This looks pretty amazing, and I am honoured to be in it on Grenfell, right to the city, right to a home. But it is full of struggle to transform the world.
Community Organizing in the Conservative 1980s — exciting stuff (though we’ve been through the late 1800s through 1946, the 1960s, conservative organizing in the 50s and 60s, and the 70s). The chapter opens with a fabulous quote:
We live in a society that is like a house on fire, and it’s arson. (Heather Booth, organizer, p 168)
Ah, the 1980s. My lifetime. Reagan and economic crisis, the reemergence of voluntarism, agreement amongst community activists that there has been a movement away from dissent and confrontation. There is now talk about how organizing is no longer ‘against’, instead it is ‘for’ something, it is increasingly about establishing common ground, political partnerships, moving into development, CDCs and ’empowerment’ though seems like they are doing less of that in a radical way. But on the positive side you have ACORN and City Life staying radical, there is increased thinking about cooperatives etc
You also see the rise of the neoconservative movement building on some lessons from community organizing. Fisher writes:
The neoconservative movement, in fact, sees itself, not the New Left and new social movements, as the true proponent of “the community revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s.
They are the ones giving ‘power back to the people’ (178)
Fisher describes a process in which the IAF has shifted to faith-based organizing as part of a move to understand people need more than self-interest but continues trenchant in his critique:
The strategy of moderation, the commitment to moderates, the grounding of IAF efforts in mainstream religious institutions, and a definition of power that emphasizes relationship building leads to a politics that limits the parameters of IAF work and excludes alliances with other movement activists and organizations. It encourages IAF to work alone with its constituency and mainstream allies and avoid confronting the causes of the imbalance of power that oppresses its constituents. (196)
On the other hand, ACORN continues to follow a social justice movement model, committed to radical ideology and confrontational tactics. It has a clear political program. Its “people’s platform” emanates from–but goes beyond–neighborhood politics to integrate both a constituency and class-based mode of organizing and critique of American political economy.
There are also some new developments, a raising of critiques around the intersectionality of oppressions (my words there).
There is the founding of CTWO, the Center for Third World Organizing, where I did some training myself and love well (more about them later). Fisher describes their work as multiracial organizing and a ‘critique of the systemic, institutional bases of racism and ethnocentrism’ (197). More on them next. You have the rise of ACT-UP among others…there is actually a rise of all kinds of awesomeness in this decade, despite its bad rap.
This is a decade of new social work models developing out of a radical feminist movement — a movement I was completely unaware of, but now feel the need to explore, starting with the work of Lorraine Gutierrez, Edith Lewis on the elimination of power hierarchies and support to realize full potential, Ann Withorn and Cheryl Hyde, explorations of tensions in service delivery and social action.
In response, Fisher writes:
It is this decentering of political struggle, away from the core class struggle of the old social movements to a more diverse, polyvocal discourse of the varied new citizen initiatives, that gives current grassroots efforts such potential and such problems (207)
He accepts the importance of this, and continues
the challenges of the 1990s and beyond is for groups to learn how to maintain their identity, focus, and constituency and work together in progressive organizations that advance social justice. (209)
I am struggling with Boaventura de Sousa Santos at the moment and he is all about this in a way that is quite amazing. But more on that later.
The conclusion wraps up all of this up quite well, summarizing Fisher’s understanding of the three main approaches he looks at: political activist, social welfare and neighborhood maintenance (which maybe I haven’t drawn out enough over the course of these summaries):
The political activist approach regards the community as a political entity and/ or potential power base. It focuses on obtaining, maintaining, or restructuring power. Or…is political in that its goal is to develop alternative institutions. The community’s problems, as defined by organizers, is the absence of power needed to defend the neighborhood and/ or give people more control over their lives.
Where the political activist approach differs most significantly from the social work approach is in its class perspective. The social work approach often seeks a class rapprochement based on a “partnership” between upper-class supporters, social welfare professions, and working- and lower-class neighborhood residents. (212)
Again we have an analysis of the positive role played by conflict in challenging structures people didn’t think they could challenge, and the ways in which this is where people find power, and how this is where class balances are actually altered. He looks a bit at ‘New Social Movement Theory’ too, challenging it in more ways than one, but particularly the idea that after the industrial revolution all organizing was factory organizing or entirely class oriented until post WWII. Sock it to them, I say.
The main lessons from the past as Fisher sees them:
- Neighborhood organizing cuts across the political spectrum. Not inherently left or right.
- Neighborhood organizing movements develop in a historical context that includes yet transcends local community borders. (222)
- There is a critical interaction between neighborhoods organizing efforts, national politics, and nationwide social movements. (223) Movements can be buoyed by these larger forces or crushed.
- Problems besetting neighborhoods demand political organization beyond the neighborhood level. (224)
- Neighborhood organizing requires a gentle balance between organizing, leading, and educating. (225)
- Political education must be an integral part of neighborhood organizing. (227)
- Neighborhood organizing must create a more consciously ideological practice. (228). Must connect ‘popular, inherent ideology rooted in people’s traditions and a derived ideology, primarily external, that connects their concerns to forces and events beyond personal experience. (23)
- An organizing ideology for our times needs to combine new demands for autonomy and identity with older ones for social justice, production for human needs rather than profit, and a spirit of connectedness and solidarity rather than competition. (232)
That’s the real trick.
[Fisher, Robert (1994) Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International.]
Another post on Robert Fisher’s Let the People Decide, that starts back in 1886 (pt 1) to root this in some of the US’s history, and the last post on the 1960s…all too brief as I think about it. But time marches on, Fisher takes us through the 1970s, and it’s interesting to consider the decade from Fisher’s view. Sadly at no point does fashion enter the discourse.
The New Populism of the 1970s
The 1970s was certainly a very bad time for cities — I very much appreciate, as I say, how Fisher weaves in some of the political and economic context for the organizing that was happening. As he writes
Neoconservative strategies for urban change became commonplace. Using models of “planned shrinkage” or “triage,” officials planned to bulldoze or ignore the poorest areas of the city. (136)
And they did to a great extent, I can’t really imagine watching that, going through that..
Fisher opens a section on the roots of the New Populism with a quote from Tom Hayden, ‘The radicalism of the 1960s has become the common sense of the 1970s’. He cites Mike Miller of the Organize Training Center in SF (hi Mike!) as describing “the basic values of the new populism are the values of democracy.” Fisher continues with a full quote: “Its fundamental analysis is that “unchecked power has become concentrated in the hands of a very small number of people who are at the helm of the major corporations of the nation.”
So what does Fisher mean by populism here in this context?
While it is critical of elements of the economic system, it sees bigness and unaccountable power, rather than capitalism, as the fundamental problem. (139)
Despite Hayden’s quote, Fisher describes community organizing through this decade as working to tone down from the 1960s, to return to Alinsky and rebuild. Given the repression and that people in power recognized Alinksy’s work as much less threatening than that say of SNCC, such a return could be helpful in achieving concrete wins. Fisher writes that while Alinsky himself and earlier Alinskyite organizations in mid 1960s through 1970s ‘practiced ideology of equality and the tactics of non-violent confrontation of the civil rights movement’, they would come to shift over this second decade ‘from a civil rights orientation to an emphasis on negotiation and community development’ (142).
Fisher also notes the way that community organizations themselves became more conservative over time (thought he notes most organizations had a life of only around 6 years, so survival into conservatism was rare, an interesting thing to think about). TWO in Woodlawn became involved in development, built housing, ran a head start program, moved into ignoring radical roots in demanding long-term change and instead bargained to improve conditions on a very local level.
