Highlighted Selections from:

Community Organizing for Social Justice: Grassroots Groups for Power


DOI: 10.1080/01609513.2012.656233

Lee Staples (2012) Community Organizing for Social Justice: Grassroots Groups for Power, Social Work With Groups, 35:3, 287-296.

p.288: Social justice, community organizing, and task-oriented groups are inextricably connected. Collective action through community organizing can generate the requisite power to overcome unjust social relations and achieve changes that further human rights, participatory democracy, and distributive justice. Most community-organizing work is conducted through task-oriented groups that enable organizational activists to engage directly in collective action for social change. This article presents examples of the use of task groups by a variety of constituencies, in multiple arenas, employing citizen participation, community development, and social action community-organizing approaches and strategies. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.288: According to Weil (2004),

social justice implies commitment to fairness in our dealings with each other in the major aspects of our lives—the political, economic, social and civic realms. In society, social justice should foster equal human rights, distributive justice, and a structure of opportunity and be grounded in representative and participatory democracy.

-- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.289: Staples (2004) defined community organizing as, “collective action by community members drawing on the strength of numbers, participatory processes, and indigenous leadership to decrease power disparities and achieve shared goals for social change” (pp. 1–2). -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.289: Furthermore, the vast majority of community organizing work is conducted through task-oriented groups, including organizing committees, recruitment teams, house meetings, issue committees, leadership training cohorts, governance boards, task forces, lobbying committees, negotiating teams, fundraising committees, media teams, special events committees, and a host of other configurations that provide structural access points for community members to participate in research, consciousness raising, strategic analysis, planning, decision making, collective action, and evaluation/assessment. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.289: There is fidelity to the old refrain, “Nothing about us without us,” and even when disagreements may exist between institutional decision makers and community members, there is greater potential for compromise and bottom-up/top-down synergy that alters existing relations of power. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.289: Participatory processes draw on the strengths of grassroots leaders who can engage other community assets and resources; these influential individuals also have the power to mobilize a base of supporters—instead of opponents. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.290: The overarching Greenspace Committee has utilized a variety of community-organizing methods to involve adults and youth in efforts to develop new parks, to increase open space, and to fight for environmental justice in this low-income city that borders Boston. Members of the Restoration Project subcommittee volunteered to remove an invasive plant species that had overgrown a half-acre of polluted marshland within the city boundaries; next, they replanted the area with a native species of marsh grass. A research team determined the necessary steps to ensure that the removal operation would be effective, as well as to find the appropriate species for replacement and replanting. Voluntary work crews engaged in this muddy, physically taxing, and time-consuming clean-up process; and later the subcommittee leadership team sought assistance from external environmental organizations to find the resources to dredge 1,500 cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the creek’s channel. The subcommittee moved forward to develop the new Mill Creek recreational/educational walkway, including launch areas for canoes and kayaks. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.291: A second community development project involving the Chelsea Greenspace Committee is instructive. The Chelsea Creek Action Group (CCAG) is an environmental coalition that includes grassroots organizations from both sides of the river that runs between Chelsea and East Boston. Subcommittees have formed task-oriented groups to work on a range of projects consistent with a comprehensive redevelopment plan, including the creation of Condor Street Urban Wild—East Boston’s first public park along the Chelsea Creek; the development of a multiuse, recreational pathway that follows an unused rail line along the river; and joint sponsorship with the Urban Ecology Institute of an annual Chelsea River Revel Festival that includes a 5-K road race, children’s games, ecology exhibits, boat tours and kayaking. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.291: Without the vision and gentle, but firm, persuasion of CCAG’s grassroots groups, these governmental bodies never would have undertaken these community development initiatives in the predominantly low-income Latino neighborhoods on each side of Chelsea Creek. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.291: Although routing a new bike path often can be accomplished with a minimum of bumps along the developmental road, and rooting plants in neighborhood parks usually is an outgrowth of productive relations between community members and “the powers that be,” issues that challenge deeper roots of oppression and injustice are much less likely to be resolved without substantial conflict. