.   The purpose of this assignment is for you to do careful reflection on your interests and your own resources and skills.  It will be worth ten percent of your final grade and will be graded as a serious writing assignment. So put your best thinking and your best writing into it.  I will expect thoughtfulness and detail equal to my example below.  And it needs to be about community organizing.  You may not have had community organizing experiences, but you have other skills and knowledge you can bring to a class on community organizing.  And if you don't want to learn anything about community organizing, then this isn't the right course for you.  You can see my example assignment at the end of the syllabus.


Please also get Saul Alinsky's book, Rules for Radicals. We will read and discuss that the second week, which will buy us time to get the other readings in order after our first class planning session.

Week 2, Jan. 30--The starting point: Saul Alinsky

Reading Assignment:

Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (read entire book)


Saul Alinsky. 1965.  "The War on Poverty-Political Pornography"

Robert Fisher, "Neighborhood Organizing: The Importance of Historical Context"

Three Alinskys? by Peter Szynka, 2002,

Chris Valley.  2008.  Alinsky at 100.  Journal of Community Practice vol:16 iss:4 pg:527 -532.

Donald Rietzes and Dietrich Rietzes.  1982.   Saul D. Alinsky:  A Neglected Source but Promising Resource. American Sociologist, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p47-56.

Wendy Plotkin. 1996. "Alinsky and Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council."

Wendy Plotkin. 1996 "Alinsky's involvement in Woodlawn in Chicago/The Woodlawn Organization."

Understanding Alinsky: Conservative Wine in Radical Bottles; CHARLES F LEVINE. The American Behavioral Scientist (pre-1986). Nov/Dec 1973. Vol. 17, Iss. 2; p. 279 (6 pages)

The influence of Saul Alinsky on the campaign for human development.Full Tba Available  By: ENGEL, LAWRENCE J.. Theological Studies, Dec98, Vol. 59 Issue 4, p636

Hillary Clinton's undergraduate thesis on Saul ALinsky 1969 or try

Interview with Saul ALinsky 1972 (originally in Playboy but now provided on independent sites) or

Week 3, Feb. 6:  The Less Visible Historical Origins of Community Organizing

Reading Assignment:

Ella Baker and Models of Social Change. Charles Payne. 1989. Signs, Vol. 14, No. 4.

Interview with Ella Baker, September 4, 1974.

Dolores Huerta: Woman, Organizer, and Symbol. Richard A. Garcia.


Ella Baker: Free Agent in the Civil Rights Movement. Aprele Elliott. 1996. Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26, No. 5.

"Neither Bedecked Nor Bebosomed": Lucy Mason, Ella Baker and Women's Leadership and Organizing Strategies in the Struggle for Freedom. Susan Glisson.

Ella Baker. By Lisa Y. Sullivan, Social Policy, Vol.30 no.2, Winter 1999.

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement. Barbara Ransby. 2003

A Dolores Huerta Reader. Mario T. García. UNM Press.

Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980. Margaret Rose. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, Las Chicanas (1990), pp. 26-32

Cesar Chavez: The Organizer's Tale:

United Farm Workers. The Story of Cesar Chavez.

A Way of Thinking about the History of Community Organizing,

An Internet Guide to Community Organizing,


Feb. 13--Theory and CO, including relationship to social movements, Ideology (including radical and conflict vs. non-conflict) and CO

Reading Assignment:

C. Wright Mills. (1959). The Sociological Imagination, pp. 3-13. Available on Learn@UW at

Frederick Douglass. (1857). “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress”.

James DeFilippis, Robert Fisher, and Eric Shragge. (2010). Contesting Community, ch. 6. Available on Learn@UW at

Randy Stoecker. (2016) About the Localized Social Movement. Chapter for Ram Cnaan and Carl Milosky (eds) Handbook of Community Movements and Local Organizations. Available on Learn@UW at


Aaron A. Wagner. 2014. Organizing with SOUL (GEM, The Grassroots Collaborative, IIRON, NPA, Social Media and Occupy): Collaborative Action and Local to Global Implications for Community Organizing in the 21st Century. COMM-ORG papers collection. Available at

Jorn Bramann, Marx: Capitalism and Alienation.

Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

Harkin, Shaun. January 16, 2013. “The Case for Socialist Organization.” The Socialist Worker.

