The On-Line Conference on Community Organizing and Development.
What would happen if community organizations fought as if winning was possible? Struggling in geographic, identity or issue based arenas forces us to make very significant choices about the long term significance of our work -- are our organizations the means to an end, or the end in themselves? If the former is the case, then what end are we aiming for?
Winning is possible, if only in the sense that history remains unwritten. The struggle of community organizations to produce an active citizens is rooted in the great war being waged by the "have-nots" to "write the world."(1) This challenge is taken up by community organizers to transform the populace into a historically relevant force that has the vision and power to name its own destiny. To this end, community groups and networks have constructed a range of social change methodologies that all seek to re-root society in communal and relational values.
The path to victory emerges as community organizations become temporary vehicles toward a radically different future, where these groups exist to leverage the grassroots action necessary for popular control over every sphere of society. Such a vision imposes the necessity of working holistically within the realm of community development, building a long-term strategy for community self-governance, and strict attention to grassroots community organizing and popular education.
As many community organizations move into
introspective middle ages, realizing the potential implications of their
longevity and power, it becomes imperative for them to think deeply about the
future. Is winning possible? What is winning? Emerging from Chicago's rich
tradition of community organization, the Organization of the NorthEast's (ONE)
twenty-five year struggle to build a successful and diverse community in the
Uptown and Edgewater neighborhoods is an ideal forum for this exploration.
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2. Uptown, Edgewater and the Organization of the NorthEast
Uptown and Edgewater are contested terrain. Geographically, they are roughly bordered by Devon Avenue on the north, Irving Park Road on the south, Ravenswood on the west and Lake Michigan on the east. A plurality of institutions, aldermanic offices, homeowners associations and community groups vie for influence over the present and future of these north lakefront neighborhoods. Thirty years of intermittently escalating property values and over seventy years of attempts to "clean up" the neighborhoods have done little to quash the rampant racial, ethnic and economic diversity of the neighborhoods. Once a thriving "little downtown" and entertainment Mecca for Chicago, Uptown and Edgewater have evolved their port of entry roles from their original Scandinavian and Germanic roots to include a bewildering succession of African-American, Appalachian, Asian, African and currently Eastern European emigrants. Edgewater has the dubious distinction of being the first and only neighborhood to secede, having split off from Uptown in 1980 in protest of its parent community's seedy and unruly reputation.
Uptown and Edgewater's ecology and architecture are a product of their social role in the urban megapolis of Chicago and a complex settlement pattern. According to Larry Bennett, who studied Uptown in depth in the early 1990s, Uptown was a neighborhood in transition from its very origin.(2) He refers to the succession of roles and dominant ethnic and business interests which have at various times includes Al Capone's empire, a thriving theater and commercial district including Essaney Film Studios, and a skid row. The final product is a mix of housing styles and density, with a lakefront packed with high rises, two and three flats common across the central Uptown/Edgewater corridor, a liberal sprinkling of multi-family apartment buildings, and clusters of stately single family homes. As home to many generations of low income families, single adults and immigrants, it is no wonder that vast sections of Uptown's housing stock have been cut up into poorly maintained smaller units. Land speculation and gentrification have moved in waves over the past thirty years, with the late 1990s again seeing a rise in upscale rehabilitation and development.
The story of Uptown and Edgewater can be mapped out just as easily in the evolution of its political institutions. Faced with Uptown's declining legacy as an entertainment and commercial center, and its growing role as a home to low income people and the agencies that grew up to serve their needs, a collection of elite business, political and civic leaders formed the Uptown Chicago Commission in 1955. From the get-go the UCC dedicated itself to promoting urban renewal, but it would be almost fifteen years before any substantial plans were put into effect. The 1960s saw the emergence of Uptown as "a hotbed of movements" with the formation of the SDS inspired Jobs Or Income Now (JOIN), Voice of the People (renamed from Voice of the Poor), and in 1970 Slim Coleman organized the Intercommunal Survival Committee, later renamed the Heart of Uptown Coalition. ONE was launched in 1973 along the lines of a Saul Alinsky inspired "peoples organization." Emergent leftist political and community activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s coincided with impending urban renewal in Uptown to establish the confrontational political plurality that has marked Uptown and Edgewater for the past three decades. (3)
All of Uptown and Edgewater's political organizations have experienced substantive shifts in membership and constituency since they were first formed, without a subsequent blurring of their respective missions. Similarly, the neighborhoods' groups have experienced significant peaks and valleys of organizational vitality. The current political plurality is composed of a revitalized ONE, Alderman Helen Shiller as the expression of the defunct Heart of Uptown Coalition, a UCC led by block clubs and homeowners, and a dizzying array of businesses and non-profit agencies.
