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What is community organizing?

Commnunity organizing is the practice of listening to, and mobilizing, people to make their community a better place. 

We like this definition from "Community Organizing: People Power from the Grassroots" by Dave Beckwith, with Cristina Lopez, the Center for Community Change (

"Community organizing is the process of building power through involving a constituency in identifying problems they share and the solutions to those problems that they desire; identifying the people and structures that can make those solutions possible; enlisting those targets in the effort through negotiation and using confrontation and pressure when needed; and building an institution that is democratically controlled by that constituency that can develop the capacity to take on further problems and that embodies the will and the power of that constituency.

Community organizing is NOT a technique for problem solving. Those who would use simple confrontation or mass meetings to meet their own selfish need for power, and skip the step of democratic involvement and control in the selecting of issues, the crafting of demands or the negotiating of the victory are called demagogues. Their organizations are a hollow sham, without the empowering aspect that humanizes and ennobles the effort.

Community organizing is not merely a process that is good for its own sake. Unless the organization wins concrete, measurable benefits for those who participate, it will not last long. The groups that content themselves with holding endless meetings and plod along involving everyone in discussions that never lead to action or to victory are doomed to shrink into nothing. People want to see results. That's why they get involved. There is a theory (isn't there always?) that says that folks join up if two things are true. First, they must see a potential for either benefit or harm to themselves if the group succeeds or fails. Second, they must see that their personal involvement has an impact on the whole effort. This makes sense to me. Winning is critical, but if the group's going to win whether I get involved or not - if my personal involvement is not critical - then I can stay home and watch TV.

Community organizing is not just a neighborhood thing, not just a minority thing, not just a 60's thing. Many - especially those uncomfortable with a particular community organizing effort because it's confronting them at the time - seek to 'label' organizing as somehow out of date or out of place. The fact is that the method, the strategy the science of community organizing has been applied all over the world in situations as disparate as Solidarity in Poland, Welfare Rights in the US and 'communidades del base' in Brazil. The simple principles of community organizing are being applied right now in the barrios of San Antonio and in the ghettoes of Baltimore. They are winning victories and building power. We can too."