Course Number:       SWOA 704
Semester:    Fall 2002
Instructor:     Megan Meyer, Ph.D.
Office Hours:     Mondays and Wednesdays 12-1, or by appointment
   Room 3W16, (410) 706-5635,


Community organizing is a means of bringing people together to address problematic social conditions.  As a purposeful collective effort, organizing requires sound analytical, political, and interactional skills.  An important aspect of those skills for professional organizers involves a continuous pattern of systematic planning, "doing", reflecting again (theorizing) and acting strategically to build a group that can achieve its aims.

Community organization is rooted in the reform tradition of professional social work and such values as self-determination, self-sufficiency, empowerment, and social justice.  Therefore this course is particularly relevant to direct practice with and advocacy for disempowered groups in the society, such as ethnic and racial minorities, low-income persons, women, the aged and the disabled.

The methods course in community organization is aimed at students who seek to expand and refine their skills in organization-building and collective action.  It builds on foundation knowledge and skills from the prerequisite introductory level practice courses in the curriculum.

Students enrolled in this course should have completed all of the introductory (foundation year) practice courses and the first year practicum or their equivalents.  Therefore this course assumes familiarity with such relevant skills and knowledge as:  the nature of organizations, service delivery networks, community structures and dynamics, power structure and dynamics, empowerment, advocacy, small group dynamics and staff, leader and member roles in work with task groups.


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the theory and practice of community organizing in the United States.



  1. to understand social work value and ethics and how they apply to CO practice;
  2. to illustrate the historical knowledge base of CO practice;
  3. to compare & contrast  the major processes, models, and technologies of organizing;
  4. to determine the main issues in working directly with individuals and groups whose social class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and status are both similar to and different from the worker's;
  5. to assess the worker's role with disempowered groups, and with the nature of combating institutional manifestations of social oppression.


  1. to use one's self differentially (e.g. enabler, organizer, leader, researcher, planner, developer, advocate, strategizer, broker, negotiator) as required in the complex role of the organizer as change agent;
  2. to sharpen analytical, political, and interactional skills for community organizing;
  3. to assess the differential potential and requirements for building and sustaining a collective effort to address a problematic social conditions;
  4. to apply different approaches to organizing as necessary according to the variables and givens of the situation, such as organizational, political, and community resources and skills;
  5. to work effectively with constituencies whose backgrounds and experiences differ widely from the organizer's.
  6. to productively employ a community micro-analysis and/or effectively utilize a community power  analysis.


  1. to appraise the developmental processes involved in community organizing;
  2. to clarify the values of self-determination, empowerment, and social justice;
  3. to assess with one's own ethical and political beliefs;
  4. to differentiate differences in values, norms, and attitudes of individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and experiences;
  5. to identify one's limitations in skills and knowledge and to seek appropriate assistance.


Lecture, small and large group discussion, role playing, experiential exercises, and films.  These methods will help with the integration of classroom and field experience.  All students are strongly encouraged to be active participants and learners in the classroom setting.  Please bring questions and be prepared to ask them in class.


Alinsky, S. (1972). Rules for Radicals. New York: Random House.

Bobo, K., Kendall, J. & Max, S. (1991). Organizing for Social Change: A manual for activists in the 1990s. MidwestAcademy: Cabin John, Washington: Seven Locks Press.

Salomon, L. R.  (1998).  Roots of Justice: Stories of organizing in communities of

color.  Berkeley: Chardon Press.

Various articles as assigned (Some will be found at the Community Organizing and Development website at . Please explore at your own initiative!)


The literature pertinent to the field of community organization extends well beyond social work texts and journals.  The long bibliography attached to the syllabus is intended to serve the student beyond the demands of the course itself.

A complete reference for any book in the readings section can be found in the BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES section of the syllabus.  Required Readings are generally available at the Health Sciences Library (HSL) and in some cases at the Reading Room of the School of Social Work.


Professional practice requires the ability to formulate critical questions about one's experiences and reading; to recognize information lacks and identify the information needed to solve a problem; to make keen observations of behavior and events; to process and analyze data in order to make effective decisions and chart a course of action; and to evaluate the latter.  These are all part of the process of critical thinking.

Critical thinking demands that each individual take a mentally active stance towards one's intellectual and experiential tasks.  In that sense we are all continuous learners.  Students are expected to engage intellectually with the course reading; to attend classes and participate actively in class discussions, exercises, and projects; to question and analyze their own and other's assumptions and viewpoints; to take initiative in all aspects of the progress of the course.


Political Autobiography      15%
Process Recording       10%
Community Organizing Paper      50%
Project Presentation       15%
Class Attendance and Participation       10%




1) Aug. 26

Introduction and Course Overview

    Sept. 2

NO CLASS - Labor day

2) Sept. 9

Hot topics in organizing – panel of organizers and their current campaigns

3) Sept. 16

History of and Prospects for Community Organizing in the U.S

4) Sept. 23

Theories, Goals and Values of Community Organization


5) Sept. 30

Models of Community Organization

6) Oct. 7

Personal Awareness and Diversity in Organizing


7) Oct. 14

Recruiting, Relationship Building and Leadership Development

8) Oct. 21

Door-knocking – In the community

9) Oct. 28

Choosing an Issue/Action Research

10) Nov. 4

Running Meetings and Group Work

11) Nov 11

Strategies, Tactics, and Technology


12) Nov 18

Coalition Building and Negotiation

13) Nov 25

Community projects – Time in the community

14) Dec 2

Organization Building, Scheduling, and Evaluation

15) Dec 9


16) Dec 16

Presentations and Evaluations


1. Commitment Letter (*Due session 4)

By the fourth session of the semester, you should turn in a short description of your chosen project.  Be specific about: a) the point person with whom you will be working, b) the focus of the campaign you are starting/joining, c) the number and nature of one-on-one meetings you will expect to conduct, and c) the small and large group meetings you expect to convene/attend.

