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Organizing Urban America

Organizing Urban America: Secular and Faith-based Progressive Movements

Heidi J. Swarts
Volume: 28
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Organizing Urban America
    Book Description:

    Heidi J. Swarts explores activist groups’ cultural, organizational, and political strategies. Focusing on ACORN chapters and church federations, Swarts demonstrates how congregation-based organizing has developed an innovative cultural strategy, and how ACORN’s national structure allows it to coordinate campaigns quickly. By making these often-invisible grassroots organizers evident, Swarts sheds light on factors that constrain or enable other social movements in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5384-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction. Invisible Actors: Community Organizing, Agenda Setting, and American Social Movements
    (pp. xiii-xxxii)

    In 2001, Santa Clara County, California, committed to providing health insurance to 100 percent of its children. From 2002 to 2004 the county recruited 25 percent more children into existing programs and enrolled another 15,000 children in a new program that brought $24.4 million in new funds into the county.

    On November 2, 2004, George W. Bush won the presidential campaign in the state of Florida. Less well publicized was a ballot measure to raise the Florida minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.15, with annual wage increases indexed to inflation. It passed by 72 percent, making Florida the...

  6. 1 Different Mobilizing Cultures: Congregation-based Organizing and ACORN
    (pp. 1-44)

    InAvoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life,Nina Eliasoph suggests that “a crucial dimension of power is the power to create the contexts of public life itself. . . . Without this power to create the etiquette for political participation, citizens are powerless.”¹ The organizations in this study all create distinct etiquettes and cultures of political participation. Organizations are not unified actors; even relatively small ones are complex, often with competing factions and conflicting interests. Nor can organizational culture be reduced merely to a set of tools that organizations self-consciously use strategically, although Ann Swidler’s metaphor of...

  7. 2 Religion and Progressive Politics: Congregation-based Community Organizing’s Innovative Cultural Strategy
    (pp. 45-70)

    Church-based community organizing and ACORN are both growing forms of civic engagement. In this chapter I show that CBCO has contributed a unique mobilizing culture to the repertoire of American social movements. While this culture is made up of sincerely held beliefs, it is also a strategy. I use the term “cultural strategy” in two ways. The original choice by the Industrial Areas Foundation to organize a broad-based social change movement through churches was a cultural as well as a structural strategy; that is, besides pursuing the sheer structural availability of the resources and social networks of churches, CBCOs sought...

  8. 3 Experimenting with National Organizing Campaigns: ACORN’S Innovative Political Strategy
    (pp. 71-90)

    ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has represented low- to moderate-income people since its founding in 1970. From the beginning, it has seen itself as both a poor people’s interest group and part of a broad populist movement for social change. I argued in chapter 2 that CBCO’s most original contribution to American social movements is a unique mobilizing culture that can unite a diverse constituency and avoid political minefields common in American movements. ACORN, like church-based community organizing and all organizations that mobilize adherents, has its own characteristic norms, but its methods of mobilizing members are...

  9. 4 Organizing Is a Numbers Game: St. Louis ACORN
    (pp. 91-109)

    On a January day in 1998, several people gathered surreptitiously in the cavernous rotunda of St. Louis City Hall. They waited for other carloads of people to arrive. One young woman asked an organizer, “We gonna get locked up?” Jackson,¹ the ACORN organizer, said firmly, “No! We’re taxpayers; we have a right to visit the mayor.” When the others arrived, the sixteen young black city residents and the three organizers, Tony, Bill, and Jackson, took the two elevators to the second floor. In the elevator, Jackson asked Bill, “What are we going to chant?” Bill thought a moment and said...

  10. 5 A Seat at the Regional Table: Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis
    (pp. 110-126)

    On September 28, 1997, in St. Louis, 750 church members sacrificed their Sunday afternoon to attend a “Public Meeting on Smart Growth” in the echoing gymnasium of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Their program included a “theological statement on smart growth.” Two children, one black and one white, recited “prayers for their future.” Then the president of Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis (MCU) took the podium. The Rev. Sylvester Laudermill Jr., African Methodist Episcopal (AME), led the crowd in a song he wrote:

    God made this world and we are God’s people

    We’ve been entrusted—this land...

  11. 6 La Puebla Unida: ACORN in the Sunbelt
    (pp. 127-141)

    On a warm May evening in 1998, over ninety people filled the large meeting room of the Hank Lopez Community Center on San Jose’s East Side. The meeting’s leaders—five Hispanic women, one Hispanic man, and one black man—sat up front behind tables, against the backdrop of a large ACORN banner and logo. Half of the crowd consisted of Hispanic women, most middle-aged or older, but some were in their teens and twenties. Another quarter was made up of Hispanic men and a few children, with the remaining quarter divided evenly between blacks and whites.

    The meeting served two...

  12. 7 The Power Is in the Relationship: San Jose PACT
    (pp. 142-160)

    On May 18, 1998, PACT held its largest annual action (mass meeting) with the mayor. For the first time the event was held not in a church but in the San Jose Civic Auditorium, to symbolize that PACT’s domain was not just the church but the public arena. The action was a mayoral candidates’ forum at which PACT sought commitments from the three candidates in the Democratic primary to support increased neighborhood services, after-school programs, and affordable housing. In the tightly scripted event, PACT leaders acted as bus coordinators, greeters, ushers, trouble- shooters, and media liaisons. A mariachi band performed...

  13. 8 The Results of Organizing
    (pp. 161-176)

    This study has examined four community organizations in some depth, and compared the norms and practices of ACORN organizing to those of church-based community organizing. Ultimately, however, this study is concerned with results—the political, civic, and policy outcomes that organizing provides its participants, communities, and broader struggles.

    Many causal factors influence social movement outcomes, so it is notoriously difficult to identify general patterns. Only a large representative study of organizations could support general causal claims. This chapter’s aims, therefore, are more humble. I identify five outcomes that are significant for grassroots groups that seek to empower ordinary citizens, and...

  14. 9 American Inequality and the Potential of Community Organizing
    (pp. 177-190)

    Community organizing offers useful lessons for both scholars and practitioners of social movement activism. In a hostile political context, powerful forces prevent it from doing more. Even generous welfare states are under heavy pressure from global economic competition to curtail redistributive social programs and worker protections. More locally, contrasting urban contexts set different limits on the possible. Yet, I have argued, there is more scope for agency in social movements than scholars have acknowledged. Part of this is an artifact of the disproportionate concentration on national movements, whose goals are inevitably more ambitious and harder to realize. Another bias in...

  15. Appendix A Excerpts from “PICO Principles”
    (pp. 193-194)
  16. Appendix B Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 195-200)
  17. Appendix C Policy Outcomes for Selected National and Local Organizations since 1990
    (pp. 201-226)
  18. Appendix D Agenda Setting: Selected Proposals Introduced by Four Community Organizations since 1990
    (pp. 227-230)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 231-264)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-286)
  21. Index
    (pp. 287-298)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-300)