Which type of community organizer is Obama? – Tips for Solution Based Advocacy (27)

Chicago is to community organizing as New York is to apples. Big! 

The birth of modern community organizing goes back to the days of Saul Alinsky and his Back of the Yards movement. His agressive strategies and tactics taught many of us how to organize to fight power with power.  Those of a certain generation will remember Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott protesting wages and working conditions of migrant farm workers – vintage Alinsky.  His two books Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals were staples for activists in the 60's and 70's.  Here is a quote from the introduction to the latter.

What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

Today, no one is more influential in the field of community organizing than John McKnight.  John, whose practice as a community organizer overlapped with Alinsky evolved to practice neighbourhood organizing.  This led him to concepualize asset based community development (ABCD).  

At its heart ABCD is about communities discovering and mobilizing their collective power to define and solve their own problems.  It is not about demanding or relying on outside experts or systems to 'do something'. Instead this method of organizing encourages communities to rely on each other's skills, expertise and gifts.  The role of government and systems comes later, if at all. In this context the central focus of an organizer is to encourage the comntribution of everyone's gift.  And everyone means everyone, regardless of label, diagnosis, vulnerability, or condition. 

ABCD is a means to heal our neighbourhoods, communities and constituencies by reminding us of our creativity, bringing meaning to our lives and strengthening our connections to each other.

John went on to co-found with Jody Kretzmann, the Asset Based Community Development Institute.

Earlier this year, I reviewed his new book Abundant Communities co-written with Peter Block.  They haven't stoppped writing.  Here is John's article on the Abundant Community website describing two types of community organizing- Alinsky style advocacy organizing and McKnight style neighbourhood organizing.

Alinsky and McKnight have influenced the political elite of America from William Buckley to Hillary Clinton to the Obamas.

Obama was originally taught Alinsky style organizing by John, among others.  Today his wife Michelle remains on the faculty of  the ABCD Institute.  Here is  a statement she issued on ABCD as First Lady.  After you read John's article, can you tell which type of organizer Obama is now?  Do let me know.


(1) For those new to ABCD here is an impressive, articulate introduction to asset based community development on Vimeo by fellow ABCD international faculty member Cormac Russell

(2) For policy advocates interested in how concepts of asset based community development can influence institutions and systems download the report Glass Half Full : How an Asset Based Approach Can Imporve CommunityHealth and Well- Being.  Download GlassHalfFull.

(3) The National Film Board's excellent CITIZENshift website on social media and social change has vintage clips from their documentary series on Alinsky.

(4) And finally here is a fun and short U-Tube created by our friend Denis Rowley in Scotland linking Obama, John, Vickie Cammack and I.  Less than six degrees of separation!


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