Category Archives: activists

Civil Rights Leader John Lewis to Keynote Pulitzer Centennial Event Hosted by Poynter Institute


From The Pulitzer Prizes:


“The Voices of Social Justice and Equality” will highlight the achievements of journalists and others who produces Pulitzer Prize-winning work in the service of civil rights, social equality and democracy.

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a legendary civil rights leader and an organizer of the Selma Bridge March in 1965, will deliver the keynote address at the main Poynter event on Thursday, March 31, at the Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida. Through photography, fine arts, live music and dance performances, the work of civil rights-era Pulitzer winners will be showcased.

The following day, Friday, April 1, 2016, Poynter teachers and invited experts will lead a series of workshops designed to enlighten and inspire the next generation of Pulitzer winners. About 20 former Pulitzer Prize winners will be joining the two-day program.

March 31 – April 1, 2016

Hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies


Brooklyn Workshops Train Community Organizers



Members of the Brooklyn Movement Center perform at Between The Door and the Street

By Brooklyn Reader

February 4, 2016, 1:51 pm

Few will argue that there’s been a groundswell– a rising tide, so to speak– in the numbers of Americans desiring to engage in social and political activism.With the fast-changing demographic landscape, the deeply polarized political environment and community-police relations under a microscope, there’s plenty to rail about and therefore more than enough reason to get involved.(more)



Austin Interfaith

From the West / Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation:

Last July, Hidden Valley / High Meadows (mobile home) residents became distressed when lot rents for people on month-to-month leases were raised for the second time within a 12-month period.  New rules mandated improvements and standardizations — adding new costs to residents — including deck and railing upgrades, paint jobs, skirting repair, shed standardization, and control over inside window coverings.  Families were asked to demonstrate possession of a drivers’ license to drive on the property, impacting hundreds of residents. Many families scrambled to comply; some left.

A couple residents reached out to the pastor of their church, a member congregation of  Austin Interfaith, and their local councilperson who called in Austin Interfaith and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) for support.  Within two months, resident officers founded their association (Hidden Valley / High Meadows Residents’ Association) and signed up over 200 households as members. (more)

Indiana U. Study: Faith-Based Community Organizing Can Be A Model



BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Anti-Muslim rhetoric in political campaigns and panic about terrorist attacks have raised questions about how Muslim Americans can avoid being marginalized and find pathways to become more integrated into the nation’s civic life.

One such pathway, according to a recent study by an Indiana University researcher, may be through involvement in faith-based community organizing coalitions. These coalitions bring together groups from different religious backgrounds to address social, economic and political issues.

Brad R. Fulton, assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the lead researcher for the study, said such coalitions can help integrate marginalized individuals into the larger society, and they promote a compelling narrative that poor and working-class communities can improve their quality of life through broad-based organizing.

“This model has promise,” Fulton said. “It’s already in place, and it’s designed to be inclusive and to help people who are underrepresented and marginalized to have a voice and to be known.”

Read full article here.

“Catholic-funded group helping beleaguered Portland tenants”



Community Alliance of Tenants Renters protest at the Oregon Capitol, organized by the Community Alliance of Tenants. The group, which receives Catholic funding, is pressing Portland officials to address high rents and evictions in the city.

Catholic Sentinel of Portland, Oregon article describing recent work of Portland’s Community Alliance of Tenants, “Oregon’s only statewide, grassroots, tenant-controlled, tenant-rights organization” and their fight for fair housing policies.

“The Community Alliance of Tenants, which has received funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, is pushing the city of Portland to do something about rising rents and associated evictions that have made life unstable for many Portlanders.”  (11/14/2015)

Inner Light Ministries celebrates “An Evening with Dolores Huerta”


Dolores Huerta

Inner Light Ministries, Romero Institute, Resource Center for Nonviolence, and Barrios Unidos recently held “An Evening With Dolores Huerta,” celebrating the life and contributions of the social justice icon, co-founder, along with Cesar Chavez, of United Farm Workers. The event took place at Inner Light Center in Soquel, CA.