This chapter opens with a quote from ACORN president Steve McDonald:
Some people say what does ACORN want? The answer is simple: We want sufficient power in our cities and states to speak–and be heard–and heeded–for the interest of the majority of citizens. We want to participate in community and civil affairs, not as second class citizens because we don’t drive Rolls Royces, but as men and women committed to a better future where our concerns are met with justice and dignity; where wealth, race and religion are insufficient excuses to prevent equal participation and impact in government; where any person can protect his or her family and join with others in community strength; and where, as ACORN’s slogan goes, “the People Shall Rule.” That is what ACORN wants. Nothing more and nothing less.
–Steve McDonald, ACORN president, quoted p 145
He describes the central program of community organizing in this decade:
The essence of neo-Alinskyism in the 1970s was to develop more political organizations rooted in neighborhoods, grounded in local concerns, and focused on winning concrete gains. The goal was to advance social and economic democracy, empower people, and challenge power relations within and beyond the neighborhood.
There were many such organizations, most of them able to
acknowledge that fundamental social change in this country demands a multi-issue, multiclass, multiracial, national effort that rests on grassroots organizing but goes beyond the neighborhood or community units. (146)
These are organizations that broke away from the IAF model, which Fisher argues had become highly professionalized and large-scale. Of course, this mode has continued in parallel, and been most successful in Mexican-American communities of the South West, where churches remained very strong and were willing to play a role in local issues.
I definitely need to read more about Fred Ross, who worked with Alinsky but shifted the model in important ways, as he emphasized door-to-door, issue organizing (and Cesar Chavez of course). He also inspired the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), and out of this came Wade Rathke who would start up ACORN to avoid what we saw as weaknesses of NWRO which often divided neighbors
The ACORN Model as summarised by Fisher:
- You, the organizer, are sent to a community — you don’t come with an issue, but openly organize for social and economic justice for low and moderate income people
- Develop internal contacts. Get people’s name, go to their homes for talks.
- Organize the first house meeting. Want it to be representative of the community, under 12 people. This will become a committee, begin to identify issues (149)
- Promote the organization. Go door to door with organizing committee, engage people.
- Honor the organizing process. Do not make assumptions, remain open, create index files on people you meet.
- Identify an issue. This should appeal to most people, it doesn’t matter the issue, but that people get involved, the organizer presents options and way to deal with it
- Hold a neighborhood meeting. Big event, invite everyone you have contact with. Get membership — ‘The dues are significant not only because they provide some funding but, more important, because people relate differently to an organization that they own. (151)
Fisher’s critique — that they still tended to stay away from issues that would ‘jeopardise a victory’. Like racism… The thinking was very much like that of Alinsky’s, and organizers avoided issues that undermined unity and clouded the focus on the “real enemy.” (151)
Winning, noted by some, was an ‘obsession’ with ACORN.
ACORN also moved towards electoral politics, to hold power rather than just pressuring those in power. As Fisher writes, there was also:
a strong tendency in ACORN and related efforts to remain staff intensive, to see the organizer as an “expert” who practices a method, almost a “science,” of organizing. In some projects grassroots participation tended to appear only at selected and critical times–at mass meetings, direct actions, and elections… (153)
Political education was de-emphasized, pragmatism made the rule, the goal to move from one victory to the next rather than moving more slowly through a process of education. This probably isn’t entirely fair to many local chapters, but I only worked with them very tangentially in LA. This theme of electoral power has certainly been picked up by other groups though.
I have his book on ACORN sitting in a stack, not sure when I’ll get a chance to read it, but hopefully not before too long.
It can’t be ignored, of course, that some of these ideas have also been taken up by more right-wing neighbourhood groups like ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights) in Boston with their ‘a,b,c’ program: antiabortion, antibusing, anticommunism. A working class organization but affiliated with business. Although seen as aberrations, Fisher writes that these were the other side of populism without conscious political education. He’s probably right about that.
Alinsky style and tactics were also taken up by community development organizations through this decade and into the next, but Fisher notes how they tended to become steadily more conservative both in tactics and vision as they established themselves. Having only known the well established versions, I’d certainly agree that this was true in many, but not all cases.
This was also a decade of growing numbers of women getting involved and moving into leadership. There was also a growing realisation that successful organizing not actually built on self-interest alone, but also idealism and the implementation of people’s own vision.
But more on that, surprisingly, in the 1980s.
[Fisher, Robert (1994) Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International.]
Part 2 on Robert Fisher’s great book on Community Organizing (read part 1 from 1886 to 1946 here). This might be the best part, the most inspiring at least, because weren’t the 60s amazing? We have won so much since then and I wouldn’t want to go back, but that feeling that revolution could come tomorrow?
Damn, I wouldn’t mind that at all.
The Neighborhood Organizing “Revolution” of the 1960s
Another great quote from Malcolm X:
I, for one, believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what it is that confronts them, and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program; and when the people create a program, you get action. When their “leaders” create programs you get no action. (98)
I find it hopeful, even if I will never believe revolution is right around the corner, that there is a steady progression in how we come together to change the world, and that the issues encountered through one struggle inspires new, and often better responses to carry the struggle forward. Fisher writes:
As preceding chapters have demonstrated, the stop-gap solutions and tenuous class and race relations of one decade often become the central problem and basis for change in the next. And each new situation seems to breed new forms of neighborhood organization activity. (98)
I think he’s right, we have come a long way, and it feels good to look back to these years and see the seeds there, things I took for granted but that were invented, tested, put into action. The chapter looks at ‘the quasi-anarchist experiments’ of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) — I’ve ben reading all kinds about the first (Ransby and Cobb and Morris and Zinn and others). Fisher writes:
The groups were important innovators in a new style of community organizing, but only one of many types of grassroots efforts during the decade. (99)
He notes how geographical shift to suburbs meant poverty invisible to those living outside city center, which allows poverty to be redefined as a “black problem” both because of its concentration, but also because African Americans are leading the fight back. This connection between the spatialities of segregation, white privilege and struggle are so important, and I think finally through the new Movement for Black Lives and #BlackLivesMatter, much more of this is being explored. But at the same time as there was a spatial separation of elites, the NAACP and SCLC tended towards an elite way of working (and for the NAACP always had, with some exceptions amongst the branches), despite King’s vision of democracy. The youth entering the movement opened it all up and made it more participatory through student sit-ins and freedom rides.
Fisher notes that like Alinksy, SNCC and SDS called themselves “nonideological”:
they advocated in their words and behavior a moral revolt and nonconformity…rejected liberal faith in modest reforms…emphasis on direct action and the formation of locally autonomous, insurgent community organizations…rejected all centralized, bureaucratic, hierarchical forms…
They moved away from concerns with organization and power, and
substituted an all-embracing political credo that emphasized democratic action and relationships, processes and values. “participatory democracy,” they called it. “Let the People Decide.” (107)
The common ‘ingredients’ of these approaches (I love these lists):
- Be a catalyst, not a leader
- Let the people decide
- Develop loose organizational structures – to encourage maximum participation, consensus decision making (108)
- Establish places in the community free of external restraints – development of community unions open to all. My favourite idea, why don’t we have a million of these?
- Develop indigenous leaders
- Create supportive personal relationships (109)
A lot of those ideas are still part of the canon, along with some new additions. Many of them to deal with the shit gender dynamics that Fisher notes were still in operation here, with women doing much of the work while ‘men always remained center stage and dominated the organizations.’ (113) That picture at the top of the post was carefully chosen to make sure I don’t feel too much nostalgia.
