Democracy in Action: Community Organizing and Urban Change

Democracy in Action: Community Organizing and Urban Change

Democracy in Action: Community Organizing and Urban Change

Democracy in Action: Community Organizing and Urban Change

Synopsis

In cities across the United States, grassroots organizations are working to revitalize popular participation in disenfranchised communities by bringing ordinary people into public life. By engaging local residents in collective action to achieve common goals, community organizing expands the democratic process and enables people to create strong communities that serve their needs.

This book examines the techniques these organizations use to achieve their goals. Through the stories of ten organizations working in economically and racially diverse urban neighborhoods (in Chicago and Portland, Oregon) the author explores the strengths and limitations of the five dominant models of community organizing in use today: power-based, community-building, civic, women-centered, and transformative. Based on original empirical research, the book combines in-depth analysis with invaluable lessons for practitioners.

Excerpt

Chanting and cheering, seventy-five residents of Chicago's Westridge neighborhood crowded the sidelines of the local youth soccer league's championship game. As they watched the players race across the well-kept fields, the residents exchanged exuberant smiles despite the late-November chill. This was a watershed day, and not just because their children had made it to the season finale.

Six months earlier, the park where they were standing had been a desolate patch of concrete and dead grass where few ever ventured. Parents had steered their children away from the block-long stretch, and the sight of any activity in the park during daylight hours was rare. Then a teenager was shot and killed on the park's deserted basketball courts, and residents decided it was time to take action.

With the help of community organizers from the Westridge Organization of Neighbors (WON), the residents developed a coordinated strategy for reclaiming their park. After some initial research and several planning sessions, they approached the city's Parks Commissioner to demand improvements to the park's recreational programs and facilities. When they got no response, dozens of residents brought their children to the Commissioner's house to play soccer on her front lawn. Their actions got the city's attention, and after a series of negotiating meetings, the residents secured a commitment for thousands of dollars worth of improvements to the park's sports programs, its fieldhouse, and its grounds. Galvanized by their victory, the residents launched the area's first youth soccer league at the park, staffed entirely by parent volunteers.

Through their collective actions, Westridge's residents turned an abandoned park into a vibrant community resource. More importantly, the experience transformed residents' perceptions of what it means to live in a democratic society. “It's fabulous to see what power people can have,” one neighbor reflected. “People have a tendency to sit back and say 'oh yeah, the alderman's supposed to do this, and the police are supposed to do this, and this is what they're supposed to do, and if I just be quiet that will happen.' And it doesn't. You have to hold them accountable. And you can do it. You have the right to do it”

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