I'm off to the IAF Ten-Day Training in San Antonio
Almost 30 years after Saul D. Alinsky's death, his legacy still resonates across America. In urban neighborhoods, ordinary people are organizing for the right to determine their own destinies. These "citizen activists" are making dramatic improvements in the quality of their lives, methodically fighting for low-income housing, public education, toxic waste clean-up, living wage jobs and economic change. They are organizing with techniques first pioneered over 50 years ago by Alinsky, known as the father of democratic radicalism.
Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) - founded in 1940 - is now led by ex-seminarian Edward T. Chambers, who worked with Alinsky for 16 years. Now, with 60 organizations in more than 50 cities from East Brooklyn to East Los Angeles, IAF has taken Alinsky's vision and created a sophisticated national network of citizens' associations. Sanford D. Horwitt, Alinsky's biographer writes that today, the IAF is "steadily approaching Alinsky's unfulfilled dream of a large network of People's Organizations that would provide tens-of-thousands of ordinary working and modest-income Americans with a measure of power to shape decisions that affect their lives and communities."
The IAF's mission is to train people to organize themselves, take responsibility for solving the problems in their own communities and renew the interest of citizens in public life. Ecumenical, democratic, devoted to small-scale tackling of large problems, IAF groups mobilize mostly through religious institutions, bringing together people across demoninations. IAF activists learn how to work with people from other ethnic groups and backgrounds. Every action taken by an IAF group is carefully planned, in a process IAF founder Chambers describes as "deliberate, calculated and focused." As Michael Tomasky wrote in the Village Voice (04/04/95), "IAF groups don't set out to change the world; just a little patch of it. And in so doing, they do change the world."
IAF organizations are not based around single issues; they have broad agendas for change, based on local priorities. Among the church-based, interfaith and interracial IAF organizations are East Brooklyn Congregations, which fought to build 2,100 affordable housing units for low-income families and Dallas Area Interfaith, which successfully lobbied state legislators to increase funding for public education. In Baltimore, three IAF groups recently challenged Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening to invest $90 million in a program to create 5,000 public-sector jobs and in California, three IAF organizations teamed up to raise the state minimum wage.
Beyond the IAF, dozens of community organizing networks are actively practicing Alinsky's techniques. Here in Portland, it is Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good. Among the other most prominent are: Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (Oakland, CA), the Catholic Church's Campaign for Human Development (Washington, D.C.), Citizen Action (Chicago, IL), Organizing Training Center (San Francisco), Direct Action and Research Training Center (Miami, FL), The Gamaliel Foundation (Chicago, IL) and National Organizers Alliance (Washington, D.C.)