Gender issues (and race for damn sure, and homophobia, and etc) must have damaged the strength of the movement. Fisher notes another three principal factors that hurt their efforts up to 1965. The first, the decimated state of the left and the absence of any national program to provide support, so they had to rebuild from scratch. I am divided on that as a negative factor actually, after my experiences here in the UK. The second is the difficulties in building a ‘leaderless’ movement of ‘organizers’. Fisher writes:
It is critical in community organizing to provide leadership, to do organization building, and to teach leadership and rudimentary organizational skills, but most new lefters though this ran counter to the idea of letting the people decide. (116)
I am rather fascinated by that because I can see where they were coming from ideologically, but it seems so clear that direct democracy in practice is something that is learned, that you improve with practice, that takes skill to make work effectively in a way that ensures everyone’s voice is heard, everyone can speak, everyone has power. That shit is hard. Anyway. He describes the third factor as the ‘sheer physical and emotional drain of organizing’ (117). That shit is real too.
But undoubtedly these have had a big impact on the developing models for community organizing.
The 1960s also brought the Great Society, it’s organizing projects and its Community Action Agencies. An attempt to buy out revolution really. Fisher describes the havoc that government funds caused, thrown at community organizations to try and quell the disorder that was beginning to effect economic and political centers, He writes:
The Great Society, however, was more than a traditional liberal reform program to palliate and co-opt mass insurgency. It sought not only to defuse protest from below but to reincorporate African-Americans into the political process and thereby solidify their support for the Democratic party. It sought in essence to create new black political organizations in the inner cities and the rural South that would strengthen black political involvement and electoral participation. (122)
And in many ways it succeeded. The theme of a Black elite co-opted by the establishment and becoming part of the foot holding people down, well, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation does a brilliant job at looking at that. And this is long, so the 1970s are continued next post.
[Fisher, Robert (1994) Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International.]
I read Robert Fisher’s Let the People Decide years ago now, and after all I’ve read in the meantime appreciated it more and more this time around. I love the long view of historical struggle, the historical framework it is set into. The importance of contextualising the massive influence of Alinsky — taking him in the round and not as a kind of straw man — while developing our understanding of how things need to grow and change, and where they have done so. It’s an interesting timeline, there is so so much in here I didn’t know, had not even heard of. I suppose my own research has thrown up other vibrant traditions of grassroots community-based organizing through the 1930s and the war years, primarily in the African American Community that I missed a bit, but this begins to open up the deep histories of struggle we can look to in the US. I particularly love the drawing out of lessons for contemporary struggle…
I’ve based my posts around his periodisations, so we start in the 1880s up through the Great Depression
Social Welfare Neighborhood Organizing, 1886-1929
This connects to the Social Settlement movement in the UK — 1884 saw the founding of Toynbee House in East London by two students at Oxford (and still standing as a community space and centre today, though it has changed with the times). It promoted the need for those who wished to work with a community to actually live — usually embracing some level of poverty — within it. Still a problematic and often patronising idea, but a step up from mandating improvements from comfort in stately surroundings miles away. It inspiring similar settlements across the UK and in the US. Most famous is probably Hull House, founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. I’ve been meaning to read more about Hull House but not worked myself up to it, precisely because this is my general view of those participating in this movement:
Settlement workers got involved in neighborhood organizations out of a mixed bag of sympathy, fear, guilt, social concern, and a desire to give purpose to their own lives. (8)
And also for this reason:
They sought harmony within an unjust economic framework — liberal reformers not ready to challenge the economic roots of poverty (10)
They still, for the most part, blamed the poor for their own poverty and worked around programmes of skills trainings, moral uplift, birth control in the way that leaves you feeling disgusted because it’s more about preventing mucky poor people from reproducing, rather than supporting capable women to take control of their lives and choices.
Seeing only deficits, such models were often insensitive to existing networks — yet Fisher notes how poor communities continued to be organized outside of these top-down elitist structures. Churches, synagogues, mutual benefit associations, and ethnic, labor and political organizations continued to thrive alongside informal networks of support. (13)
Out of and in response to the Settlement Movement, which I knew of, came the Community Center Movement, which I did not. It was driven by people who wanted something more effective and widespread and with more bottom-up from local communities. It reached its peak between 1907-1915, yet still struggled with top-down programming, and it remained primarily managed by the elite. As WWI started, many such community centre’s actually began to drive patriotism and work with the government to track ‘subversives’ among ethnic and radical populations, effectively bringing the whole thing to a halt. (21)
I very much loved the deep look at the Cincinnati Social Unit Plan — a unique community-based child welfare program created by Wilbur and Elsie Phillips under a Socialist mayor (!). It attempted to put real power in the hands of mothers for deciding priorities and support needs, and showed real success in improving health and making concrete changes in people’s lives. However, the fall of the mayor meant the programme was defunded and fell apart.
This happened despite the Phillips’ ongoing attempt to distance themselves from the mayor’s socialism in claiming that that their work was not political. Fisher also notes despite the successes of the programme, they still failed to fully escape elitism, which ensured they were not able to sink deep enough roots in the community they were working in, preventing the community from feeling a full sense of ownership of the programme that could have led to a fight to preserve it under a new mayor.
Lesson, this shit is political and you will need people’s support to keep it going through hard times.
Radical Neighborhood Organizing 1929-1946
Starts with Langston Hughes’ poem to a landlord — few better places to start:
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don’t you ‘member I told you about it
Way last week?
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself
It’s a wonder you don’t fall down.
Ten Bucks you say I owe you?
Ten Bucks you say is due?
Well, that’s Ten Bucks more’n I’l pay you
Till you fix this house up new.
What? You gonna get eviction orders?
You gonna cut off my heat?
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?
Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
Talk on-till you get through.
You ain’t gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.
Come and get this man!
He’s trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!
Headlines in press:
MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
TENANT HELD NO BAIL
JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!
Some things never change. But the 1930s were some time to be alive. Fisher writes:
Neighborhood organizing in the 1930s was characterized not only by its radicalism but by this dual concern of building an insurgent movement at both the national and local levels. (38)
I think perhaps we’re approaching this level again. There is a long, very interesting discussion of the radical work of the Communist Party at this time — a small proportion of community organizing but a very visible one, and quite influential in tactics and strategy. But this difference is key between the Party’s organizing of the period and what would come to be known as community organizing:
Most activists now see the primary goal of neighborhood organizing as awakening people to a sense of their own power. the Communists saw neighborhood work as a means of recruiting people into a national organization. (39)
But still, the Unemployed Councils? They would divide up a city or rural area into sections and then send organizers there to get to it, build a council that began to organize and implement direct actions, stop evictions, face down bailiffs, force up relief centres. They did some amazing things. But always controlled by the Comintern. Underground for a long time, the party came out in the open in late 1920s to organize the unemployed and racial minorities until the 1935 switch to popular front. But until then they did some brilliant things. In 1930, they decided on a:
four-pronged “bread and butter” strategy focused on relief, housing, race, and “translocal” issues…issues outside the community which would concern neighborhood residents. (43)
Key issues basic to life itself, but tied into wider struggle through the ‘translocal’ aspect — in Harlem, for example, support for the Scottsboro boys was just one of these, along with anti-lynching legislation, and opposition to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. They had tremendous successes in the early days across the country. Fisher notes that in Detroit, the unemployed councils succeeded in stopping practically all evictions through direct action.
