The Primary Urban Issues Addressed by Community Organizing

by Dr.  Robert C. Linthicum

The primary urban issue addressed by organizing is the powerlessness and disenfranchisement of urban people from the political and economic decision-making of the United States and other powerful countries.

What organizing is about is the empowering of people by building within them the capacity, ability and willingness to act in productive ways that will gain power for themselves, enable the people to become a vital part of the power equation of a society (exchanges of power) and thus reshape society into a more just and equitable system.

Issues are always determined by the people organized in a particular neighborhood, church, community or city.  There are never a priori issues that community organizations address!

In a very profound sense, any organizer is expected to be issueless!  That is, he or she is not to bring his or her personal agenda to the table.  Rather, the job of the organizer is to call forth an articulation of the issues about which the people are most concerned and for which they are motivated to take action.  Therefore, at the beginning of an organizing effort in a city, it is impossible to guess what will be the issues the people will choose to address.  Thus, organizing is intensely democratic in nature.

However, one can look across the spectrum of organizing going on in the 133 major cities of the United States today and throughout the world, and discern certain trends in the addressing of issues.

Those trends can change at any moment.  But at least at present, the issues that are being most often addressed by the organizing effort in the United States are as follows:

· Employment, job-retraining, and the receiving of just salaries and benefits from employers;

· Economic development, particularly the development of both small and larger businesses within poor communities and by the poor that will give them negotiable economic power;

· Public education concerns, especially parental participation in both the education process and the operation and decision-making of a local school, studying for learning and personal growth rather than studying for tests; quality of education in public schools, especially non-charter schools;

· Housing and homelessness, especially the creation of an adequate housing stock to accommodate the poor and working classes, affordable housing, rent controls and the restoration of the homeless;

· Health care, especially the adequate provision of public health care, the protection of seniors, the poor, immigrants and the most vulnerable; and a working alternative to the current insurance-based health care industry;

· Immigration issues, including legality of immigration, giving immigrants a “fair deal”, no specialized identification for immigrants, humane housing, adequate education for their children and safe and decent working standards;

· Racial issues, especially matters of racial and ethnic injustice, bridging communities and churches across racial lines and deepening multiracial collaboration;

· Crime, justice and policing, especially in regards to police brutality, and particularly in terms of national security;

· Community development, especially the building of infrastructures that enables the people to take charge of their own community and to participate in effective exchanges of power with the power-brokers of the city;

· Developing, acting on and campaigning for community-based policy initiatives;

· Leadership development, especially participation and authority in consensual democracies;

· Building statewide, regional and national power so that the people’s voice is heard and taken seriously (exchange of power at the state and national levels).


(Taken from: Response by Dr. Robert Linthicum To Questions Posed by Stephanie Scott. The Campolo School for Social Change, Eastern University, Philadelphia, PA.)


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