One of my students sent me this article after a class discussion on organizing. I had referred to one of my greatest frustrations as an organizer and advocate working in the Latino immigrant community–so many of those with whom I was organizing (not immigrants themselves, actually, but other ‘professionals’) seemed to think that, if we just waited long enough, the inexorable increase in the size of the Latino population would spell victory on our public policy struggles. I got into many debates with them about the fallacy of this argument; one need only look to apartheid South Africa and, indeed, the American South for examples of when demographic strength has failed to translate into political power. Conversely, there are inspiring examples of relatively small groups that, through shrewd organizing and smart media work, have commanded far more attention and respect than their numbers would demand.
This article touches on only one of the ways in which there can arise a disconnect between the size of an affected group and its prominence on the social problem agenda–lack of cohesion or collective identity. One of the difficulties of organizing in a Western context is the tendency to see all problems as personal problems, and, indeed, social workers’ first recourse is often to try to ‘solve’ a problem for a given individual or family, rather than consciousness-raising that would help that individual to see him/herself as connected to a larger class that, together, must agitate for attention and change.
Today’s economic crises have certainly made it clear that lack of health insurance (or a job) is not a personal problem but rather an endemic failure of our economy. And there are certainly enough people here to make elected officials very uncomfortable about continuing to dance around this fundamental issue. However, just like those who are waiting until 2050 so that people of color can exert their demographic dominance on the powers that be, the silent majorities who are victims of economic injustice need some good organizing to ensure that their size is actually worth something.
What is Classroom to Capitol?A resource for social workers, instructors, and students in the areas of community organizing, policy analysis and advocacy, and organizational development--a tool in your quest for social justice
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