Organizing, Advocacy, and Member Power

A Critical Reflection

In: WorkingUSA
Author: Steve Jenkins
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Progressive activists are increasingly stressing the importance of organizing and “building power” for oppressed groups, like welfare recipients, low-wage immigrant workers, and low-income youth, who had previously been the subject of advocacy efforts by professional activists such as lawyers and social workers. Many of these organizing efforts are being compromised by a failure to confront the way social struggles are shaped by the social conditions in which they are situated. Organizing campaigns are frequently initiated without regard to whether a given group of people, if organized, would have the power to force changes from the institutions they are confronting. The failure to face this critical power dynamic leads activists to overemphasize the importance of both the consciousness-raising aspect of the work and the power dynamics between professional staff and the people being organized. The result is that in many cases they are transforming the appearance but not the substance of what are, in effect, traditional advocacy campaigns.

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