I also love the party’s insistence on complete equality between whites and people of colour in these years, with the party line being:
…the struggle of white workers would never succeed unless workers of all races were included as equal participants (45)
In some ways the shift to the Popular Front strategy and new focus on anti-fascist struggle and union organising was important, but it left hanging all of the work already started. Above all, eradicating racism was left to the side, and members were ordered to abandon work on the councils by 1939. But while it lasted, Fisher argues the CPUSA was successful because it:
emphasized organizational discipline, defined local issues in a national and international context, linked community struggles with those in the workplace, developed alliances between black and white workers, and offered a thorough political analysis of the problems community people faced. Such accomplishments by radicals had rarely been seen before in this country. (49)
political opportunism, its interest in the needs of the Soviet Union over those of American workers, and its autocratic organizational structure, which quashed the type of criticism necessary to prevent ideological and tactical errors… abandonment of African Americans… (49)
There was, however, a developing understanding of organizing and movement. Fisher writes:
There is a complementary relationship between social movement and community organizing. Local organizing oriented to social change can exist without a movement, but it will not thrive for very long. When a movement develops, however, community organizations often ride the wave of mass support. (52)
Out of this ferment Saul Alinsky would emerge, already organising with the CIO through these radical 1930s, already grappling with these connections (more in Alinsky’s own words can be found here). Fisher emphasises the continuities in struggle — Alinsky would apply his work with the CIO to the Back of the Yards neighborhood in a way that Fisher describes as ‘a kind of “trade union in the social factory”‘. While he would later describe himself as an “urban populist”, Alinsky started out in his student days involved in the CP ‘in typical Popular Front terms, as a “professional antifascist.”‘ (56)
As I say, I really like how this contextualises Alinsky’s insights into, and codification of, community organizing. This particularly draws out how the weaknesses of the communist party’s work in its accountability to Moscow rather than to local people almost certainly influenced Alinsky’s move towards a ‘non-ideological’ standpoint which is now where much critique of his methodologies is pointed.
Fisher describes what he believes to be the five essential elements to ‘Alinskyism’, recognizing of course that this simplifies it all a bit, always dangerous:
- The professional organizer is the catalyst for social change. They need to be well-trained, creative, help to make democracy happen.
- The task is to build a democratic community-based organization. Democracy as self-determination, people make the decisions about the things that effect them. The organizer is catalyst for this, not the leader.
- The goal is to win power. ‘Power is the sine qua non of Alinsky organizing. … Neighborhood organizations are seen as the interest groups of the powerless and unorganized.’ (53) This is ultimately based on self-interest.
- Any tactics necessary should be used. I like Fisher’s list: ‘Negotiation, arbitration, protests and demonstrations; boycotts, strikes, and mass meetings; picketing, raising hell, being diplomatic, and being willing to use anything that might work… (54)
- A people’s organization must be pragmatic and nonideological. Alinsky believed ideological organizations were undermined because ‘their organizers came with preconceived ideals, goals and strategies; they did not let neighborhood people make decisions… Only the progressive ideology that people developed themselves would last.’ (55)
Alinsky grounded his pragmatism in the promise of pluralism. He believed that the economic and political system could work for working-class people if they could reach the bargaining-tables of power. (55)
You know that idea’s come in for a lot of critique.
His Back of the Yards campaigning was pretty impressive, and out of it developed some lessons I recognize well: do your homework before the community meeting (you’ll have already talked to everyone to know where they stand, you don’t want no surprises), build the organization by winning victories, use service delivery if you need it but the primary goal is social change.
Of course you also have the Alinsky signature, conflict:
which raised strategy and tactics to paramount importance in community organizing, above and beyond questions of ideology, goals, and even democratic structure. (61)
And beautiful as the Back of the Yards struggle was, it became racist and reactionary, and Alinsky himself came to call this community a hell hole of hate as they fought to keep African Americans out. This perhaps highlights the weaknesses of an organization that puts process over goals, and only discusses tactical questions. Such a strategy only makes sense if the only problem is a lack of power, rather than deeper issues around capitalism itself and how that articulates with race, class, gender and etc. Fisher describes the older Alinsky as essentially cool with liberal capitalism, someone who loved FDR, believed in this ‘interest-group model of democracy’ and did not question capitalism itself. (64) Arguably the lesson here, is that we do need to grapple with ideological understandings, while also some practical focus on building movement and winning things. We can’t forget how important — and how possible — winning things actually is. The struggle is how to tie that into a programme for truly radical transformative social change that can only take place over the long-term.
Winona LaDuke…damn. This collection is so due to be updated (hold on a second, it has been! A new collection, The Winona LaDuke Chronicles, came out this year). Published in 2002 this reader already represents decades of struggle and wisdom, imagine what that must look like now? She is still fighting at Standing Rock, still going strong to defend lands and peoples, still writing and speaking. It is humbling to read these words.
From ‘Building with Reservations’, speaking to architects and educators she described this:
If I were to describe the architecture of my community, I would describe it both as an architecture of poverty and an architecture of what is sacred. … But there is this sorrow–I have to say sorrow–that exists when you are stripped of the cultural integrity of your house, of your architecture, and given something that does not resonate. Sure, it provides a shelter, but as you all know, a house is more than a shelter: it is a home, it is something that reflects you. So that is the architecture of poverty in my community.
And then you have the architecture that is sacred. Next to some of these houses, you’ll see a sweat lodge, or you’ll see a miichwaap, which is like a tepee, but it is used for smoking meat. The most beautiful thing to me is when I consider the fact that a lodge that is used for one of our ceremonies is based on the mirror of a star constellation; it reflects where the poles are located. That, in its essence, is sacred architecture. I think that that is the most beautiful thing in our community. (46-47)
I’m pretty obsessed with with ideas of home, of architecture, I love this redefinition of poverty in architecture which we are in fact seeing in gleaming steel and concrete across all of our cities in the form of luxury apartments built for the global market. So different than pieces of shit HUD homes on the reservation, I don’t mean to compare them in any other sense beyond their bankruptcy of creativity or human feeling.
She talks later on about the importance of culture, the way that in universities it is treated as anthropology and folklore rather than literature and something vibrant and lived. She writes
In my life and in the life of my family, many of us in our community find that those teachings are not about the process of going back, but that’s kind of the mythology that surrounds the view of native people… It’s not about that at all. It’s about recovering that which the Creator gave us as instructions, and then walking that path… (173)
It provides an alternative — not to be appropriated but to be learned from — of systems that value balance and ‘a good life’ over profit. Like this:
There should be beauty in “process,” whether it is harvesting with intelligence, whether it is the use of recycled materials, or whether it is observing energy efficiency. (53)
It is particularly explicit in the essay on ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Futures’, a term I know has been problematised, but which lays out a different basis and a better source of expertise for our thinking about how we relate to the world around us:
Traditional Ecological knowledge is the culturally and spiritually based way in which indigenous peoples relate to their ecosystems. This knowledge is founded on spiritual-cultural instructions from “time immemorial” and on generations of observation within an ecosystem of continuous residence. I believe that this knowledge also represents the clearest empirically based system for resource management and ecosystem protection in North America, and I will argue that native societies’ knowledge surpasses the scientific and social knowledge of the dominant society in its ability to provide information and a management style for environmental planning. (78)
It is based around a very different idea of success, of life’s meaning.