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.291: Social change efforts that seek to redress disparities in distributive justice by altering relations of power between dominant elites and marginalized groups usually will be met with resistance that is not easily overcome by collaborative or mildly persuasive strategies (Netting et al., 2001; Warren, 1975). -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.292: “Social Action brings people together to convince, pressure, or coerce external decision-makers to meet collective goals either to act in a specified manner or to modify or stop certain activities” (Staples, 2004, p. 9). -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.292: A third Greenspace committee example helps illustrate this approach. Recently, a private utility company with a reputation for being green and clean because of its development of wind turbine–generated electricity in other locations across Massachusetts attempted to build a 240-megawatt diesel power plant within 1,000 feet of a Chelsea elementary school. Community activists saw this move to construct a dirty facility in a low income neighborhood of color as a clear case of environmental racism and classism. A research team quickly formed and gathered evidence about the odors and pollutants that exhaust fumes from the two large smokestacks would emit, especially particulate matter known to increase mortality, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, lung disease, asthma, and pneumonia. Informational fact sheets were produced, and several outreach teams began recruiting residents using a variety of methods, including house meetings, knocking on doors, talking with parents when they picked up their children at the school, networking, presenting at religious services, informing human services agencies, and activating other community-based organizations. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.292: The Greenspace committee targeted the power company, the state regulatory agency charged with deciding whether to approve construction, and the city manager, who initially had supported building this facility. They lined up an impressive group of allies including environmental justice organizations, other community groups, human services providers, faculty at schools of public health, and other energy experts. A lobbying team successfully secured commitments of oppositional support from 10 of the 11 Chelsea city councilors, as well as councilors from surrounding cities, the state senator, and all the local state representatives. A media team helped generate a number of highly critical news articles about the power plant proposal. Petitions were gathered and submitted to state regulators; leadership team activists testified at public hearings packed with angry community members; several large protest rallies were organized; and direct actions disrupted several power company presentations, including one at a Boston University function where the president of the company was receiving an environmental award. After a protracted and bitter battle, the power company eventually quietly withdrew its application to construct the plant. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.294: Marginalized groups that share a common identity or experience related to race/ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, and physical or mental ability also have organized for social justice. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.294: Current and former psychiatric patients have organized to combat “mentalism,” stigma, and discrimination in society, as well as to prevent abusive practices that violate their human rights in mental health systems across the United States. Successful social action campaigns have been waged vis-à-vis mental health systems to eliminate or drastically reduce involuntary electroshock treatments; to create Informed Consent policies that specify the side effects of psychotropic drugs; to reduce and set guidelines for the use of seclusion and physical restraints in mental hospitals; and to establish versions of a “Mental Patients’ Bill of Rights.” -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.294: At the community level, organizing campaigns have reduced employer discrimination against individuals receiving psychiatric services, secured funding to create affordable housing units for mental health consumers, conducted antistigma programs, established a model and funding for individuals with dual mental health and substance abuse diagnoses, developed peer networking and support options, and protected funding for mental health services at the state and federal levels. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.295: Finally, it is impossible to examine the growing phenomenon of youth-led community organizing without confronting social justice issues related to the power and domination of adults over youth (Delgado & Staples, 2008). “Adultism” is rooted in the unequal power relations between young people and adults; it prevents youth from receiving respect, recognition of their competencies, responsibility to make decisions, opportunities to act efficaciously, and acknowledgment for their contributions to their families, schools, communities, and the larger society. Delgado and Staples (2008) emphasized that problems associated with adultism are further compounded “when it intersects with other oppressive forces such as racism, classism, sexism, ableism, mentalism, and homophobia” resulting in “loss of self-esteem, hope for the future, and disengagement from the community” (p. 33). -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014

p.295: Organizing for social justice entails “looking at the big picture” and then “connecting the dots” to immediate, specific and realistic goals and objectives (Alinsky, 1971) that can make concrete improvements in the lives of the members of marginalized and oppressed groups. Social justice organizing is rooted in collective processes for political education, critical analysis, consciousness-raising, reflecting, envisioning, goal setting, planning, acting, evaluating/assessing, and reflecting again. -- Highlighted apr 17, 2014