September 23, 2010; Source: BeyondChron | Randy Shaw is one of the co-founders of the nonprofit Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the author of the well-read The Activist’s Handbook, and founder and editor of BeyondChron, one of the Bay Area’s alternative papers. In the latest issue of the paper, he reviews a new book on community organizing, Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing.
The authors (Robert Fisher, James DeFellipis, and Eric Shragge) contend that long-term goals of economic and social justice have been marginalized in the agenda of community organizing. They criticize Alinsky-oriented community organizations and even ACORN (when it was still alive) for “failing to educate members on the long term view” and, like ACORN, emphasizing “winnable fights” that leads to a focus on small-scale struggles.
Shaw notes the failure of foundations to support community organizing as they might and suggests that “a viable economic model for visionary social change community organizations is lacking.” Shaw finds it ironic that, despite the election of America’s “first ‘community organizer’ President, funding for organizing has never been more scarce.”
This is hardly the first time that we’ve reported on someone (usually Pablo Eisenberg) bemoaning foundations’ inadequate funding for organizing. Perhaps organizers ought to be organizing the foundations, taking aim at the half-trillion dollars they control in tax exempt assets. They should also do more than thank the occasional community organizing funder with the hope that other foundations will get a clue.—Rick Cohen