The Political Potential of Community Organizing

When President Barack Obama signed the national health care bill on March 23, he hoped to put behind him nearly a year of partisan bickering. Robert Fisher, a professor at UConn’s School of Social Work who specializes in the study of community organizing, thinks the year-long debate would have been easier for the President had he returned to his roots as a community activist.

“If there was a more aggressive group pushing for a single payer system, and thousands of people pushing for it, there would have been no extended debate – something would have passed long ago,” Fisher says. “At the least, we might have had the public option. Without organizing you don’t change much. Little happens if those disproportionately hurt don’t get it going.

“When people were clamoring for help in the 1930s for the New Deal, FDR essentially said ‘Make me do it,’” Fisher says. “They did.”

Fisher, an expert on ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), and, to a lesser extent, the Christian Coalition, late last year published The People Shall Rule: ACORN, Community Organizing, and the Struggle for Economic Justice, his sixth book. His seventh, Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing, jointly authored with James DeFilippis and Eric Shragge (Rutgers University Press) is due out in July 2010. The book examines the proliferation of community-based efforts in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, emphasizing the limits and potential of contemporary efforts.

“If the whole community organizing universe could congeal, it would have a huge impact,” he says. “But it’s hard to survive as a single unit and it’s hard to build coalitions, especially without resources.”

Community organizing has been around for a century or more, and for a wide range of issues. Fisher says community organizing came out of the volunteer movement, and is responsible for a number of major changes in America, including the end of slavery, women’s rights, worker’s rights, and civil rights. More recently it has been used to organize people around local issues – nutrition, housing, and red-lining to name a few.

Read more …

Courtesy of UConn Today
March 31, 2010
By: Richard Veilleux