The creation of Uptown and Edgewater as distinct neighborhoods did not follow a well-thought out plan. As with all formerly industrially-based cities, Chicago is less a product of its "natural" resources than it is a reaction to the needs of capital. The boosters who proclaimed Chicago's destiny as a metropolis focused on its location on the banks of Lake Michigan and its proximity to the Illinois river and later on its role as the growing center of a web of transportation lines that allowed the East to reach into the Western frontiers. Less attention is usually paid to the human cost of this development and expansion. Chicago is neither a divine testament to the city as such, nor the product of a few men with a fortuitous combination of strong vision and will:
More important was the fact that the
people who owned the railroads and steamships and related industries needed
workers to produce and ship the goods whose sale ultimately provided the owners
with their profits...Lacking both capital and machines, they were forced to sell
their labour to those who did own the means of production, the capitalists,
while the goods they produced with their labour helped the capitalists to
realize greater profits, and thereby accumulate even more capital and greater
control over the means of productions. The rise of the factory system thus led
to the emergence of the proletariat, and the housing of this proletariat led in
turn to the rise of cities which rapidly grew in size and density.(4)
ONE emerged from the contentious urban renewal fights of the 1960s and early 1970s as an organization deliberately designed to encompass the wide variety of Uptown and Edgewater's racial, ethnic, economic and geographic elements. As an institutionally-based organization, ONE was comprised of block clubs, social service agencies and religious congregations whose representatives formed a Delegate Assembly to make the major decisions of the group.
A willingness to engage in direct action and use Alinsky-derived confrontational organizing techniques swiftly built ONE a reputation for local radicalism. ONE's early organizing issues included preserving affordable housing, fighting rising utility costs, and winning neighborhood reinvestment from local banks and the city. A change in Executive Directors led to a revitalization in 1989 that relaunched ONE as a powerful community organization. With a newly reconstituted institutional membership, ONE proceeded to build a national reputation for its work to preserve affordable housing in ten highrise buildings with HUD-insured mortgages in the early and mid-1990s.
Currently, ONE is a broad based community organization composed of sixty three member groups which include non-profits, businesses, ethnic organizations and religious congregations. The mission of ONE remains: to build a mixed-economic and multi-ethnic community in Uptown and Edgewater. Throughout its twenty-five year history, ONE has maintained independence from government funding, allowing it to concentrate on issues that promote its mission through voluntary leadership from its membership. This means that its internal and external governance structures are outside the realm of formal government.
ONE identifies and develops volunteer
leaders from among its member groups. These leaders take on local issues as a
means of building the organization through issue-based strategy teams. The
current set of strategy teams includes: Welfare and Immigration; Jobs and
Economic Development; Housing; Wilson Yard; Leadership; and Youth, Families and
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3. Formal, Utilitarian, Responsible, and Popular Governance
Formal governance includes all levels of the elected, appointed and bureaucratic state. Attached to this superstructure are a wide range of quasi-governmental governance formations, including Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy beats (CAPS), police district advisory councils, local school councils, park advisory councils, Uptown Facility Health Board, 48th Ward Zoning Committee, and more. Many ONE members participate in these formations. However, ONE does not pursue influence or participation in quasi-government groups as an uniform organizational strategy. Given the dichotomy between citizens and their role in formal government, these quasi-governmental associations are best defined as a utilitarian means of governance participation. ONE's direct action style is designed to root a sense of accountability to community-based organizations in the government and the private sector. Compared to formal or utilitarian formations, ONE may be said to promote responsible governance.
No single picture of Uptown and Edgewater can possibly capture their complex plurality of people, politics and geography. Many local activists and historians have labeled the neighborhoods as hopelessly diverse, full of an unrepentant divisiveness and fundamentally divergent self-interests that serve to prevent a consensus on community development issues. Others would call this plurality the quintessential element necessary for democracy, insisting that democracy thrives in an atmosphere of ideological competition. More accurately however may be the notion that the political framework espoused by groups in Uptown and Edgewater may be incomplete. Over fifty years of experimentation with formal, utilitarian and responsible governance have not produced a measurably greater democracy for the residents of the neighborhoods. They don't have any greater say in the decisions which affect their lives than they did five, ten or thirty years ago. Every organizing campaign waged by groups in Uptown and Edgewater starts at ground zero and winds up leaving people with temporary arrangements that allow residents to influence, but never control, public and private policy. At best, people win the possibility of participation without decision-making power. Without a continuous effort to monitor and enforce these democratic experiments, we establish formal, utilitarian and responsible governance structures that are lost to democratic participation as organizational priorities and energies ebb and flow.
The struggle for influence and participation in local democracy is a hallmark of groups like ONE, but there is another form of governance that may hold promise for the north lakefront neighborhoods. Formal governance allows only input and influence while utilitarian governance permits participation. Responsible governance attempts a connection between grassroots community leaders and the formal and utilitarian sectors. These formations never move beyond participation to extend control or autonomy. Popular governance holds out a promise of a united future for ONE, Uptown and Edgewater. Radical in scope and revolutionary in nature, popular governance implies community self-management and direct democracy. As the most inclusive organization in Uptown and Edgewater, ONE has the greatest potential to catalyze popular governance across the neighborhoods. The pursuit of this vision would force ONE in new and challenging directions.
A push for popular governance would have a
tremendous impact on the political and geographic map of the north lakefront
communities. Given the political divisiveness inherent in expansive diversity,
popular governance may offer a way toward a truly inclusive multi-ethnic and
economically equitable community.