Youth-Led Community Organizing: Theory and Action 1st Edition by Melvin Delgado and Lee Staples


Feb. 20: Topic 1--allyship/solidarity and outside organizer or organizer/leader. Topic 2--popular education

Reading Assignment--Allyship:

Moving Toward an Inclusive Model of Allyship for Racial Justice, by Viraj S. Patel, 2011,

Fighting racism and the limits of "ally-ship", by Khury Petersen-Smith and Brian Bean, 2015,

Reading Assignment--Popular Education:

Andrea Gibbons, (2016). Myles Horton: Popular Education and Social Movement">

Andrea Gibbons (2016). Septima Clark: Ready From Within

Recommended Reading:

ROAR. 2016. From charity to solidarity: a critique of ally politics.

Randy Stoecker, forthcoming. The Fundamental Lesson. On Learn@UW at

Unsettling America. Allyship and Solidarity Guidelines.

The Anti-Oppression Network. Allyship.

SEPTIMA CLARK: TEACHER TO A MOVEMENT Unpublished Article by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor,

Drick Boyd. Under the Radar: Popular Education in North America A White Paper. Available at Lisa VeneKlasen & Darshana Patel. Citizen Action, Knowledge and Global Economic Power: Intersections of Popular Education, Organizing, and Advocacy.

Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. "Editor's Introduction" in We Make the Road by Walking.

Paulo Freire--anything he's written.

Unearthing Seeds of Fire: The Idea of Highlander Paperback – January 1, 1975 by Frank Adams

Highlander: No Ordinary School Second Edition 2nd Edition by John M. Glen 1996

Feb 27 CO and community development (including urban ag and co-ops), community spaces for CO

Reading Assignment:

Harry Boyte, Higher Education and the Politics of Free Spaces, 09/03/2014 01:07 pm ET | Updated Nov 03, 2014, Huffington Post,

White, Monica M. 2011. “D-Town Farm: African American Resistance to Food Insecurity and the Transformation of Detroit.” Environmental Practice. Vol. 13 (4).

Grzegorz Piotrowski, international centre for research and analysis, No 1/2011, ICRA Working Paper Series, Squatted Social Centers inCentral and EasternEurope,

Stoecker, Randy. Community Development and Community Organizing: Apples and Oranges? Chicken and Egg? Pre-publication draft prepared for Ron Hayduk and Ben Shepard (eds) From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization, Verso, 2001.

Recommended Reading:

“Monster Institutions”: Occupied Social Centers in Europe by Alan W. Moore 2011,

Laura Saldivar-tanaka, Marianne E. Krasny, Culturing community development, neighborhood open space, and civic agriculture: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City. Agriculture and Human Values, January 2004, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 399-412.

Ohmer, Mary L., and Karen DeMasi. 2009. Chapter 1: “Approaches to Community Organizing and Their Relationship to Consensus Organizing.” Consensus Organizing: A Community Development Workbook. U.K.: Sage Publications Inc.

James DeFilippis, The Myth of Social Capital in Community Development.

Stoecker, Randy. Understanding the Development-Organizing Dialectic. Journal of Urban Affairs Nov2003, Vol. 25 Issue 4, 2003, p493.

Stoecker, Randy. Power or Programs? Two Paths to Community Development. Keynote Address Delivered to the International Association for Community Development Conference, Rotorua, New Zealand, 2001.

Stoecker, Randy. Community Organizing and Community-Based Redevelopment in Cedar-Riverside and East Toledo: A Comparative Study. Journal of Community Practice, Vol. 2 no. 3, 1995.

Stoecker, Randy. Report to the West Bank CDC: Communities, CDCs, and Community Organizing. 2001.

Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution, Ch. 7.

Mar 6 recruitment and commitment (including messaging/framing), leadership development

Reading Assignment:

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Tools for Radical Democracy. Chapters 1-3 and 5 (**note**for full credit for reactions, please include parts of all four chapters).

Recommended Reading:

Fight the Right Action Kit by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Go to link on "Walking the Talk" at

Lesbian Avengers' Civil Rights Organizing Project. Out Against The Right: An Organizing Handbook. See link to Recruitment

Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow. 2000. Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 26 pp. 611-639.