“Minobimaatisiiwin,” or the “good life,” is the basic objective of the Anishinaabeg and Cree people who have historically, and to this day, occupied a great portion of the north-central region of the North American continent. An alternative interpretation of the word is “continuous rebirth.” This is how we traditionally understand the world and how indigenous societies have come to live within natural law. Two tenets are essential to this paradigm: cyclical thinking and reciprocal relations and responsibilities to the Earth and creation. Cyclical thinking, common to most indigenous or land-based cultures and value systems, is an understanding that the world (time, and all parts of the natural order-including the moon, the tides, women, lives, seasons, or age) flows in cycles. Within this understanding is a clear sense of birth and rebirth and a knowledge that what one does today will affect one in the future, on the return. A second concept, reciprocal relations, defines responsibilities and ways of relating between humans and the ecosystem. (79)
I don’t know how different, in fact, Minobimaatisiiwin actually is from what most people outside of these traditions would term a fulfilling life, but we have still bowed before money and power as measures of success and as enough justification for any number of terrible things. She describes a very different understanding of development, light years removed from that which now prevails but without question one way, perhaps the only way, to step back from the precipice of ecological disaster:
By its very nature, “development”–or, concomitantly, an “economic system” based on these ascribed Indigenous values-must be decentralized, self-reliant, and very closely based on the carrying capacity of that ecosystem. (80)
And this is, indeed, a very good question:
I believe there is a more substantial question meriting discussion: Can North American society craft the social fabric to secure a traditional management practice, based on consensual understanding and a collective process? (82)
I am taking these out of order here, thinking about how this all connects to our relationship to the earth, that perhaps many of our problems emerge because we have been so divorced from place:
Implicit in the concept of Minobimaatisiiwin is a continuous inhabitation of place, an intimate understanding of the relationship between humans and the ecosystem, and the need to maintain that balance. These values and basic tenets of culture made it possible for the Cree, Ojibway, and many other indigenous peoples to maintain economic, political, religious, and other institutions for generations in a manner that would today be characterized as sustainable.4 (80)
She returns later to this topic:
Native environmental groups have a commitment and tenacity that springs from place. “This is where my grandmother’s and children’s umbilical cords are buried … That is where the great giant lay down to sleep … That is the last place our people stopped in our migration here to this village.” Our relationships to land and water is continuously reaffirmed through prayer, deed, and our way of life. Our identity as human beings is founded on creation stories tying us to the earth, and to a way of being, minobimaatisiiwin, “the good life.” (57-58)
It is not just positionality and the structural oppression faced by indigenous communities, but this connection to place that drives experience, meaning and struggle.
All this to say that Native communities are not in a position to compromise, because who we are is our land, our trees, and our lakes. This is central to our local and collective work. (62)
There is a lot about land in here, and what has destroyed traditional connections to it:
The governance of this land by traditional ecological knowledge has been adversely affected by genocide, colonialism, and subsequent circumstances that need to be considered in the current dialogue on North American resource management, the role of the environmental movement, and indigenous peoples. (82)
She describes the two worldviews at play:
The conflict between two paradigms-industrial thinking and indigenous thinking-becomes central to the North American and, indeed to the worldwide, environmental and economic crisis. … For many indigenous peoples, the reality is as sociologist Ivan Illich has suggested: development practices are in fact a war on subsistence. (86-87)
Capitalism, industrialism…can the two be separated? But it is definitely a war and this seems to be exactly the idea that we might belong to the earth that is being decimated. The clearances and enclosures in Europe were to the same end.
Akiing is the word for land in our language, and in the indigenous concept of land ownership or the Anishinaabeg concept of land ownership, it is much more a concept that we belong to that land than the land belongs to us. … land tenure itself and concepts of land ownership are of course a concept of culture–they are a concept of your teachings, a construct of how you are raised and how you live in your community. (138)
Important to always remember that these things are not natural or self-evident but constructed. And the creation of the US is definitely one of predator…I am pondering how this might help us think about the political economy of land.
Indigenous people traditionally have been the people who have lived on the land, but the predator/prey relationship that exists between America and the land is one that has caused the constant erosion and taking of the indigenous land base in the Americas. And it has caused the constant erosion and the taking of other people’s land outside of that context as well. (143)
Again mobility, predation, frontiers, all those things that capital needs, as opposed to connection, balance, care…
One of the challenges that we have in America is that America is built on conquest, not on survival. It is a society, by and large, based on the concept that there is always a West, always a frontier. There will always be someplace to go. We don’t necessarily have to give thanks for where we are because we’re moving.
That is the challenge..This conceptual framework between one worldview and another worldview, indigenous and industrial, or land-based and predator….the predator world-view. It is, in fact, manifest in how we live here. And every ecological crisis we have today is a direct consequence of that… (180)
From the land to rights as Native women, I loved her speech ‘I fight like a woman’ from the UN Conference on Women in China, 1995.
As one woman, Corrine Kumar from the Asian Women’s Human Rights Association explained simply, “From the periphery of power human rights looks different.” (205)
A challenge to mobile, global power to look those it is destroying in the eye:
Vicki Corpuz is an Igarok woman from the Philippines, head of the Cordinera Women’s Association. … “We found that a lot of our problems were related to trans-national corporations and institutions. And we thought it was time to get more accountability from them. We can do basic empowerment work here – but all the decisions are actually made elsewhere. They should have to look at us in the face when they make those decisions.” (208)
The need for indigenous peoples (as true of other struggles) to operate at a global level…
It was several years ago Mililani Trask, Kia Aina or Head of State of the Native Hawaiian Nation changed her mind about work. “The real reason why all Indigenous people have to be apprised of, or involved in the international arena is because their individual land-based struggles will be impacted by these nation states and international interests.” (209)
More on militarism — I love this quote, hate what the US and others are doing on other people’s lands…
Militarism is a form of colonization which takes away from our lives. That future is without hope for us. But, we will fight for our rights. I believe in nonviolence and civil disobedience. I am ready to go to jail, to take blows or die for our cause, because I believe in the struggle for the freedom of my people. I don’t want your sympathy, I want your support, your strong and collective support against the oppression of your government. What are need is your resistance.” Penote Ben Michel made this plea at a 31 January 1987 conference in Montreal on militarism in Labrador/Nitassinan. (230)
I am furious with Geroge Dubya all over again. I volunteered to do precinct walking for Kerry in Vegas I was so furious with that man. Might have campaigned for her, though, if I’d been a little more woke, though I still might have bowed to the dual party system.
This is from her acceptance speech for the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate, running with Nader.
I am not inclined toward electoral politics. Yet I am impacted by public policy. I am interested in reframing the debate on the issues of this society — the distribution of power and wealth, the abuse of power and the rights of the natural world, the environment and the need to consider an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in which all decisions made today will be considered in light of their impact on the seventh generation from now. That is, I believe, what sustainability is all about. These are vital subjects which are all too often neglected by the rhetoric of “major party” candidates and the media.
I believe that decision making should not be the exclusive right of the privileged. (267)
All of that. We need all of that.
This is only a sampling of some of what I loved most/have been thinking about most recently. There is so much more here, and of course so much more written since this was published.
[LaDuke, Winona (2002) The Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.]
It’s been a full-on few days of action hosted by the People’s Assembly, as it should be with the Tories busy sticking knives into each other at their annual party conference as people die from their benefit cuts, sanctions, mental health cuts, NHS cuts, housing sell off and etc. That’s what my sign would have said — or some snappier version of that — had I made one. Danielle and I did a lot, though not even close to all.
Saturday night? The Dancehouse, to see much-loved Maxine Peake (OMG Maxine Peake!) and Mark Serwotka (OMG Mark Serwotka! How much do I want to be able to join PCS? Let me count the ways…), to love for the first time comedian Barbara Nice (OMG Barbara Nice!).