The Justice Factory The Justice Factory website supports community organizing to promote interfaith reconciliation, peace, and justice


Cross and StarBW

The Justice Factory The Justice Factory website supports community organizing to promote interfaith reconciliation, peace, and justice

The Fundamentals of Grassroots Community Organizing I: Chapter 2: “The 3 Categories of Organizing”, & “Organizing Terms and Concepts


Grassroots organizing takes many forms and there are many ways to describe these different forms. For our purposes I will break organizing down into three general categories, which I have adapted from numerous publicly-available sources:

1- Grassroots community organizing
2- Faith-based community organizing
3- Coalition- building

Grassroots Community Organizing
Ideally, grassroots organizing involves building a community organization from scratch, developing new leadership where none existed, and otherwise organizing the unorganized. It is a strategy that revitalizes communities and allows the individuals to participate and incite social change. It empowers the people directly involved and impacted by the issues being addressed.

While it employs a “values-based” process, where people are brought together to act in the interest of their communities and the common good, it is not necessarily rooted in religious beliefs or faith-groups. Key elements are organization-building, leadership development, and the accrual of power. Labor organizing and neighborhood block-group organizations are good examples.

Faith-based Community Organizing
Faith-based community organizing employs a deliberate methodology very similar to that of Grassroots Community Organizing. The primary difference is that FBCOs base their actions on deeply-held religious beliefs, either within an individual faith group or across denominational lines. Like GCO, FBCOs concentrate on developing power and relationships through a community of institutions such as congregations. Non-religious institutions may also be invited to participate.

FBCOs operate in the US, South Africa, England, Germany, and other nations. Local FBCOs are often linked through organizing networks, such as:
1- The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)
2- Direct Action and Research Training (DART)
3- People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO)
4- The Gamaliel Foundation

Coalition-building seeks to unite groups that are already formed. It concentrates less on leadership-development, since each group within the coalition usually has its own defined leadership, which may or may not be grassroots-based. While coalitions do seek to create power and effect change, they are generally top-heavy in governance. They are often formed around single-issues or hot topics, and they are often short-term.

Organizing Terms and Concepts
It is impossible to fully understand the world of grassroots community organizing without understanding certain key terms and concepts. Organizing, like any fully-developed professional culture, has its own terminology and “patois”, or lingo. Common English words that you already know have very different and specific meanings in the organizing world.

Often, when experienced organizers, who are skilled listeners, meet a person for the first time they will listen to how the person speaks and the words he or she uses in conversation. An experienced organizer will usually be able to tell, within the first 30 seconds, whether or not the person “gets it”, that is, whether or not he or she understands the world of organizing.

Here are some key words, their meanings in the organizing world, and some key concepts that they are based on:

“Organizer”– “A person trained in the proven methods and techniques of community organizing.” A key requirement is that the organizer is “trained”, preferably by a training organization with a long and respected track record in the field of organizing. Also, the organizer often does not come from within the organization; he or she is placed in a community in order to do the job of organizing.

At one time, Barak Obama was an Organizer. Here is a picture of him from his organizing days in Chicago, where he is describing the concept of power:

“Leader”– In my organizing workshops I begin this section by asking people to work in small groups to define the term “Leader”. They always come up with some very impressive and laudatory words to describe what a “Leader” is. They also NEVER get the right answer! This definition ALWAYS ASTOUNDS people who are new to organizing.

Simply put, “A ‘Leader’ is someone who has followers”. That’s it. “A ‘Leader’ is someone who has followers”.

According to Midwest Academy (“Organizing for Social Change”, 1991), “The ability to mobilize people, be it six friends or stewards from a local union, is the most important criterion for leadership in a citizens’ organization.”

When things operate perfectly, the Leaders emerge from within the organization’s leadership development efforts.

More information on “Leader”– An “Organizer” is NOT a “Leader”– Organizers have their own defined roles; they are not Leaders. When this rule is broken, organizations usually rapidly lose power and fall apart.

Here are two pictures, one of “Obama the Organizer” and one of “Obama the Leader”. See the difference?

More information on “Leader”– An “Activist” is NOT a “Leader”– If you really want to tick off an organizer, refer to him as an “Activist”. In general, organizers abhor “Activists”.

Aaron Schutz , associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, characterizes “Activists” like this:

“Activists like to “do things.” They get up in the morning and they go down to a main street and hold up some signs against the war. Or they march around in a picket line in front of a school. (Activists love rallies and picket lines.) Activists feel very good about how they are “fighting the power.” But in the absence of a coherent strategy, a coherent target, a process for maintaining a fight over an extended period of time, and an institutional structure for holding people together and mobilizing large numbers, they usually don’t accomplish much.
“People in power love activists, because they burn off energy for social action without really threatening anyone.”