Montserrat Baras, Patricia Correa Vila, Juan Rodríguez Teruel. 2013. Comparing Incentives and Party Activism in US and Europe: PSOE, PP and the California Democratic Party. American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting

Lindsey P. Walker-Estrada. 2004. The Education and Liberation of the Poor in Community Organizing: The Personal Growth and Transformation of Leaders in the Anti-Displacement Project. COMM-ORG papers,

Moshe ben Asher. 2010. Staff Development and Leadership. COMM-ORG papers.

Community Toolbox, Chapters 13 and 14, Toolkit 6.

ROSC. Starting A Group. Community Organizer's Guide. Retrieved from:

ROSC. Building A Group. Community Organizer's Guide.

Citizen Participation in Neighborhood Organizations and Its Relationship to Volunteers' Self- and Collective Efficacy and Sense of Community by Ohmer, Mary L.

Mar 13 organization-building including institutionalization/oligarchy

Reading Assignment:

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Tools for Radical Democracy. Chapter 4, Resource F.

Jo Freeman. The Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Community Toolbox. Chapter 9: Developing an Organizational Structure.

Recommended Reading:

Overcoming Oligarchy: Culture and Agency in Social Movement Organizations by Paul Osterman

Black Southern Student Sit-in Movement: An Analysis of Internal Organization by Aldon Morris

"Community, Movement, Organization: The Problem of Identity Convergence in Collective Action" Randy Stoecker.

"Organizational Structure, Authority and Protest: The Case of Union Organizing in the United States, 1990-2001" Andrew W. Martin.

"Leader-Member Conflict in Protest Organizations: The Case of the Southern Farmers' Alliance" Michael Schwartz; Naomi Rosenthal; Laura Schwartz.

Mar 20 spring break

You can do an independent reading reaction, using any four readings from the recommended list for any week, due by noon on March 25.

Mar 27 open space--Randy will be gone

You can do an independent reading reaction, using any four readings from the recommended list for any week, due by noon on April 1. You can also organize independent discussions or workshops and receive points for organizing and/or attending.

Apr 3 Choosing issues and targets, power mapping in urban-rural contexts

Reading Assignment:

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Tools for Radical Democracy. Chapters 7-8.

DFA Training Academy.

Organize your community. Read: Community organizing in rural areas,; and We are the 99%,;

Recommended Reading:

Move to Amend. A Guide to Power Mapping.

Anita Tang. Power Mapping and Analysis.

Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change. Tools for Campaign Planning.

Bonner Foundation. Power Mapping.

Tarrow S. 1998 . Power in Movement . New York : Cambridge University Press . 2nd ed.

Eisinger P . 1973 . The conditions of protest behavior in American cities . American Political Science Review. 81 : 11-28

Education Policy Blog. 2006. Community Organizing and Urban Education V: “Cutting an Issue” (Clarity and Passion).

Shel Trapp, Basics Of Organizing, links to: Identifying Issues, Public Meeting, Check List for the Public Meeting, Organizing a Demonstration.

Apr 10, tactics, negotiating with power, getting wins

Reading Assignment:

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Tools for Radical Democracy. Chapters 9-12 (review chapter 7).

ACORN. Tactics of Targets

Recommended Reading:

Shel Trapp, Basics Of Organizing, links to: Identifying Issues, Public Meeting, Check List for the Public Meeting, Organizing a Demonstration.

Moshe ben Asher. 2002. Conflict and cooperation in Macro Theory and Practice

Community Toolbox, Chapters 30-35,

Apr 17 arts and organizing, tech and organizing

Reading Assignment:

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Tools for Radical Democracy. Chapter 6

Janna Moseley, Online Organizing at ACORN. COMM-ORG papers, 2010,

Green, J. (2003). When political art mattered. New York Times.

"The Emotional and Intellectual Aspects of Protest Music: Implications for Community Organizing Education" by Lawrence M. Berger

Recommended Reading:

Stoecker, Randy. 2005. Is Community Informatics good for communities? Questions confronting an emerging field. Journal of Community Informatics.

Stoecker, Randy. "Cyberspace vs. Face to face: Community Organizing in the New Millennium." 2002. Perspectives on Global Development and Technology. 1:143-164.