Sunday was the protest of the Tory conference proper. It’s kind of funny, remembering back to the first time I ever visited Manchester, on a bus up from South London to protest Tory Party Conference in 2011. I confess I was a bit unimpressed with everything but the canals and the Peak of Peveril Pub — but I was here. Doesn’t feel it could possibly have been as long as 6 years ago. We could get closer to conference then, but they are still using those silver walls. 2011:
The anti-Brexit contingent, and ‘Boris’ on a unicorn singing busily, 2016:
We headed down Castlefields way, heard Mark Serwotka again (OMG Mark Serwotka again!) speak by chance. Then we ran into Jon and the next few speakers were yawny in the way lefty men of a certain generation can be, so we took a short break for art.
Alongside us in the Museum of Science and Industry was Nikhil Chopra in the second half of his 48-hour performance art piece, performed in front of one of the engines built in Manchester, but sent to India and used during the partition. This ink drawing, a re-imagining of passage. This sleeping and camping and being in public for 48 hours — it is what refugees undergo, isn’t it, part of the horror wrapped up in horrors of this thing, being a refugee. Always in public. Always moving. Always somewhere you don’t belong. And it challenged me in watching it, the shame of being comfortable in the face of this discomfort, in the memory of this tragedy. I lowered my eyes to give privacy to this figure on the stage, then took a picture to remember the provocative nature of this intervention because after all it is ‘art’, it is a gift and a challenge thrown at us by someone who is also not here under duress. A challenge I don’t know quite how to live up to, but I hope to. Through my work around homelessness perhaps, through struggle. I don’t know if that is enough.
That left us pensive, subdued, strange to go back out into a crowd. But it fit. As in all damn marches we stood and we stood and we waited and we waited. I didn’t get many pictures, but a few. The highlights were absolutely the drums, I enjoyed myself, and then…we left them behind.
It was all right, the march. They always are.
And then we had to find food and drink and wait and wait, because we had been promised Captain Ska and Lokey, and finally they were on and finally we danced. For me this was…amazing. The power and passion and incredible words and beats. Damn.
I hurt the next morning. First time exercising since holiday, then a march and then dancing? Shit.
Still, I went to work. And then in the evening off to Manchester Cathedral to see John McDonnell speak in conversation with Gary Younge. Because I promised Danielle. To be honest, were it just me, I would have headed straight for bed with some Horlicks. But I went. And I was glad.
First we had some workers… From the strikers at McDonalds! so amazing, I remember my minimum wage fast food /Kmart days, I know just how amazing these folks are for carrying off a strike.
RMT! Strike across the North East for passenger safety!
Careworkers! She almost had me in tears.
Communications union — our postal workers! Anxiously awaiting ballot results when he spoke, but today we know the vote is to strike.
And then, John McDonnell!
I’m sad Gary Younge didn’t get to make a speech too. But ah well, McDonnell said Labour was in full support of the workers, they would re-nationalise the trains and the post, they would fully fund the NHS and support careworkers, they would implement the living wage. I never thought, to be honest, I’d ever hear anyone in a position like that of shadow vice-chancellor ever say such things. It solved all the problems expressed earlier in one sentence.
Last time I saw him speak was in 2011 (the parallels between 2011 and 2017 are only now striking me), at the People’s Assembly in Brixton that we organised as Lambeth SOS. He was a little less formal then, but sounded just the same.
I jotted down a few notes, some sound bites and I don’t even care because they were brilliant, all in response to some really good questions.I can’t swear any of these are exact quotes, so don’t quote me.
We’re not just a party we’re a movement again … if owned by the people change becomes unstoppable…
(I am a bit skeptical about whether the old left can deal with democracy and youth and people of colour and women, but, you know, I have hope).
This is not a free market but a rigged market of the 1%.
We need to wipe out UKIP.
In response to a good question about why this change is so damn long in coming and so resisted (someone yelled out Tony Blair and we all laughed because we knew it was true), he brought it on with Gramsci — the hegemonic nature of neoliberalism (also true).
Never again should we pay for their crisis.
Education is a gift from one generation to another, not a commodity.
Then he went on about a new education service, starting with sure start, a new approach that pays teachers but also respects them, support for apprenticeships, scrap tuition fees, EMA returned, debt forgiven, support for lifelong education.
And the end? I was wondering when this would come up — the focus on climate change, on developing the economy through green tech owned by workers cooperatives, on decarbonising the economy, ending fracking. It was like the Hallelujah chorus.
A brilliant night. A night of hope. We need those, I feel privileged to have enjoyed one because it has been a very long time…
Participation: The New Tyranny? was so good. I so rarely find books on international development so good, Hamdi and Kaplan are maybe rare exceptions, but this raised so many of the real issues with participatory development and action. Above all, the way it has been stripped of its radical, emancipatory content and understandings of structural power (though interwoven here is more discussion of some of the micro-levels of power as well, what we internalize…). I would hope that we could now start discussions of community development with this book in mind and just build on it — whether international or home grown. I am still bemused at how little the two talk to each other, another enduring effect of racism and empire. Sadly, too, I was listening to a panel on international development all about co-production just a few weeks ago, and really ‘co-production’ is just this repackaged. You hear it all over the damn place these days. But no one there really spoke at this level of thinking, I don’t think they could have read it. They stumbled in this direction instead. Rather tragic.
Cooke, Bill and Kothari, Uma ‘The Case for Participation as Tyranny’, 1-15
The editors write:
Our primary aim with this book is to provide a set of more rigorous and critical insights into the participatory development discourse than has hitherto been the case, through a conceptual and ideological examination of its theory, methods and practices. (2)
They identify three sets of tyrannies (their words, my bullet points):
Tyranny of decision making and control – does it override existing legitimate decision-making processes?
Tyranny of the group – do group dynamics lead to participatory decisions that reinforce the interests of the already powerful?
Tyranny of method – Have participatory methods driven out others which have advantages participation cannot provide? (7-8)
These are the questions everyone should be checking their practice with, right? Especially when an ‘expert’ is coming into a new community they don’t perhaps fully understand, and where there is no trust.
Some of the potential overarching problems they identify:
…the naivety of assumptions about the authenticity of motivations and behavior in participatory processes, how the language of empowerment masks a real concern for managerialist effectiveness; the quasi-religious associations of participatory rhetoric and practice; and how an emphasis on the micro level of intervention can obscure, and indeed sustain, broader macro-level inequalities and injustice. (14)
Exactly right. I thought perhaps I might stop here with the intro, that the case studies from around the world wouldn’t be as important. But they are amazing, and I am fascinated with their range, and how each of them illustrates one or another of the basic issues that arose for us working in LA, though of course with a richness all their own and very different specifics around the context and politics and the kind of requirements on funding (though somehow not that different) and the exact brand of prejudices development figures might be starting with. So. The chapters.
David Mosse: ‘People’s Knowledge’, Participation and Patronage: Operations and Representations in Rural Development’, 16-35
I liked the summary from the introduction:
‘local knowledge’, far from determining planning processes and outcomes, is often structured by them. For example, what in one case was expressed as a ‘local need’ was actually shaped by local perceptions of what the agency in question could legitimately and realistically be expected to deliver. Indeed, participatory planning’ may, more accurately, be viewed as the acquisition and manipulation of a new ‘planning knowledge’ rather than the incorporation of ‘people’s knowledge’ by projects. 8
That catches it in a nutshell, but to add some more depth because I loved this interrogation of both knowledge and planning:
The critical point is that what is taken as ‘people’s knowledge’ is itself constructed in the context of planning and reflects the social relationships that planning systems entail. As Long and Villareal point out, knowledge must be looked at relationally, that is, as a product of social relationships and not as a fixed commodity. (17)
Mosse describes participatory processes as particularly ‘subject to the effects of dominance’ because they are public, often with authority figures and outsiders present, and there is a lot at stake in controlling the outcomes. (19) He continues to look at how local hierarchies operate, how communities try to use the language of planning and work within a project framework and their understandings of both its limits (what solutions or resources are available) as well what kinds of action it considers to be legitimate, these can be manipulated to address what they feel are the real needs, though this may not be openly discussed. Because of course people do this, they aren’t stupid.
