Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing

By Dennis A. Jacobsen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Congregation-Based
Community Organizing

“When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people,
he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you
sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until
evening?… What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear
yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too
heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.’… So Moses listened to his
father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men from
all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over
thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.” (Exod. 18:14, 17–18, 24–25)

Congregation-based community organizing has its roots in the organizing principles first forged by Saul Alinsky in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago in the 1930s. Upton Sinclair described the grim social conditions of this community in his classic book The Jungle. Early efforts to improve these conditions began with the assumption that something was wrong with the people in this impoverished neighborhood and that solutions were to be discovered through the infusion of a range of social services. Alinsky, a radical thinker from the University of Chicago, took a different approach. He concluded that the problem was not with the people in the community but rather with the outsiders who profited from and abused the community. The stockyards polluted the air and the sewer systems. The stockyard workers were exploited. A corrupt political machine controlled by City Hall did not represent the interests of the people. The police had mob connections. The schools, starting with the assumption that “those” children could not learn, did not teach.

In 1938, Alinsky organized the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, a power base for ordinary citizens to participate in the social, political, and economic decisions affecting their lives. The motto of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council was: “We shall decide our own destiny.” The assumption was that if the institutions representing the people of the community came together, they could exert enough influence to control

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Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1- The World as It Is 1
  • Chapter 2- The World as It Should Be 8
  • Chapter 3- Engaging the Public Arena 13
  • Chapter 4- Congregation-Based Community Organizing 23
  • Chapter 5- Power 38
  • Chapter 6- Self-Interest 50
  • Chapter 7- One-on-Ones 59
  • Chapter 8- Agitation 65
  • Chapter 9- Metropolitan Organizing 70
  • Chapter 10- Building and Sustaining An Organization 79
  • Chapter 11- Community 87
  • Chapter 12- A Spirituality for the Long Haul 96
  • Appendix 104
  • Notes 106
  • Study Guide 109
  • Index 139
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