Moya-Raggio, E. (1984). Arpilleras: Chilean culture of resistance. Feminist Studies, 10, 277–282. See also Agosín, M. (1996). Tapestries of hope, threads of love: The Arpillera movement in Chile, 1974–1994. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Groundswell Community Mural Project. (2000). Retrieved March 8, 2011, from .

Natalie Delgadillo, The Neighborhood That Went to War Against Gentrifiers. City Lab.

Vicki Carter. 1994. The Singing Heart of Highlander. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development

Garofalo, Reebee, ed. Rockin'the boat: Mass music and mass movements. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992.

Apr 24 CO and First Peoples, CO and international (including non-representative democratic and transnational) contexts

Reading Assignment:

Troy Johnson. We Hold The Rock: The Alcatraz Indian Occupation, National Park Service, 2007.

Laura Waterman Wittstock and Elaine J. Salinas. A Brief History of the American Indian Movement. 2006?

CMAP. Many voices make a city: excluded communities are reaching out and speaking up. [click and read the links on this page]

Ming Hu and Randy Stoecker. Rethinking Participatory Development in a Strong State Context

Recommended Reading:

Michelle Chino and Lemyra DeBruyn,2006. Building True Capacity: Indigenous Models for Indigenous Communities, American Journal of Public Health. 2006 April; 96(4): 596–599.

Alexander Sammon. 2016. A History of Native Americans Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Mother Jones. Sep. 9, 2016 1:16 PM.

Troy Johnson, 1994, The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Roots of American Indian Activism. Wicazo Sa Review Vol. 10, No. 2 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 63-79.

Choose anything from Voluntas Dec 2002; Vol. 13 (4) special issue at:$B/1/Voluntas$3b+Baltimore/02002Y12Y01$23Dec+2002$3b++Vol.+13+$284$29/$N?accountid=465

Batliwala, Srilatha. Grassroots Movements as Transnational Actors: Implications for Global Civil Society [PDF] Voluntas; Baltimore13.4 (Dec 2002): 393-409.

May 1 Public Health, Environmental Justice

Reading Assignment:

Renee Skelton Vernice Miller. 2016. the Environmental Justice Movement. NRDC.

Laurie Mazur. 2017. What does environmental justice organizing look like in the time of Trump? Grist.

Jeremy Deaton. 2017. Environmental Justice Groups Show How to Organize in the Age of Trump.

Karen Buhler-Wdkerson. 1993. Bringing Care to the People: Lillian Wald's Legacy to Public Health Nursing.  American Journal of Public Health.

Billy Bromage, Alycia Santilli, and Jeannette R. Ickovics. 2015. Organizing With Communities to Benefit Public Health. American Journal of Public Health.

Recommended Reading:

Creating a Sense of Place in Southwest Madison: An Evidence-Based, Public Health Approach to Community Revitalization, Kim Neuschel and Jessica LeClair, 4-24-2008,

The House on Henry Street, Lillian Wald,

The Natural Step,

From NIMBY to Civil Rights: The Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement, Eileen Maura McGurty, Environmental History, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 301-323, 

Jason Corburn. Combining community-based research and local knowledge to confront asthma and subsistence-fishing hazards in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2002 Apr; 110(Suppl 2): 241–248.

May 8, 10:05am -- designated finals time

We will not meet, but all projects are due. You can do an independent reading reaction, using any four readings from the recommended list for any week, due by 10:05am on May 8.



Example First Class Writing Assignment

What I Want and What I Bring

Randy Stoecker

I don't exactly know why I became interested in how oppressed peoples organize to build their own power. But from a teenager on that has been my passion. I grew up in a very small and very conservative town in southeast Wisconsin, of rural working class parents.  I watched them scrimp and save and suffer the stress of making ends meet.  There was always food on the table and a roof over our heads, but their lives were preoccupied with the worry of having no job protection, few benefits (not even employer retirement plans), and a consequently uncertain future.  I chafed at the religious and cultural conservatism that surrounded me everywhere except on the TV and an older cousin who was in college just when campus political activism was reaching its nadir in the early 1970s (I didn't graduate high school until 1977).  Why I became so disenchanted with my immediate surroundings and so fascinated with the exciting turmoil beyond I don't know.  But I did.