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4. An Ethical Framework for Popular Governance
The forms of governance described above -- formal, utilitarian, responsible and popular -- correspond to levels of public participation in democracy. Formal governance grants influence, utilitarian allows participation, responsible permits accountability and popular brings autonomy. Modern representative democracy is the realm of formal governance, while popular forms rely on direct democracy. More than a dream, these concepts have a rich historical tradition that has found expression in large scale efforts in Spain, Africa, and Central America, and through small experiments in every country and within every culture.
A. Frame of Values
Formal governance, and its utilitarian and responsible derivatives, is predicated on the primacy of the individual over the collective and competition over cooperation. Today such an ideology is realized through the neo-liberal policies of First World nations. Critics of such an ideology insist that: "...a capitalist economy...necessarily involves (1) imperialistic exploitation of underdeveloped countries as a means of maintaining high output and large profits in the United States, (2) endemic discrimination against minority groups and women, (3) inability to control pollution and resource exhaustion, and (4) a degrading commercialism and social alienation." (5)
The egoistic self-interest that marks a minimally regulated capitalism is presumed to be the key ingredient in assuring that capital and labor will collude to produce goods in the most efficient and least costly manner. The "invisible hand" in this equation is revealed as representative government, existing to mediate capitalism and thus emulating its core values. Formal governance is based on these neo-liberal capitalist values, shaping a political framework within which fundamental social change is not possible without introducing the irreconcilable contradictions exposed by the struggle for liberation.
Popular governance is based on an entirely different set of values that recognize the individual in the context of community and where cooperation replaces competition. Liberation, is possible only in a system of governance that values communalism. Although these two value systems are simplified given the scope of this paper, this is not a false dichotomy. The essential values that underscore formal and popular governance are in direct contradiction.
B. Frame of Power
To clarify, power is simply the ability to act -- and it can be used over or with others. Formal governance is based on power-over-others where power is finite. Even in utilitarian and responsible governance, final decision making power is never relinquished and remains in the hands of the elected and appointed. Popular governance is based on power-with-others. These two conceptions of power cannot be peacefully reconciled, with their interaction forming a special version of the zero sum game. As one wins, the other loses, but as one gains ascendency it actively contributes to the fracturing and debilitation of the other. A critical mass, rather than a majority, of one or the other is all that is necessary to alter the dominant governance system.
C. Frame of Relationships
Community organizers point to the primacy of building and reweaving relationships in the organizing process. Very little thought, however, has been given to the implications of the non-hierarchical nature of the relationships created in the process of organizing. Relationships are not static entities, they are either based on power-with-others or power-over-others. Most organizers would insist that they base their relationships on the former conception of power. The logical extension of these basic non-hierarchical relationships from individual-individual to individual-institution and institution-institution would imply major changes in the nature of governance.
D. Frame of Rights and Responsibilities
In popular governance, the community is the basic unit of society -- not the individual or the family. This is not to deny individualism as such, but to recognize that we are social beings and our needs and desires are only met in the context of community. Community-level decision making, federated to greater levels as needed, is the foundation of true democracy. The spirit of such is present when people have both the right and responsibility to control the decisions that impact their lives. It is our, not just the police's, responsibility to ensure safe streets. It is our, not just the government's, responsibility to ensure that no family every goes hungry. This process of reclamation doesn't seek to privatize what is truly public responsibility, rather it brings democratic responsibility back into its natural relationship with democratic rights. The divorce of democratic responsibilities from democratic rights is the contradiction of formal democracy, and in such a rendering "democracy" is twisted to approximate and mediate capitalism.
Formal, utilitarian and responsible governance are colored by their inseparable connection to neo-liberal and capitalist values. The atomistic psychology upon which this foundation rests finds practical expression in holding power-over-others. In comparison, popular governance reflects liberatory values and power-with-others.
According to one community ecologist there
is a clear decision to be made if we are to achieve a more democratic and
Do we have the social and political will
to reorder the priorities of our societies and communities, to shift our values,
to aspire to higher objectives than economic growth and consumer happiness? Are
governments -- who are our representatives, not our masters we should remember
-- prepared to give up central control and share power and resources with
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5. Libertarian Municipalism and the Historical Development of Popular Governance
Conventional wisdom holds that modern society is based on the "three-legged stool" model of democracy -- in which government, the private sector and people themselves balance their interests to create a democratic system. This effigy of democracy is propped up by a series of myths that should be relegated to the same cellar that holds all of the invisible and iron hands that attempt to rationalize the irrational. Government exists to mediate the capitalist economic system, and people are the objects rather than subjects of such a system. Popular governance emerges from this debate as more than just another leg on the stool. Instead, it proposes to redefine government, private sector and people as an integrated whole whose affairs are under the direction of the general populace.