What Mosse describes is how people manipulate a system to their own ends, but pf course the organizations facilitating that system are doing likewise — this process is used to legitimate and advance their own agenda and of course must quantify its successes, number its activities, justify its spending. It’s complicated. ‘Participatory’ does not always mean better. It can serve to advance technocracy and bureaucracy as much as to combat it.
Cleaver, Frances ‘Institutions, Agency and the Limitations of Participatory Approaches to Development’, 36-55
Cleaver writes of participation as an act of faith with three main tenets:
that participation is intrinsically a ‘good thing’ (especially for the participants); that a focus on ‘getting the techniques right’ is the principal way of ensuring the success of such approaches; and that considerations of power and politics on the whole should be avoided as divisive and obstructive. (36)
Blimey. Not wonder shit is going wrong. She notes how different this is from roots in radical empowerment a la Freire:
associated with both individual and class action, with the transformation of structures of subordination through radical changes…The model of ‘participation’ implied is of development practitioners working with poor people to struggle actively for change.
But she continues:
Sadly, such ideas are ‘rather out of fashion in development’ outside of feminist scholarship and the Latin American participatory tradition. (37)
So sad. I loved too how she lists just how much else is missed, where the focus is misplaced. This is particularly apt for communities I’ve worked in:
‘Participation’ in development activities has been translated into a managerial exercise based on ‘toolboxes’ of procedures and techniques…This limited approach to participation gives rise to a number of critical tensions… While we emphasize the desirability of empowerment, project approaches remain largely concerned with efficiency. While we recognize the importance of institutions, we focus attention only on the highly visible, formal, local organizations, overlooking the numerous communal activities that occur through daily interactions and socially embedded arrangements. … The time is ripe for a critical re-analysis of ‘participatory approaches’. (53)
Hildyard, Nicholas; Hegde, Pandurang, Wolvekamp, Paul and Reddy, Somasekhare ‘Pluralism, Participation and Power: Joint Forest Management in India’, 56-71
I loved this one, connecting the very different ways people understand both their relationships to their environment and to society. I’m reading a collection of essays by Winona La Duke at the moment, and this rings so true…
For Forest Department officials, forests may be what pass across their desks, for villagers they represent secure water supplies, the availability of fodder for animals, medicines for friends or family, places to play or sources of spiritual power. Similarly, ‘participation’ covers a spectrum of meanings: for many project managers, it may signal a means to cut costs, secure cheap labor or co-opt opposition; for marginalized groups, by contrast, it is a right–both a means to an end and an end in itself. (56)
The authors brilliantly shows how the most ‘participatory’ processes occurred where villagers were already organized and had already ‘taken matters into their own hands’, a kind of after the fact legitimization (62). Part of this victory has involved showing the corruption and inefficiency of the Forest Department, but in turn this has been manipulated by other interests desiring privatization — how the issue ultimately gets framed will be a political battle and determined by power and will…
John Hailey ‘Beyond the Formulaic: Process and Practice in South Asian NGOs’, 88-101
This, to me, is both brilliant and painfully stating the obvious. An obvious thing that can never be stated too often. It points to the way that formulaic use of tools and techniques can result in formulaic responses — that more depends on relationships as well as personalities than the tools in the box. (59)
The case studies presented here show the importance of long-term commitment to communities and to such relationships, the need for years — YEARS — of building trust and ‘walking and talking’ with communities. Of course, I say, of course it takes years. But it just needs to be repeated and repeated and repeated, because funders never like you to work this way.
The article goes on to look at what discourse of participation says about those promoting it and why they might do so — it’s not pretty, because of course it emerges from the cold war, discourses of Western democracy. It is essentially designed to undercut more radical interpretations and participatory action and to wipe out any leanings towards revolt. No wonder a model is promoted that won’t work.
Taylor, Harry ‘Insights into Participation from Critical Management and Labour Process Perspectives’, 122-138
They discuss how the word ‘participatory’ is being used to give:
the “sense” and warm emotional pull of participation without its substance, and thus an attempt to placate those without power and obscure the real levers of power inherent in the social relations of global capitalism. (125)
Instituting participation at a certain, limited level shuts down more radical demands and potential for more radical democratization. They give the example of the move from direct control of Taylorization to more internalised control involved in more participatory post-fordist structures. I liked this:
Participation is only radical if there is a ‘challenge from below’ (136)
Kothari, Uma ‘Power, knowledge and Social Control in Participatory Development’, 139-152
More about the constructions of knowledge, and more in the sense of a warning, how it can all go wrong. Which is needed, and its needed to be mindful of it:
…knowledge is culturally, socially and politically produced and is continuously reformulated as a powerful normative construct. Knowledge is thus an accumulation of social norms, rituals and practices that, far from being constructed in isolation from power relations, is embedded in them (or against them). However, the creation of dichotomies of power within participatory discourse (the haves and the have-nots) allows the revealing of power not as a social and political discourse or as embodied practice, but only as manifest in material realities. Thus participatory approaches can unearth who gets what, when and where, but not necessarily the processes by which this happens or the ways in which the knowledge produced through participatory techniques is a normalized one that reflects and articulates wider power relations in society. (141)
Participation can thus lead to continued dominance, to the
reification of social norms through self-surveillance and consensus building, and that it “purifies” knowledge and the spaces of participation in terms of how it demands certain kinds of performances to be enacted’. (142)
On the other hand, Kothari notes a:
general failing among development practitioners to recognize or acknowledge the capacity of individuals and groups to resist inclusion, resist projections about their lives, retain information, knowledge and values, and act out a performance and in so doing present themselves in a variety of ways. (151)
I think evolving a genuinely emancipatory practice over years in the community can overcome all of this, is in fact the only real way to do so, but that superficial processes run by people with such blindnesses…well. It is hard to find hope in them. This leads us to the penultimate chapter:
Mohan, Giles ‘Beyond Participation: Strategies for Deeper Empowerment’, 153-167
It looks at postcolonial critiques and imagines a new participation:
‘Participatory development could follow these notions of hybridity that acknowledge that inequalities of power exist, but looks at this productively rather than attempting to minimize a differential which cannot be readily removed. the first move is to acknowledge that those we view as powerless are not (cites Rahnema 1992, and Scott 1990) (164)
This helps us move beyond patronizing attitudes, imagining resistance as only a subject outside of and against power structures.
Over all a brilliant volume to return to, because I didn’t even get to everyone in this post…
[Cooke, Bill and Kothari, Uma, eds. (2004) Participation: The New Tyranny. London: Zed Books.]
I just finished I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita. The last book started on a holiday that already seems months ago. It is splendid, one of the best things I have ever read I think for its power of storytelling, its innovations, its illustrations, the way it brings together these interconnecting lives circled around a single building and a struggle to change the world.
Two full years of my own life were spent in just such a struggle to save a residential hotel, our Morrison Hotel a mix of white, Latinx, African American, ours not knitted deep into an activist community through shop fronts or anything like the community of old Manilatown. Ours sat where it once fitted the scale and character of the street, but the long-ago razing of neighbourhood had left it more isolated, almost anomalous so close to the convention centre. Our generation did not believe the revolution was upon us, did not quote Mao to frame our defiance of capitalism, did not raise fists over small points of praxis. yet so much resonated, it made me ache. I miss my LA family.