2. Political Autobiography (*Due Session 6 )

Write a 3-5 page description of your "political" self and your hopes and fears about organizing.  What are your earliest memories of politics (in family, school, church, community)?  How have you been involved politically, if at all?  Have you ever challenged someone in authority/power (in family, school, church, community)? If so, describe it.  If not, why not?  What makes you angry or sad when you think about society and your place in it?  What do you feel passionate about? What has made you want to learn about community organizing, and what do expect your biggest personal challenges to be in playing the role of organizer?

3. Process Recording (* Due session 8)

Write a process recording for one of your a one-on-one meetings.  This should be a detailed account of the interaction, the dialogue that occurred (using as many specific quotes as possible), and your process during the interaction.  What did you learn about your own style, comfort level, and ability to “connect” with and gain commitment from the potential recruit.

4. Community Organizing Project and Paper (*Due Session 15)

Each person, either individually or in a small group (up to three), will design a community organizing project.  You have three primary options in this regard. You may:

  1. Initiate a project at your field placement or with the student group SCOPE (Student Coalition for Peace and Equality). (If you choose this option, you must be sure that the agency or SCOPE will pick up where your activities leave off).
  2. Join an existing coalition that relates to your agency’s work and act as a liaison between your agency and the coalition, working with the coalition on a current campaign.
  3. Join an existing campaign in the Baltimore area (I will offer several suggestions in class).

During the semester, each individual is required to conduct three or more one-on-one meetings (we will talk more about these in class and will do some role playing during session 7).  Each individual is also required to attend at least two group meetings (preferably of varying sizes). These activities serve as the basis for the final paper, described on the following page.  

5) Community Organizing Project Presentation (*Due Sessions 15 or 16 – lottery pick)

The project presentation should 15-20 minutes in length.  The goal is to be creative and keep the class entertained! You should tell the class about the campaign, the challenges you faced, and the lessons you learned, but you can do that in any way you desire. For example, you may to do a power point presentation, a slide show, design a game or exercise for the class, or bring an individual with whom you organized to tell about your activities.

Community Organizing Paper Outline

The primary graded “product” from your project is a 12-20 page paper (depending on whether you work alone or in a group and excluding appendices).  The paper should incorporate several of the assigned readings and be written in APA style.  The paper should include:

  1. A brief description of the group/agency, the general problem area being addressed, and the stage at which you entered the process.
  2. A brief description of your initial experiences and impressions (i.e. first steps, gaining access to the group/community, getting your agency to support the project etc).
  3. Following the Midwest Academy Strategy Chart framework, detail the overall vision or strategy for your organizing campaign. Take into account goals and activities that were accomplished during the semester as well as those for the future (attach the chart as an appendix).
  4.  An evaluation of the campaign. Discuss what model you think your campaign most closely resembled and the strengths and weaknesses of that model (Mondros and Wilson reading from session 5).  What worked well and what didn’t work well? What would you change if you had to do it again?  What future direction do you think the campaign needs to take to maximize its potential for success?
  5. Provide an evaluation of the process of organizing and yourself as an organizer during the semester. What were your one-on-one meetings like (attach and refer to your process recordings for your one-on-ones)?  What were your experiences in your group meetings like, either as a facilitator or a participant (attach and refer to your process recordings for meetings)? Overall, what did you learn about yourself as an organizer?
  6. An appendix that includes your process recordings (on paper and on computer disk) from the one-on-ones and group meetings, as well as other materials (flyers, pictures etc.) that you deem necessary to tell your story effectively.



Session 1:       Introductions and Course Overview

Required Reading:        None

Session 2:       Hot topics in organizing – panel of organizers and their current campaigns

Session 3:       History of and Prospects for Community Organizing in the U.S.

* Commitment letter due*

Session 4:       Theories, Goals and Values of  Community Organizing 

Film: The Democratic Promise

Session 5:       Models of Community Organization

Session 6:       Personal Awareness and Diversity Issues in Organizing

*Political Autobiography Due*

Session 7:       Recruiting, Relationship Building and Leadership Development

ACORN/IAF video of one-on-ones /Exercise: Role plays

Session 8:       Door-knocking – In the community

* Process recording due*

Session 9:       Choosing an Issue/Action Research

Session 10:     Running Meetings and Group Work

Roleplays: House Meetings

Session 11:     Strategies, Tactics, and Technology

Session 12:     Community Projects -  time to work in community

Session 13:     CoalitionBuilding and Negotiation

Exercise: Interest-based Negotiation

Session 14:     Organization Building

Session 15: The Long Haul:  Scheduling, Nurturing Spirit, Looking Ahead


Student Presentations

Session 16: Finishing up

Student Presentations, Class evaluation


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