An evolving historical and theoretical framework of popular governance has been the life's work for Murray Bookchin. His quest to construct a theory of social change that takes full account of popular assemblies and their role in promoting direct democracy is coalesced in his articulation of libertarian municipalism. Bookchin is best known for integrating radical leftist thought with ecology, and for first positing in 1962 that a liberatory society would also have to be an ecological society. (7)
Formally, libertarian municipalism is the political dimension of the Social Ecology Movement. Simply put, it is the popular participation by each of us in the decisions which affect our lives. In Bookchin's exploration of social change, we become relevant and historical when we take control over our relationships, and in doing so we affect major changes in the physical environment, transforming it in ecological directions. (8)
Janet Biehl, in her summary of Bookchin's ideas, says that "In contrast to the state, politics, as it once was and as it could be again, is directly democratic. As advanced by libertarian municipalism, it is the direct management of community affairs by citizens through face to face democratic institutions, especially popular assemblies." Bookchin traces the history of the popular assembly from the Athenian polis, beginning with Solon's revival of the ecclesia, a faded remnant of European tribal eras. The medieval commune, a form of municipal autonomy that emerged in northern Italy in the early 1000s A.D., provided the next innovation in popular government. Many such communes arose in conjunction with the emerging power of the merchant and artesian classes which opposed the traditional monarchical and feudal forms of government. The next step in popular control of government appeared in New England in the form of the town meeting. The first such meeting was held in Cambridge in 1632 as a monthly meeting to surface local issues. (9)
These forms of popular governance expose the inherent tension between municipalities and overarching states. Bookchin uses this tension as the subtext in his theory of libertarian municipalism. It is important to note that Bookchin recognizes the limitations in the Athenian polis, early European communes, and town hall meetings. Each of these formations excluded members of their own community, including women, non-propertied men, youth, non-citizens or people with different religious traditions. According to Bookchin, these forms of governance are important as innovations in the historical development of popular democracy.
Beyond Bookchin's reliance on European and American models for popular governance lie an extensive world history of popular struggles for local democracy. Julius Nyerere writes of the struggles of Africans throughout the 20th. century to develop an endemic democratic tradition, in contrast to that of the East or the West. Nyerere's work focused on Ujamaa -- cooperation in the use of land to build sustainable villages and self-governance directly by peasants and workers.(10) The League of the Iroquois also serves as a non-European example of direct democracy and confederal cooperation. (11) Unfortunately for the extraordinarily diverse communities of Uptown and Edgewater, most of the successful examples of popular governance exist in relatively homogenous communities.
Bookchin proposes the municipal assembly
as the basic unit of democracy, a gathering encompassing every adult in a given
geographic area. He sees the construction of a libertarian municipalist movement
in several stages. First, individuals who share a commonality of views should
form a study group to familiarize themselves with libertarian municipalist ideas
and related themes. When the group feels confident in their theoretical
background, the task moves into public education. Bookchin encourages this group
to develop positions on local political and ecological ideas, developing
literature that links these local issues with libertarian municipalist ideas.
Posters, leaflets, community newsletters, and lectures are recommended as
communication tools. The real task of the group is to call for the creation of
citizen's assemblies in their municipality. Biehl explains this process:
The group should call upon their local
city or town council to establish these assemblies legally by changing the
municipality's governing charter to establish them, adding clauses that
recognize the assemblies' existence and spell out their powers. Where citizen's
assemblies already exist, the group should call for strengthening their powers.
All action on local issues is tied to the call for establishing or strengthening citizen's assemblies. Bookchin believes that this process will build the local libertarian municipalist group into a force that will eventually be strong enough to create citizen's assemblies that have real power to make decisions. Rather than proposing a political platform for such assemblies, Bookchin places his faith in the ability of people to govern themselves. In effect he is trusting that people engaged in direct democracy will make sound economic and ecological decisions about their municipality.
While Bookchin's libertarian municipalism is significant for its theoretical advancement of popular governance and its historical perspective, it remains incomplete when transferred to practice. Bookchin begins with a small group that uses public education and action to build an organization that can successfully win a municipal assembly with real power. Hard-won community organizing wisdom has shown that building a broad base of individual and institutional members that relies heavily on pre-existing relationships and voluntary associations is the key to building power with others. Bookchin prefers to coalesce a group of individuals based on ideology. Community organizers focus on reweaving existing relationships while Bookchin calls for the construction of new relationships based on political affinity.
More troubling is Bookchin's insistence on
establishing popular governance directly within the inhospitable framework of
formal governance. Disregarding the tactical usefulness of utilitarian and
responsible governance functions, Bookchin is proposing that power-with-others
can be found in a hostile takeover of formal governance structures based on
power-over-others. Commendable for its incredible audacity, Bookchin's
libertarian municipalism simply lacks a real world understanding of community
organizing. Bookchin's overarching theories of social change provide a
powerfully visionary framework for democracy but do not recognize the complex
relationships and interests at the local level. What appears at first as a
tactical difference between Bookchin's conception of the municipal assembly and
contemporary community organization's utilitarian and responsible forms of
community governance may actually be best viewed as an strategic question.
Community organizations, without a role in Bookchin's theories, may hold a very
important role in leveraging a critical mass of activated and engaged citizens
to take on the problem of establishing popular governance.
