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Outreach means bringing new members into your social change effort
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No Capital P politics...for a change! 

    In the 1930's in the wake of the depression, Saul Alinsky left his studies at the University of Chicago to begin working in "The Back of the Yards" (BOTY), a multi ethnic neighborhood behind the Chicago Stockyards. Carl Sandberg, a generation earlier had named Chicago the "Hog butcher for the world" and a decade before that Upton Sinclair characterized the harsh conditions in his novel The Jungle. The BOTY was where the meat industry workers lived. Alinsky knew that the men in this community were the raw material of fascism, like the moveents emerging throughout the industrial world as low skilled, marginally schooled, workers were discarded by employers in the wake of the Great Depression. Alinsky wrote: "A lot of these people were attracted to fascism....It was primarily because they had no way out, no direction, no instrumentality that offered any hope. So they had to have scapegoats. But once a program and a movement were developed, there wasn't any more need for scapegoats." Together, Alinsky and the community used the techniques of labor organizing to reinvent community organizing as a tool for social change. 
    Fast forward to the founding days of RHINO in the wake of the Great Recession. A prospective member counseled: "RHINO sounds OK, but No politics!" At the time I failed to recognize that Alinsky would have agreed, "No pollitics" is a good idea for two reasons. 
  • People's politics is inherited, either "I've always been...." or "My parents were....but I'm different."  It's part of identity for many people. 
  • Whatever political affiliation, self interest and rationality can sway a person to act outside of their political affiliation, especially when change in in the air. Alinsky called that time "the crisis." 
But, at the risk of breaking the "no politics" guideline, here's how rental housing advocates can get out of the echo chamber of talking to each other and reach out to people who have common needs, but different "politics". 
    Today the "Donald" taps into the anger of white working class households, which have been losers in the waves of change from globalization, information, and automation which resulted n job loss, status dislocation, and cultural isolation. Kevin D. Williamson in the National Review characterizes these Trump backers as "...economically and socially frustrated white men who wish to be economically supported by the federal government without enduring the stigma of welfare dependency." 
In other words, people seeking a social remedy for their declining status--the hollowing out of the middle class
    Advocates using the techniques of Saul Alinsky to engage displaced and bypassed workers around issues that could help them protect their homes, families, and jobs without sacrificing their dignity can move that anger into action for social change.
    Doing so requires breaking through the Nixon/Reagan myth that "minorities" (African-americans, women, immigrants and foreigners) have robbed them of their lunch pails. This is a powerful myth that can only be overcome by engaging folks in actions focused on their needs. ssues like minimum wage increases, expanded rental subsidies, and justice in the courts.
    Bureaucrats tell these displaced miners, military, and mill workers, to get an education and change their occupations, but the reality is that they got the education they needed to succeed in the opportunities that were open to them. Acknowledging that loss of livelihood and status is critical. Alinsky wrote "They come to the people of the slums under the aegis of benevolence and goodness, not to organize the people, not to help the rebel and fight their way out of the muck--NO! They come to get these people 'adjusted'; adjusted so they will live in hell and like it too." (pp 82-83) Advocates may want to take a page from the FDR playbook who, in 1937, characterized Social Security as an insurance disability and pension plan...not "welfare". Helping displaced worker households preserve their sense of independence while receiving new social benefits is critical. 
    Across the US, citizens are forming local organizations outside the political process to demand reforms to protect their homes and families. Whether it's new pipes in Flineviction court reforms and displacement free developmentin Baltimore, Just Cause termination rights in Boston, or Rent Control in the Bay Area, these citizen organizations are the basis for real social change. Like it says on the Monopoly board: "Start here." 
  Outreach includes:
1. How you present your social change efforts to prospective members
2  How you identify the needs of your prospective members.
3.  How you relate their needs to your effort and...
4.  How you move prospective members up the ladder of engagement.

 Notes & Links