I loved all of it, could have quoted anywhere, but you know the bit I am quoting ridiculously extensively below is about cities–like Tropic of Orange, this is all about the city but so different from that novel… This is long, also brilliant in how it says so much about the place of hotels in our world of work and poverty, about home, about nation, and opening with the solidarities that were, that could be, that should be built:
Thus we emerged from every living crevice in our hilly city, every tenement, blighted Victorian, public housing project, cheap hotel, single or collective rental, many of us the forgotten and abandoned people whose voices were muffled in the underbelly of working poverty, stuffed into the various ethnic ghettos, we the immigrants from the Old and New Worlds, from the black and white South and tribal America, we the dockworkers from the long shore, we the disabled and disavowed vets, we the gay and leathered, we the garment workers, restaurant workers, postal and clerical workers, we who praised the Lord in his house at Glide and his People’s Temple, we of the unions, tired and poor, we the people.
But why save an old hotel?
Because if we remembered the history of our city we would remember how frontier towns began: with a trading post and a saloon with a second floor of lodging rooms. … When we took everything away and thought only about the second floor of lodging rooms, we remembered that people have always come from distances and had to be accommodated, given shelter and a bed, and what we used to call board…
This basic town got complicated and multiplied into a thing we call a city, with every kind of reinvented trading post and saloon and lodging that over time we could imagine. And we supposed that the history of any city could be told through the comings and goings of any trading post or saloon, but thinking as we do, as people coming to the city to find work to pay for shelter and board, whether just for ourselves or for our families accompanying or left behind, it was the lodging that most concerned us. And we could see how city life and hotel life were inextricably connected, and what the city had to offer had a home in the hotel. Over time, we’d forgotten that hotels in our city have long served as temporary but also permanent homes, that living in hotels had been a normal consequence of living in our city. From the inception of our city, our city life could perhaps be translated as hotel life, the way that we as young, single, and independent people could arrive to find work in the industry of the city, find the small cafes and bars, theaters and social clubs, laundries, shops, and bookstores, all within walking distance or perhaps a cable stop away. Even if we did not actually live in hotels, we may have participated in, if not considered, the simple luxuries of life: the bustling social life of our streets, the hotels’ communal restaurants and social galas, the convenience of maid service and bedsheets changed, the possibility of being completely freed from any housework, the possible leisure to think or to create, and finally the anonymity and privacy of a room of our own. Hotel life defined the freedom of the city, but such freedom has been for some reason suspect, and there are always those who want to police freedom.
Finally, like the society that evolved in our city, there have been, of course, hotels for those with money and hotels for those of us with not so much money. And even though the city required our labor and allowed us housing in cheap hotels, in time we came to know that laboring people are necessary but considered transitory. Eventually, it was thought, we’d just go away or become invisible. So even if hotels depended on our constant occupancy, we were not considered permanent or stable members of society. We did not own homes. We may have had families, but hotels were suspect places to raise children, and so we were suspect families. Our communal lives in hotels with shared bathrooms and shared dining, shared genders, shared ethnicities, and heaven forbid, shared thinking that might lead to shared politics, were also suspect. Hotel life might even be subversive. A famous scholar who studied our hotel life warned us that when there are no homes, there will be no nation. But what did he mean by home? And, for that matter, what did he mean by nation?
By the time we got the red alert to place our bodies in a human barricade around an old hotel that held seventy years of our city’s hotel history, we were already the displaced people in the city’s plan to impose a particular meaning of home and a particular meaning of nation. Since our hotel life was considered suspect morally and socially, our hotels should naturally be replaced by proper single-family houses built in locations distant from the city, and our hotels and all our businesses that services us should be replaced with what the city was properly useful for: trading posts, jails, courthouses, and saloons. And no one should be allowed to live over a saloon unless he was just passing through. A commercial room was simply not a dwelling. These edicts were substantiated by zoning and blight laws…Almost as quickly as an earthquake, our neighborhoods located in the Fillmore and South of Market were already razed and being replaced by forty-eight-story multinational corporate trading posts. Even if we were expected to build, maintain, clean, and service these posts, we weren’t expected to live anywhere nearby. Be at work promptly at eight a.m., but please, please disappear by five p.m. But this was an impossible request because we could not leave, and we had nowhere to go. (588-591)
We could not leave, and had nowhere to go.
I love how this situates the residential hotel in a long history of city building, in the development of our urban form. How little things have really changed — though this makes me see US cities with new eyes. Seeing the saloon, the trading post, the lodging house. The change is in the way that capital is working, the way that workers are no longer welcome in the city centre, the disciplining of the poor into certain kinds of homes or punitively forcing them into homelessness. This captures both so beautifully, captures just what it was we were fighting over — not just the profit that owners wished to make on a building they had violently extracted every penny from at the cost of its tenants, but their ability to flick aside human beings and their security and their dreams as if they were nothing. The structural workings of race and class and labour and value that made such cruelty possible. The I Hotel was lost in 1977, and still we were fighting in 2007. Others still fight today, is there any organisation I love and respect more than LA CAN?
As two thousand of us were eventually bullied away from the hotel entrance, we saw our sheriff enter at the head of his deputies, leading them into the hotel and the final phase of the eviction, breaking into the doors of each of the hotel tenants and ordering them to leave their homes. And yes, we knew that each room was a tiny home, a place of final refuge for a lifetime of work, and the the room, though housed in a hotel, was sill a home. (591-592)
The last paragraph excavates something inside of me. Why we do, why we write.
And in time we may remember, collecting every little memory, all the bits and pieces, into a larger memory, rebuilding a great layered and labyrinthine, now imagined, international hotel of many rooms, the urban experiment of a homeless community built to house the needs of temporary lives. And for what? To resist death and dementia. To haunt a disappearing landscape. To forever embed this geography with our visions and voices. To kiss the past and you good-bye, leaving the indelible spit of our DNA on still moist lips. Sweet. Sour. Salty. Bitter. (605)
[Karen Tei Yamashita (2010) I Hotel. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press.]
I, Daniel Blake was my first screenplay, I found it quite a fascinating read after watching the film and reading lots of interviews and watching lots of Loach’s other films and writing a film review (another thing done! Whew). I might have done all of this in the wrong order, but I liked seeing where things started and comparing that to where things ended up. I liked seeing where they had stuck tightly to the script, and where actors had improvised lines. I liked how Laverty wrote their lines, disjointed, like speech actually comes. I liked seeing the sections cut, and the pieces added. You get a much better sense of the process of making a film, the collaboration involved — the extras in here, interviews and bios, add even more insight. And of course, as I always love most about reading, you can linger, go at your own pace. Sometimes I resent how films hurtle you through space and time, or like this one, drag you towards an ending you know will momentarily blot out your sun.
And of course, it was as powerful, though I didn’t cry quite as much because I find words a kind of buffer between events and my tear ducts though not my emotions. I liked that too. Still, this ending…it gets me.
They call this a “pauper’s funeral” because it’s the cheapest slot, at 9:00. But Dan wasn’t a pauper to us. He gave us things that money can’t buy. When he died, I found this on him. He always used to write in pencil. And he wanted to read it at his appeal but he never got the chance to. And I swear that this lovely man, had so much more to give, and that the State drove him to an early grave.
And this is what he wrote.
“I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user…. I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, nor a thief… I’m not a National Insurance Number or blip on a screen… I paid my dues, never a penny short, and proud to do so. I don’t tug the forelock, but look my neighbour in the eye and help him if I can. I don’t accept or seek charity. My name is Daniel Blake. I am a man, not a dog. As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more and nothing less. Thank you.