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6. Grassroots Dual Power
Constructing popular governance requires a strategic shift for organizations that predicate their understanding of power and use of action on the permanency of formal governance. This course correction necessitates a new understanding of social change that allows radical and potentially revolutionary changes to occur. The emerging theory of grassroots dual power may hold the key to bridging the divide between the current practice of community organizations and the pursuit of popular governance. Its moves beyond Bookchin's theory of libertarian municipalism to develop a holistic social change strategy that integrates action in the social, political, cultural and economic realms.
The term "dual power" has been used in several ways since it was first coined. First articulated by V.I. Lenin in an April 1917 issue of Pravda, he defined the Russian emergence of dual power as, "Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of the bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtably a government that actually exists and is growing -- the Soviets..." The soviets were popular mechanisms for political and economic governance that, unfortunately, lost much of their power upon the ascension of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. (13)
The following definition builds on the previous meanings of dual power, most importantly by articulating the equal and necessary relationship between counter-power and counter-institutions. In the original definition, dual power referred to the creation of an alternative, liberatory power to exist alongside and eventually overcome state/capitalist power.
Dual power theorizes a distinct and oppositional relationship between the forces of representative democracy and capitalism, and the potentially revolutionary forces of oppressed people. A transition to a liberatory future could take place through peaceful evolution, but more likely is a long period of struggle that produces a critical mass of revolutionary activity. Outright violence is not a requirement of such a transition, but it is conceivable.
Within the theory of dual power is a dual strategy of public resistance to oppression (counter-power) and building cooperative alternatives (counter-institutions). Public resistance to oppression encompasses all of the direct action and protest movements that fight authoritarianism, capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the other institutionalized oppressions that are embedded in the values that underscore formal governance and its attendant institutions. Building cooperative alternatives recreates the social and economic relationships of society to replace competitive with cooperative structures, in effect building a new economy.
It is critical that these two general modes of action do not become isolated within a given movement. Counter-power groups and counter-institutions must be in relationship to each other. The value of reconnecting counter-institutions with explicitly oppositional counter-power groups is a safeguard against the former's tendency to become less radical over time. As counter-power groups are reconnected to their base, they ground their political analysis in the concrete experience of counter-institutions, mitigating against the potential political "distance" between their rhetoric and the consciousness of their families, fellow workers and neighbors.
Dual power does not imply a dual set of
principles, and therefore processes -- one for public resistance and other for
building cooperative alternatives. The process used for both strategic
directions has the liberatory principles of direct democracy, cooperation and
mutual aid at its root. These principles establish the foundation for creating
inclusive, anti-authoritarian relationships. Regardless of the strategic
direction within dual power that is being pursued, the process starts by
building and reweaving relationships, organizing these relationships into
groups, and moving these groups toward collective action.
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7. Implications of Popular Governance
Community organizations have the potential to leverage the creation of dual power institutions that can exercise power-with-others. Popular governance results from this expression of power. The struggle between popular and formal systems of governance allows room for people to explore the contradictions of representative democracy, capitalism and oppression. The cracks in the armor that are exposed in the resultant tension provide finger holds with which to force open an ever increasing rift in the dominance of societal institutions premised on power-over-others.
Pursing a grassroots dual power strategy has several key implications for contemporary community organizations. These include: 1) the conscious construction of a liberatory culture that supports the values of communalism and cooperation, 2) popular education as the means of engaging a critical mass in a community-wide dialogue, 3) use of appropriate technologies, 4) formation of a cooperative economy, and 5) use of both institutional and geographic organizing strategies. Each of these implications is discussed below with an emphasis on their relevance and practicality for contemporary community organizations like ONE.
A. Culture at the center of the struggle
Just as our lives are not complete without cultural expression, neither are our organizations. Liberatory values and visions only make sense when placed squarely in the midst of a dynamic and radical culture. Expression of these values and visions invites the use of visual art, spoken word, puppetry, music, dance and theater into peoples' private lives and public organizations. Cultural expression and folk arts cross the boundary between counter-power groups and counter-institutions, creating and sustaining the common themes that feed the liberatory project.
ONE should incorporate cultural expression into its day-to-day organizing campaigns and the life of the organization. This would mean recognizing the holistic nature of culture and then dedicating significant organizational resources to developing and promoting a communal culture. A dynamic cultural framework forms an exceedingly powerful force through which liberatory values and visions find expression. ONE's public actions could bring the visions that emerge from this framework to visual and audible fruition. For example, giant puppets that reflect a vision of ethnic diversity and economic equality could walk the streets in a public demonstration, performances tied to people's lived histories of struggle could happen in corner cafes, and murals depicting the envisioned transformation of Uptown and Edgewater could take residence on accessible walls.
The labels used to describe Uptown and Edgewater -- Hillbilly Ghetto, the New Skid Row, Psychiatric Ghetto, and Contested Neighborhoods (14) -- have never accurately described the neighborhoods' heterogeneous character. These popular myths are tools for shaping a community's identity, each myth promoting a specific vision of community development. By calling the community a Psychiatric Ghetto, people opposed to the concentration of deinstitutionalized people in Uptown and Edgewater attempted to take charge of the public debate in order to facilitate the dispersion of the mentally ill.