Here’s a picture of a well-meaning “Activist”.

Get it?

More definitions:
“Follower”– “A person who belongs to a Leader’s network.”

“Issue”– “A specific, community-based problem that the organization has the collective will to correct.”

“Target”(or “Decision-maker”)- “A person who has the authority to fix the issue.”

“Action”– “A public event in which the organization gathers together to shed light upon the issue and challenge the target to take specific steps to correct the problem.”

“Evaluation”– “A timely, honest, thorough appraisal by the organization of the successes and/or failures of the action conducted. A critical part of the accountability process”.

As you become more familiar with the world of organizing you will become more comfortable with using these terms as they apply to organizing. As this understanding grows, you will begin to grasp the key organizing concepts that under gird these terms, and you will become more effective in your organization. We will examine some of those key concepts in more depth next week.

NEXT WEEK: The Basic Steps in the Organizing Process

The Fundamentals of Grassroots Community Organizing I: Chapter 1- “Defining Grassroots Community Organizing”


From the founding of America, to the civil rights movement, to the neighborhood block club, grassroots community organizing has played a vital role in the development of our democracy. Effective in large agencies, medium-sized associations, or small community or church-based groups, the proven techniques of grass-roots community organizing can provide a powerful foundation for growth and institutional change. Best of all, these techniques are known to be effective and are readily available at little or no cost to the general public.

This is the first in a series of articles designed to explore grassroots community organizing. Each week the series will continue and build upon the concepts from the previous week.

This week’s post will focus on two areas:
1- Defining “Grassroots Community Organizing”, and
2- Learning about the history of grassroots community organizing in America.

A Definition of Grassroots Community Organizing:
Many good definitions exist for the term “Grassroots Community Organizing”. For our purposes in these articles we will use this definition:
“Grassroots community organizing is an organization-building, relationship-building, and leadership-building process by which concerned people are brought together to create power and take action according to their common, enlightened self-interest.”

Effective community organizing (CO) must be all of these things:
1- “Organization-building”– The activities should always be geared toward building the capacity of the organization.
2- “Relationship-building”- Everything is based on relationship-building. Without it, nothing gets done, and in fact the organization will die if it does not make concrete efforts to build both internal and external relationships. This will be covered in depth in later chapters.
3- “Leadership-building”- The organization must build it’s leaders from within the organization. This results in personal growth for individual leaders and institutional growth for the organization.
4- A “process”- Organizing is planned, disciplined, and on-going. It is neither accidental nor temporary.
5- “Creating power”- We will not make a difference if we don’t shift the locus of power from the few to the many.
6- “Taking action”- We are not about talk, we are about action.
7- Acting out of our “common, enlightened self-interest”– Our actions must spring from our common beliefs an our common “enlightened” self-interest. This is not “selfish interest”. This is self-interest informed by our deep, moral convictions and our desire to make the world a better place. Often, this “common, enlightened self-interest” springs from our religious beliefs, and it is clarified as we get to know each other better through our relationship-building.

With this definition in mind, we are prepared to further explore the topic of grassroots community organizing.

A Brief Timeline of Community Organizing:
(Adapted from Robert Fisher and Peter Romanofsky, “Community Organizing for Urban Social Change: A Historical Perspective” (Greenwood Press, 1981).)

1880 to 1900
People sought to meet the pressures of rapid immigration and industrialization by organizing immigrant neighborhoods in urban centers. The dominant approach was what was called “social work”.

1900 to 1940
Community organizing was established distinct from social work, beginning in Chicago. Studs Terkel documented community organizing in the depression era. Union organizing was a predominant model. Most organizations had a national orientation.

1940 to 1960
The emergence of the distinctive approach of Saul Alinsky (see photo above) spurred new thought and new blood into local neighborhood and community movements. Alinsky promoted greater awareness of community organizing in academic circles, and those affiliated with Alinsky trained a generation of organizers.

1960 to present
The American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the Chicano movement, the feminist movement, and others were all influenced by ideas of community organizing. Less dramatically, civic associations and neighborhood block clubs were formed all across the country to foster community spirit and civic duty, as well as provide a social outlet.

We answer the question- “How is ‘grassroots community organizing’ different from just ‘getting organized’“?
We define the terms and concepts that are key to understanding the organizing process