Community Organizers & Organizing Principles in Community Democracy

August 24, 2016 | Garland Yates, Managing Director & Senior Fellow |Garland Yates

Through Community Democracy Workshop (CDW), we work with residents to put them in more powerful positions to help change their communities. We want to build local constituencies of residents connected to each other and not necessarily part of any organizational framework. It is about making change happen based on what residents think should happen and building their power and capacity to be successful. This is at the root of community democracy.

But to achieve this we need to make connections with people in communities who are already doing community organizing. In community democracy approaches, we use what we can discern from studying the “science” of community organizing and work with community organizers to mobilize constituencies of residents and key institutions around a sustainable resident-focused agenda for long-term change.

Though critically important, it is not just about funding community organizing. The goal is to put in place a web of working relationships between residents and institutions — to help them mobilize into constituencies that work for long term changes in their communities. With a community democracy approach, we place ourselves in strategic conversations with the key local stakeholders so that we are not working in the abstract.

The notion of working to build constituencies of residents that aren’t connected to any one organizational structure will seem strange to many people. Local stakeholders likely won’t fully grasp the idea at first. They are unlikely to see a connection between the science of community organizing as an academic subject or theoretical concept that deals with the theory and practice of community organizing. Community organizing pedagogy typically means changing communities through building the strongest possible organization.


A Foundation for Successful Community Democracy

CDW is committed to the science and traditions of community organizing as a big part of the engine for long-term sustainable community change. We draw from community organizing as a solid strategy for building support for programs and policies with greater equity and inclusion outcomes. It defines how we intend to go about our work: building relationships, doing research, building knowledge. These are some of the basic tenets of successful community organizing that forms the foundation for successful community democracy practice.

We need to involve community organizers and community organizing principles in community democracy approaches. With institutional stakeholders, this approach might be unsettling, but we have to help them feel comfortable about walking into a process that potentially is confrontational. We must concentrate on making space around the table safe. Not false or phony, but safe. Residents and representatives from institutions will need to be honest and frank with each other and address real issues, but in a productive manner. We must use our influence and role to help create that kind of environment so that our communities can have the power and capacity to see the changes they want to see.

 

Garland Yates is managing director and senior fellow at Community Democracy Workshop. Garland can be reached at garland@cdworkshop.org.