The community's current labels -- Gentrifying Community and Contested Terrain -- can be superseded by a deliberate campaign to alter the topography of popular perception. As the most inclusive and diverse organization in Uptown and Edgewater, ONE is in the position to remap this terrain and construct a new popular vision of the community based on liberatory values. This strategy recognizes that the terms of the debate are often more critical than the substance in determining its outcome.
Finally, ONE could undertake a comprehensive reconstruction of locally controlled media, including micro-radio (already in existence as a twenty watt station), print (reviving a version of the newspaper ONE Reports), television (producing one-time videos and regular programs for cable access).
B. From cacophony to symphony: popular education
The conversation in which community development and the future of a neighborhood is discussed is usually very limited. Even at ONE, a major discussion usually includes no more than a couple of hundred people within two neighborhoods containing over 120,000 people. Expanding the circle of this conversation means more than finding the biggest hall in Uptown and inviting everyone to attend. More seriously, the dialogue will grow through a decentralized network of smaller conversations.
Paulo Freire, in describing the role of
education in social change, said that we must "[recognize] what levels of
knowledge people have, in order to create a new knowledge and to help the people
to know better what they already know. It's not an idealism; it is consistency.
It's a revolutionary process." (15) Popular
governance requires popular engagement, a level of consciousness that is created
through a continual process of discussion, action and reflection. Freire
Authentic education is not carried on by "A" for "B" or by "A" about "B," but rather by "A" with "B," mediated by the world -- a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views or opinions about it. These views, impregnated with anxieties, doubts, hopes, or hopelessness, imply significant themes on the basis of which the program content of education can be built. (16)
ONE could initiate such authentic education among its member groups through a modification of one of its current organizing tools -- the "house" meeting. ONE's basic organizing process involves a continuous stream of relational "one-on-one" meetings to identify the self-interest of potential community leaders. House meetings are small groups, up to twenty five people, that coalesce within an ONE member group to discuss a single issue or theme. These meetings are used to raise issues with a broader group than ONE's active volunteer leadership and to identify new potential leaders. A modification of the house meeting format toward a closer approximation of popular education would entail a heavy investment of personnel resources to hold the literally hundreds of conversations that would be necessary to begin and sustain the "conscientization" process. This accompanies a realization that ONE could hope see the impact of this conversation with a critical mass of people that is significantly less that the total population, perhaps with as little as 1% of the total community residents or 1,200 people.
Practically, a house meeting campaign that employed principles of popular education would have a dramatic impact on the culture of the community if threaded with the (re)development of a new vision of Uptown and Edgewater. Such a campaign could draw upon Freire's program for popular education that investigates the "thematic universe" of people in a dialogical manner where people have the freedom to study their objective condition and their awareness of that condition. If twenty people within each of ONE's sixty three members began to talk, there would be 1,260 people taking a huge step toward a new consciousness.
C. Appropriate technologies
The challenge of popular governance generates a wealth of questions about the practical functions of a society -- housing, food, energy, transportation, safety, water and waste to name a few. The roles of the built environment, industrial manufacturing and agriculture operations, nuclear and non-renewable energy sources, cars and personal transport, police, Water Reclamation Districts and Sanitation Departments are essential elements that must be addressed by any society regardless of governance style. A grassroots dual power strategy would take on these roles through the development of counter-institutions in direct competition with status quo institutions.
The social ecology movement is not alone in postulating that a more democratic society will bring greater ecological sustainability. In the context of the "green revolution" of the 1960s many urban planners turned their attention to the design and construction of ecologically sound urban environments. While many have concentrated on developing architectural plans that do not call for an alteration in the level of democracy, many in the field recognize a relationship between democracy and ecological urban design. Through his articulation of "co-design," Stanley King has developed a process of urban design that acknowledges the necessary participation of community residents in visualization and planning for public and private community space. (17) Others have gone further, arguing that community development itself is morally unjust and ethically invalid unless it is autonomous and under the complete control of community residents. (18)
Appropriate technologies are by definition small-scale and networkable, inherently resistant to centralization. In fact, the new urbanism of Peter Calthorpe and Sim Van der Ryn argues that the emergence of appropriate technologies on the local level will tend to reinforce the decentralization of political power. (19) Appropriate technologies "turned a corner" during the 1990s in terms of affordability and practicality. It is now possible to integrate appropriate technologies into stand alone projects such as energy efficient residential housing. Larger projects that tackle transportation, sanitation or water systems are also possible with a concomitant increase in the collective power being exercised.
Thus, a community organization pursing popular governance now has the tools to address sustainability issues in community development. Appropriate technologies value functional diversity in all human systems, including sewage or waste systems, transit, and energy production and use. (20) Permaculture, a contraction of permanent and agriculture, is a land use and food production system that values functional diversity as its major design principle. In permaculture, multi-cultural agriculture is favored over mono-cultural food production. Applied to transit issues, a single motor car is very low in functional diversity. A single passenger of family can use a single car to move between destinations, while buses and trains allow multiple passengers to move between multiple destinations. Sewage and waste systems increase their functional diversity through recycling.
