By DUANE M. ELLING
For people who live daily with poverty and injustice, the idea of having a voice in creating policies that directly impact their lives and communities can seem out of reach.
In this series of seven videos, community organizers from the U.S. and abroad share their personal experiences and perspectives on how the field is helping people to actively engage, inform and shape the processes of public decision making.
Listen as veterans of community organizing and those new to the field explore such topics as the role of organizing in supporting democracy; the challenges and opportunities facing the field; what it takes to be an organizer; and the rewards of the work.
Their stories reflect the Mott Foundation’s own beliefs in the importance of community organizing as a way to engage people and create change that is meaningful and sustainable. Mott has supported the field since 1977, including grants since 1980 for a U.S. network of Intermediary Support Organizations. These intermediaries, through seed grants and technical assistance, are helping emerging, community-based organizations across the country to stabilize, strengthen and grow.
New videos in the series will be posted weekly throughout November.
Watch the Videos
Posted November 15, 2010
Posted November 23, 2010
Posted November 30, 2010
Meet the Organizers
Leone Jose Bicchieri
Chicago Workers’ Collaborative
For more than 20 years, Leone Jose Bicchieri has helped immigrants and workers of all backgrounds explore, understand and address the issues affecting their communities. He has organized farm laborers and working class neighborhoods in the Pacific Northwest; poultry and meat processing workers in the South and Midwest; and service sector employees in several cities. Bicchieri is now leading efforts at the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative to help low-wage workers and their families learn, engage and mobilize around employment and other key issues.
A deeply held belief that people have the right to be treated fairly and participate in shaping the systems that impact their lives was a driving factor in Keith Caldwell’s entry into labor union organizing in 1998. In 2007 he co-founded the Urban EpiCenter, a grassroots organization serving poor and working class residents of Nashville. Today, Caldwell leads the EpiCenter’s efforts to help residents understand issues of racial and economic injustice, and develop the skills and leadership to make their own solutions a reality.
El Comité de Apoyo a Trabajadores Agrícolas
Glassboro, New Jersey
As a young man in his native Puerto Rico, Nelson Carrasquillo helped organize fishermen, farmworkers and others around such issues as healthy living and working conditions; environmental justice; and the rights of individuals to be treated with dignity and respect. In 1992, he took that same vision to El Comité de Apoyo a Trabajadores Agrícolas, where he has since helped organize migrant workers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico. In 2005, Carrasquillo was awarded the Alston Bannerman Fellowship for his years of social activism.
Rev. Paul Cromwell
Community organizer trainer, consultant
German Forum on Community Organizing and
European Community Organizing Network
Paul Cromwell was traveling in the Republic of Korea in 1978 when he witnessed that country’s pro-democracy movement of students, religious leaders, workers and farmers. The tumultuous struggle for freedom sparked in him what would become a decades-long passion for community organizing. Cromwell, an ordained minister, has since helped communities in the U.S. and abroad develop local leadership and community strength. Currently, through the Forum on Community Organizing, he is working on organizing projects in several European countries.
Food AND Medicine
A longtime organizer, Jack McKay founded Food AND Medicine – so named, he says, because “in the richest country in the world, people shouldn't find themselves having to choose between the two” – in 2002 to help workers affected by massive job losses in eastern Maine's manufacturing sector. Today, McKay continues to lead efforts to help the region’s low-income and unemployed workers meet their basic needs and discover their power to seek economic and social justice.
Formerly with the Idaho Community Action Network
Rowena Pineda started her organizing career in 1990, working with low-income, disadvantaged communities in Oakland, California. She has since helped people throughout that state, as well as Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, discover their power and capacity to participate in the public decision-making processes that shape their lives. Idaho Community Action Network, which Pineda led until her recent move to Spokane, Washington, engages residents on such issues as access to health care and food; immigrants’ rights; and keeping public utilities affordable for low-income families.
Maria Belén Seara
Santa Barbara, California
As a college student in 2000, Maria Belén Seara was appalled at the racism and discrimination she witnessed on campus and in the classroom. She transformed her anger into action by joining a student-led effort to end such incidents, and the experience launched her career in organizing. Today, she and others at People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organizing (PUEBLO) are striving to help low-income people in Santa Barbara County achieve economic and environmental justice.
Citizens for a Better Greenville
A relative newcomer to the field of organizing, Corderrius Stevenson has in just four years witnessed the strategy’s potential for helping people to create authentic social change. His participation in Youth As Public Speakers, a program of Southern Echo, has strengthened his ability to communicate and build relationships with residents, leaders and other organizers. And those skills are being put to good use at Citizens for a Better Greenville, where Stevenson is helping his community identify and address economic, education and other issues.
Rosedale Block Cluster, Inc.
In the early 1990s, Dianne Swan found herself becoming increasingly angry over escalating youth violence in her Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood South. Rather than turning her back on the problem, she started working with local groups to find ways to end the crisis. Those efforts soon led her to join the Rosedale Block Cluster, where, almost two decades later, she continues to help residents develop the skills, experience and leadership they need to create a safe and successful community.
Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods
Greensboro/Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Dee Washington was a communications professional in 2007, helping nonprofit organizations share stories of their work, when her growing passion for the issues facing low-income communities prompted her to begin a new career in organizing. Washington has brought that same fervor to Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, where she is helping residents cultivate local leadership; engage policymakers in open and frank dialogue; and create a climate of cooperation for improving quality of life in the region’s poor neighborhoods.
Milan Kajo Zbořil
Center for Community Organizing
Banská Bystrica, Slovakia
Milan Kajo Zbořil’s entry into organizing in his native Slovakia was sparked in 1996 after he met and began working with an organizer from the U.S. He was intrigued by the American model of community engagement and helped bring it to what is now called the Center for Community Organizing. The approach’s emerging success over the years continues to excite Zbořil, who, through the center, now trains other organizers to help people discover their civic “voice” and participate in the public processes and systems that shape their lives.