I’m often asked for suggestions of resources on community organising and over the last year or two, I’ve been searching out the best of the bunch. I thought I’d bring together a selection this week and hopefully whet your appetite for holiday reading / watching / browsing. I’ve chosen some of the books, films and websites that might have been off the beaten track for Citizens UK or Locality organisers but I reckon these are all worth being on an organiser’s shelf. I do not apologise for the bias to American material as that’s where the organising wisdom and experience lies. Let’s hope the UK market begins to support such output in the near future.
Collective Action for Social Change: An Introduction to Community Organizing by Aaron Schutz and Marie G. Sandy Palgrave MacMillan 2012 p/b
Since I began searching for organising resources online, I have admired the approach of Aaron Schutz who manages in his course materials and essays to offer a balanced and fair account of the diverse tributaries of Alinsky-based organising. At the same time, he is able to distinguish organising from it’s siblings like community development and advocacy with clarity and insight. This book which provides a valuable overview of American popular dissent also offers a summary of the key concepts shared by all community organising.
Community Organizing and Development (Third Edition) by Herbert J. Rubin and Irene S. Rubin Allyn and Bacon 2001 p/b
This is a text book that manages to be very readable and thorough. Covering the ground in six sections and 17 chapters, the common sense and depth of analysis both come through loud and clear. A great section on ‘Organizers: What they do and how they learn to do it’ precedes a distinction drawn between the Social Action and the Social Production models. All together an excellent in-depth coverage of a broad subject in very readable prose – highly recommended!
Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders (Revised edition) by Si Kahn NASW Press 1991 (5 impression 1998) p/b
One of the best ‘nuts and bolts’ books about the practice of organising. Si Kahn grew up during the civil rights movement and though influenced by Alinsky draws from a wider range of sources for his angle. The chapter headings evidence the practical orientation of this book, for example: Strategy, Research, Tactics, Training, Media, Money, Politics. This book is aimed at grassroots leaders in organising groups, people with little prior experience of the public realm and succeeds admirably in making the subject both entertaining and very real to life.
Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America by Jeffrey Stout Princeton University Press p/b (Published 2 Dec 2012)
This is a great read offering a rich mix of action stories and reflection on the ways the experience of IAF organisers in the Southern states inform our work for democracy. Jeffrey Stout is an ethicist and professor of religion at Princeton University but his style is anything but dry. Starting with the crisis of hurricane Katrina and looking at the fight for basic sanitation in Hispanic settlements near the border with Mexico, he paints a picture of real life democracy beginning to re-emerge from the despair that is party political politics in America. And the paperback has just been published!
The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy Bob Hercules and Bruce Orenstein IndieFlix
This film which won the xxx was made by Independent TV Service in the late 1990s. Hercules and Orenstein follow the work of Alinsky in Chicago bringing together churches, unions and workers in a unique blend for action. In the second half, they follow then recent organising efforts in Texas and East Brooklyn, New York. The film offers insight into Alinksy’s style of organising using footage of the man himself and his words together with good coverage of the IAF in action. Whilst the documentary is dated in both style and content, it is a fine introduction to Alinsky and the legacy we live today. The hour-long film is available for rental or sale from the US but also broken into six parts on YouTube here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6
Organising for Social Change: Midwest Academy Manual for Activists by Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall and Steve Max Seven Locks Press 2001 p/b
This has become the classic text on organising and the MidWest Academy has been one of the key US institutes training people for organising. Once again, this is a ‘nuts and bolts’ book with chapters on Organizing Models, Being a Great Public Speaker, Financial and Legal Matters and Supervision. Whilst is is the largest of the books covered here, its also one of the most useful. Strong on practical detail, it also has a wealth of illustrative stories that bring the issues to life. It should be on every organiser’s shelf!
I have taken a decision not to suggest you turn to Amazon UK for your books this December on two grounds. First, the emergence of huge predatory online megaliths such as Amazon is squeezing the already fragile sales of small independent bookshops across the country (and world!). We need to fight for the right of our corner book shop to serve our community in particular and one important way is to buy from them direct. If you want to go browse your local radical book shop try this list on the excellent Alliance of Radical Bookshops site. Secondly, the recent emergence of the tax avoidance of Amazon and other American players in the UK economy can only be countered when a proportion of their profit is repurposed to support local, tax-paying enterprises that offer a more ethical stance. Amazon’s employment record and their bullying tactics with both publishers and writers is nothing less than scandalous. See more at Housemans What is wrong with Amazon? and the American Jeff Waxman’s Against Amazon. So please consider using the links on this page to buy books from Alibris or AbeBooks rather than Amazon.
NB I have been unable to identify a source for the film above other than Amazon US. I have therefore offered alternative routes to finding it despite those in turn being on YouTube, one of Google’s subsidiaries and another UK tax avoider. It’s a difficult world!