Since then I have always wanted to find out how people without power can get more control over their own circumstances. That includes poor and working class people, people of color, people of marginalized genders and sexualities, youth, people with disabilities, and others. As a sociologist, I spent a lot of time learning how bad things are. So I am quite convinced that things are very bad indeed. The social structures of race, class, sex, ability, age, and others produce frightening and unjustifiable inequalities. But I get bored with learning how bad things are, and I don't need any more convincing. What I need to learn is how people successfully fight back against those oppressions and inequalities and build the kind of society we all deserve.

It's actually a lot more exciting for me to study how people fight back. First, even when they don't win, it is a lot more inspiring to study people's resistance than just how they got oppressed. And when they do win it's really inspiring. Thankfully, I had the good luck in graduate school to live smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood that fought back against a government-capitalist developer coalition that tried to literally bulldoze them off the map. Not only did they win, but they got to then redevelop their own neighborhood. The folks of the West Bank neighborhood in Minneapolis taught me how to be inspired.

But there are still far too few examples like that neighborhood. So one thing I want is to learn about is more examples, which I know are out there. My idea of a good vacation is to visit a city where there is good organizing going on and hang out with the group for a few days.  I also am trying to collect as many written examples--both successes and failures, as I can. I am especially interested these days in good examples of statewide organizing.  As you may know, here in Wisconsin we are seeing dramatic changes in state policy that are effecting voters' rights, workers' organizing rights, women's rights, nature's rights, and educational rights.  And the little organizing that has occurred following the demonstrations of 2011 has been wholly ineffective.  So one of the books I am assigning for the semester is about Virginia Organizing--a statewide organizing group in the state of Virginia.  They haven't been a complete success either, but I am hoping to learn some lessons from their example.

One of the other questions driving me is why some people seem so reluctant to embrace conflict and confrontation.  There seems to be a strong conflict-avoidance trend in community organizing, especially among the "faith-based" community organizing networks, that has reduced a lot of community organizing to a form of lobbying. There are some empirical questions behind this. Has there actually been an historical change in our culture that makes us more conflict avoiding?  Is our avoidance of conflict strategies what is making community organizing less successful?   This connects with my concerns about Wisconsin.  Currently there is very little community organizing occurring in Wisconsin or even Madison.  There are protests.  There is lobbying.  But there is very little power-based community organizing and I need to know why.

Of course, as we learned during this last election, not everyone is averse to conflict and confrontation. Many of those supporting the presidential candidate who won the most electoral votes did so with a culture of confrontation, and in the election's wake there was a wave of hate crimes. Many of us are also convinced that many supporters voted either without accurate knowledge or with a disregard for accurate knowledge. These are very angry people. Everything we know about community organizing says they should be organizable. And yet they weren't organized as much as led in a way that is scary indeed. I want to learn more about that situation and how we might bring an organizing approach into this picture.

Something else I want is to have some fun building and being part of a learning community. What I enjoy most about this class is that it has some aspects of community organizing in its own process. At some point in the course during each of the past two semesters it felt like ownership of the class shifted from me to the students, and that made the class a lot more enjoyable for me.

I can bring a fairly long history of experience in working with such groups. I started learning about community organizing first-hand in that Minneapolis neighborhood in 1983, and formally started doing research with them in 1985. I've been working with them from time to time ever since, along with a wide variety of other groups.

I can't say that I'm an actual community organizer, though I've got a couple of successes under my belt (the most fun was organizing against my previous university when they wanted to replace a park with a parking lot in my neighborhood). But I also haven't just read about and studied what people have done. Instead, I have been involved in supporting community groups' organizing work. So I've mostly provided research support for community organizing groups to help them do their work better, using a method called participatory action research. I've worked with the famous ACORN most closely, but also with a number of unaffiliated neighborhood organizing groups in North America and Australia. I have helped such groups also by facilitating strategic planning and strategy development. Most recently I have worked with a southwest Madison community organizing effort,  a neighborhood organizing project in Waukesha, WI, an environmental organizing group in Monona, WI, and a network of hip-hop artists in Madison. 

Perhaps most importantly for this course, I have learned a lot about teaching by hanging out with community organizers. I've seen community organizers teach people lots of stuff, and I've never once seen them give a lecture. So I've also learned to teach by facilitating, mostly by reading about the work of two people--Myles Horton and Paulo Friere--both of whom developed models of community organizing that integrated community education and community organizing.