Appropriate technologies give a grassroots dual power strategy the tools necessary to carry out the material reconstruction of society. As symbolic sites they are preeminent battlegrounds for new cultural and material modes of existence. (21)
D. Constructing a cooperative economy
The capitalist economy, as a fundamentally unjust system that extracts "surplus labor" and transforms it into capital on behalf of an elite, cannot be a part of a long range strategy that is building toward popular governance. ONE, and its spin-off Project JOBS, currently work diligently to coordinate job training and education organizations across Uptown and Edgewater but completely within the context of assisting capitalist enterprises. They work to connect job seekers with existing jobs, with an emphasis on helping community residents capture local entry level jobs. While this serves adequately as a short-term strategy, it lacks the vision to pursue either job creation or cooperative economic development. Jobs, existing or new, that extract wealth from the labor of people will always result in a net loss of real productivity for a community.
Cooperative economic development is a strategy focused on constructing a new economic sector. Beginning with core industries and institutions such as credit unions or community development loan funds that provide technical assistance in addition to credit, this strategy is premised on the necessity of establishing and networking democratically controlled cooperative enterprises. To clarify, cooperatives are institutions owned and operated by the employees.
The United States has hundreds of examples of successful cooperatives in a range of industries from small groceries and bicycle shops that employ one to ten people, to larger industrial manufacturing or distribution operations that employ more than a hundred. The Mondragon cooperative system in the Basque region of Spain is also an oft cited successful example of a network that has evolved to be self-sustaining and capable of sustained growth.
Following the Mondragon model, ONE could initiate a new organization dedicated to cooperative economic development in Uptown and Edgewater. ONE is fortunate to have the Northside Federal Community Credit Union as a current member from which to draw expertise and credit. This new cooperative development corporation would pursue the reorganization of capitalist firms along cooperative lines, and the creation of new cooperative enterprises. Given the number of potential partners for cooperative enterprises in Uptown and Edgewater -- a significant number of unemployed or underemployed people and complete range of job training and education groups -- there is room to believe that such a new development corporation would find a great number of people interested in creating new living wage jobs.
Additionally, ONE could support a major labor organizing drive in Uptown and Edgewater that would capture the full range of workers and industries. A model for such an effort could include the anarcho-syndicalism popularized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which emphasized the horizontal organization of workers by industry and geographical area. The IWW's "one big union" approach allows the use of general strikes as a tool to shut down economic activity in both industries and regions to leverage political demands.
E. Use of both institutional and geographic organizing strategies
There are many well documented and practiced community organizing strategies active in the United States. Chicago is home to a preponderance of major national organizing networks that represent the full range of options. ONE practices a broad-based, or institutionally-based, model that is not orthodox in outlook. In addition to operating its own community organizing training program for indigenous organizational leadership, ONE sends people to the Industrial Areas Foundation's ten day training. Also, staff from ONE have attended trainings and events run by the Center for Third World Organizing and the National Training and Information Center.
ONE's broad-based model does not organize people unaffiliated with existing institutions because such people are not accountable to a greater collectivity and can not represent anyone but themselves. However, geographic organizing allows for the construction of new organizations in which such accountability could be instilled.
Beyond seminal efforts to establish ward wide networks of ONE members and unaffiliated, but sympathetic, individuals, ONE's structure and organizing model does not currently make room for the deliberate organizing of geographically based groups. Block clubs, tenant associations, and civic associations could be organized as part of a greater strategy to broaden ONE's membership base and organizational reach. A popular governance strategy would necessitate such a hybridization of ONE's organizing model if ONE wished to become both more diverse and more representational of Uptown and Edgewater's residents. A hybrid model would give ONE the opportunity to include every community resident as a potential organizational member.
Additionally, ONE's sixty three members contain a relatively high proportion of non-profit groups that skew organizational priorities toward a social service mentality that sees people as clients rather than leaders. This "needs-based" mentality sees people and communities as primarily deficient, rather than looking at the assets of individuals and institutions as the building blocks of a new reality. ONE could restructure its membership to have voluntary associations as a major voting and representational category. In the end it would be necessary to have such voluntary associations at the heart of the organization and the non-profit institutions that provide social services in a supportive rather than directive position. (22)
8. Popular Governance Using a Dual Power Strategy
Community groups exist as counter-power organizations. In attempting to build power-with-others they take on campaigns that challenge the power-over-others inherent in formal governance. The tension created in this zero-sum game exposes ever greater contradictions in the capitalist and statist system. The rifts opened by these contradictions create space for counter-insitutions to form parallel to dominant insitutions. In this manner, the role of the community organization is a transitional vehicle that catalyzes a range of counter-power campaigns and counter-insitutions to join with geographically and industrially organized people's organizations to form neighborhood, citywide, regional and larger confederations that serve as the mechanism of popular governance.
The inevitability of challenges to formal
governance comes directly from the pressing desire of an alienated and restive
populace to instill greater levels of democracy in their lives. ONE is one of
many contemporary community organizations that have the historic opportunity to
incite democracy and bring about a fundamentally different and more liberatory
society. In a sense, popular governance simply takes the rhetoric and practice
of community organizing seriously.
