We are living in amazing times. Between the groundbreaking election of President Obama and the onset of the largest economic crisis that this country has seen in decades, the terrain of politics is rapidly shifting beneath our feet. The left-progressive movement is currently engaged in a re-evaluation and reorientation (for example, the recent “Reimagining Socialism” discussion in The Nation and the “Reimagining Society” dialogue on ZNet). Within this broader dialogue on the left, community organizers need place to reflect on the particular possibilities and demands facing in this historic moment.
New Questions and Challenges for Community Organizing
It is dizzying to think about the political possibilities of this moment. There are real opportunities to make significant impact – regionally and nationally – in the context of the Obama administration. As we fall deeper into the recession, the broader public is beginning to discuss the limits of capitalism, the role of financial institutions, and the parameters of the “free market.” Obama’s election has given community organizing a new profile and broadened the number of people who might be willing to engage in organizing for social change. The mainstream is up for grabs in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. The possibilities are there, but the left and the community organizing sector need more clarity and intention to take advantage of them.
The challenges are just as vast. With the economy tanking, our communities are facing a new level of hardship. At the same time, philanthropic support for our work is shrinking. We are also seeing a rise in attacks on community organizing and intense red-baiting and race-baiting. From the forced resignation of Van Jones to the smearing of ACORN in the national media, community organizers and the left are seeing the rise of a militant and mobilized right wing. All the while, day-to-day demands of organizing work are not letting up, even as new crisis and needs surface. It can be difficult to take a moment to step back and reflect on the shifts in the broader political climate and how we need to reorient our work to meet the new climate.
Organizing Upgrade is an attempt to engage left leaders and innovators in the field of community organizing in a strategic dialogue. We hope that this project can bring the kind of inspiration, vision and strategic clarity we need to strengthen our political impact, both in our immediate fight and in our longer-term efforts to build the social justice movement and to revitalize a movement-rooted left in the United States. We hope that, by encouraging some of the leading innovators and leaders from the sphere of community organizing to put pen to paper and to speak their mind, we can develop unity and clarity about the key demands on left organizers in these times.
This project was initiated by Sushma Sheth and Harmony Goldberg with the support of Joseph Phelan. Knowing that the day-to-day demands of organizing can make it difficult to step back and get perspective on the bigger picture and that most left thinking is focused on more abstract questions, we wanted to create a space that would push left organizers to articulate our thinking and to get more collective clarity about how we can build a more powerful movement and a left that is more rooted in and accountable to our communities.
Contributors have been asked to respond to the following three questions:
Conditions: These are dramatic times politically, socially, and economically. What do you think are the most significant shifts happening right now, and how do they change the context of our work?
Strategic Priorities: There are a number of new opportunities for organizing presented by the new Obama administration and the economic crisis. What are the key interventions that the community organizing sector should make in this moment? Are there particular contributions that left organizers should make in this process?
Changing Orientation: What is inspiring you these days? What are old strategies that our sector should turn away from? Which new tools and ideas are you now experimenting with?
In an effort to get a wide and sweeping view of community organizing from the Left, a range of organizers have been tapped across the country. Their expertise comes from their hands-on, day-to-day work in the very communities, organizations or national alliances that shape community organizing inside the U.S. today. Their areas of interest and practice range from gentrification, workers rights, electoral work, immigration and detention, war, and Palestinian self-determination. Contributors include men, women, younger and older folks, straight, queer, white folks, and people of color and they share their thoughts in arrange of formats: essay, interview, panel and transcripted speech.
New “Upgrades” Will Be Released on a Monthly Basis
We plan to post three new pieces on the FIRST WEDNESDAY of each month to keep the conversation going. So please come back regularly to see what exciting new ideas are being shared.
The best way to stay updated is by joining our mailing list. We will send out an email announcement to our mailing list each time we post new pieces, and this will also be how we communicate other timely information about Organizing Upgrade. You can also keep updated by adding Organizing Upgrade to your RSS feed; the RSS button can be found at the bottom of the website.
The Dialogue & Your Thoughts
We really want to encourage you to participate in this important conversation about how we are going to take our work to the next level. Please use the “comment” function to enter the dialogue. We encourage you to say where you agree and where you disagree and want to suggest other ways forward. We strongly encourage you to be principled and constructive in your feedback; things like name-calling, politics-baiting and personal accusations do not move our collective conversation forward. We will be moderating all comments in the interests of promoting a productive dialogue.
You can contact us at upgrade@ organizingupgrade.com if you are interested in submitting a piece, but know that we have a long list of contributors already signed up.
Besides thanking all of our amazing contributors, we also want to thank:
- Chris Caruso and Jed Brandt for help designing the site.
- Sumitra Rajkumar for recording and editing the “Left Strategies from the Grassroots” roundtable video.
- Lisa Rudman (National Radio Project) for sharing her audio recording of the “Left Strategies from the Grassroots” roundtable.
- Left Turnmagazine for allowing us to reprint the “Left Strategies from the Grassroots” roundtable article.
- All of the amazing leaders and organizers who are working so hard to build a more powerful liberation movement!
Welcome to Organizing Upgrade!
Sushma, Harmony, and Joseph (The Upgrade Team)