Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World
a book by Michael Jacoby Brown
(our site's book review)
Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World is intended for individuals who want to start, strengthen, or revitalize a group to address a community issue, this indispensable guide includes a series of practical steps that help build a successful community orgranization and offers sample cases that more clearly illustrate each step. In addition to addressing common problems that are often encountered, the book also discusses how to run engaging meetings, recruit and motivate community members, raise necessary funds, and turn a passion into a powerful tool for social change. Library Journal strongly recommended this book.
"At a time when national power is held by the wealthy classes, there is an urgent need, if democracy is to survive, for people to organize in their own communities. For this, Michael Brown is a superb guide. His book is full of thoughtful, practical advice for community organizers, and indeed for anyone who wants to participate at the grass roots in making ours a more just society." —Howard Zinn, author, A People’s History of the United States
Brown lays out the twelve steps that it will take to build such a powerful organization. And then, in detail, and with really helpful illustrative stories, he spells out what to do, and provides helpful checklists and exercises. He defined community organizing as "building the power of a group to change the world." He says it requires understanding of your self interest and building relationships with others, and a desire to change the world. The book is organized into four sections:
- The Inside Story - definitions, step by step considerations for building a community organization including mission, goals, and objectives, and considerations for lasting organizations
- Resources - recruiting, how to's and leadership development, meeting facilitation, raising money
- Change - strategy, taking action, solving problems, results, building community
- Future - where do we go from here
Brown explains the concept of community thus: "Community is one of those things that is hard to define, but
you know it when you are in it. It is a feeling that you are not alone, that you are part of something greater than yourself—but yet, even when you are in it, you are still yourself. It does not swallow you up; rather, it builds you up. It is not all for you and you are not all for it. In a community there are people around you whom you like, although you probably do not like all of them equally. The people of the community are there for you when you need them and you will be there for them when they need you. Community organizations come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. Every community organization holds all the complexities and all the hopes, dreams, and visions of the people who join it. Community organizations may look different but they all have at least two things in common:
1. Community organizations strive to develop a sense of community among their members.
2. Community organizations organize people to do what they cannot do by themselves."
The author has a passion for democracy, for equal opportunity, and for justice. His book strives to empower regular citizens to achieve these. Unfortunately, the forces working against democracy are far richer and stronger that our citizens individually or collectively. See Democracy—an American Delusion. But grassroots efforts at the local level can achieve not just community (see Why Do We Need Communities?) but a good deal of equal opportunity and justice, and even a bit of limited success with democracy itself. (See The Quickening of America: Rebuilding Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives and Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.) The corporatocracy has more power than we do, but we have more people and can sometimes get wins against even corporations.
With the corporatocracy in charge in the U.S., democracy takes it on the chin
Every organization has a program, often referred to in the organizing world as an “action.” Common types of actions include:
- Forums or panels. These are educational. Experts discuss a topic. The goal is to educate those who attend.
- Public hearings.These are opportunities for the public to testify about an issue.
- Research actions. Members of the group go in an organized fashion to retrieve information about their problem.
- Accountability sessions. These are carefully orchestrated public negotiation sessions. They generally include specific questions directed to individuals who have the authority to effect some improvement
A protester—two of the action possibilities are boycotts or strikes
Meetings, forums, and panels—all are actions
Citizens brought samples of polluted drinking water from across the country to Congress so they'd take action about polluted drinking water pouring out of their faucets
"After detailing the basics of how to develop an action plan, Brown includes a checklist for evaluating an action. He provides advice on who to invite and when to conduct a post-action evaluation and the checklist provides a series of questions to use in debriefing the action with core constituents. Though brief, this checklist may provide organizers with some guidelines and important points to consider in conducting on-going reflection and evaluation in the midst of an organizing campaign. He provides first person narratives of his experience working with community organizing groups in planning, implementing, and evaluating the effectiveness of tactics within an organizing campaign. These stories may give organizers some insight and comparisons into how other groups have dealt with successes and challenges as they implement their organizing plans." (Source: Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World, review by Bolder Advocacy, which is an initiative of the Alliance for Justice—a national association of more than 100 organizations that are united by a commitment to a fair, just, and free America where everyone has equal access to justice and can fully participate in our democracy.