(Back to Top)
1. Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, Vintage Books Edition (New York: Vintage, 1989), 3-4.; Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 20th.. An. Ed. (New York: Continuum, 1997).
2. Larry Bennett, Neighborhood Politics: Chicago and Sheffield (New York: Garland, 1997), passim.
3. Larry Bennett, passim.
4. Stephen Schecter, The Politics of Urban Liberation (Montreal: Black Rose, 1978), 20.
5. E. K. Hunt, Property and Prophets: The Evolution of Economic Institutions and Ideologies (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 180-4.
6. Trevor Hancock, "Healthy, Sustainable Communities," Alternatives Journal 22:2 (1996): 18-23.
7. Janet Biehl, The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism (Montreal: Black Rose, 1998), vii.
8. Murray Bookchin, Urbanization without Cities (New York: Black Rose, 1992), 267.
9. Biehl, 22-33.
10. Sam Mbah and I.E. Icariwey, African Anarchism: The History of a Movement (Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1997), 49-52.
11. Howard Zinn, 2nd. Ed., A Peoples History of the United States: 1492--Present (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), 19-21.
12. Biehl, 65.
13. Brian Dominick, "An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy" (www.rootmedia.org/~messmedia/dualpower/dpintro.htm, 1 December 1998).
14. Michael T. Maly and Michael Leachman, "Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown and Chicago Lawn," Cityscape: Journal of Policy Development and Research, vol. 4, no. 2 (1998): 143.
15. Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 226.
16. Freire, 74.
17. Stanley King, Co-Design a Process of Design Participation (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989), 7.
18. Raff Carmen, Autonomous Development (London: Zed Books, 1996), 78.
19. Sim Van der Ryn and Peter Calthorpe, Sustainable Communities: A New Design Synthesis for Cities, Suburbs and Towns (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1986), passim.
20. Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay, Introduction to Permaculture (Australia: Tagari, 1991), 6-8.
21. Symbolic sites are a locus crisscrossed by a multitude of cultural dynamics. Carmen, 153-4.
22. John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets (Evanston: Northwestern University, 1993), 1-11.
Alinsky, Saul D. Reveille for Radicals. Vintage Books Edition. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Biehl, Janet. The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1998.
Bennett, Larry. Neighborhood Politics: Chicago & Sheffield. New York: Garland, 1997.
Bookchin, Murray. Urbanization Without Cities. New York: Black Rose, 1992.
Carmen, Raff. Autonomous Development. London: Zed Books, 1996.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 20th. An. Ed. New York: Continuum, 1997.
Horton, Myles and Paulo Freire. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Hunt, E.K. Property and Prophets: The Evolution of Economic Institutions and Ideologies. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
King, Stanley. Co-Design: A Process of Design Participation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989.
Kretzmann, John P. and John L. McKnight. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Mobilizing a Community's Assets. Evanston: Northwestern University, 1993.
Mbah, Sam and I.E. Igariwey. African Anarchism: The History of a Movement. Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1997.
Mollison, Bill and Reny Mia Slay. Introduction to Permaculture. Australia: Tagari, 1991.
Schecter, Stephen. The Politics of Urban Liberation. Montreal: Black Rose, 1978
Van der Ryn, Sim and Peter Calthorpe. Sustainable Communities: A New Design Synthesis for Cities, Suburbs and Towns. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1986.
Zinn, Howard. 2nd. Ed. A Peoples
History of the United States: 1492--Present. New York: Harper Perennial,
Maly, Michael T. and Michael Leachman. "Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown and Chicago Lawn." Cityscape: Journal of Policy Development and Research, vol. 4, no.2 (1998).
Hancock, Trevor. "Healthy, Sustainable Communities." Alternatives Journal 22:2. (April/May 1996): 18-23.
Dominick, Brian. "An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy." (www.rootmedia.org/~messmedia/dualpower/dpintro.htm, 1 December 1998).
I am the Senior Organizer at the
Organization of the NorthEast, a broad-based community group on the north east
side of Chicago. My primary work at ONE is on Land Use and Housing in a diverse
multi-ethnic and mixed-economic community. Previously I spent three and a half
years with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as the Director of the
Neighborhood Housing Intervention Project, and before that I spent four years as
an organizer with the National Training and Information Center. Since 1996 I
have been a Steering Committee member of the National Organizers Alliance --
concentrating on the groundwork for a Chicago chapter. I am an admitted
anarchist, with the firm conviction that no set of political ideas comes closer
to forming a framework for community organizing than anarchism. In 1993 I
became a founding collective member of the Autonomous Zone Infoshop in Chicago,
spending three and a half years as an active volunteer. Finally, I am a student
in the first year of the inaugural year of the North Park University Masters of
Arts in Community Development. In my spare time I teach a co-ed recreational
basketball class for adults at the YMCA. Whew! The bottom line is that I have
not given up hope for a social revolution in my lifetime, and its delay won't be
from a lack of effort on my part!
COMMUNITY INITIATIVES PHOTO GALLERY ABOUT US