1 Introduction to CommunityOrganizing and Community Building
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1 Introduction to Community Organizing and Community Building MEREDITH MINKLER 5 When former New York City mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani asked disparagingly during the 2008 primary campaign, “What’s a community organizer?” he did more than unleash a rash of soon forgotten letters to the editor and blogs. National organizations, including the Society for Public Health Education and the National Association of Social Workers, adopted position papers reaffirming the centrality of community organizing in their craft. And both presidential candidate Barack Obama’s eloquent articulation of the importance of community building and organizing and the success of a well-orchestrated realworld and online organizing campaign in his assent to the presidency brought much renewed attention to the field and its methods (Daniels 2011; Dreier 2008; Hyatt 2008; Wolff 2010). But the reality of a former community organizer in the White House is just one of several factors that have transformed the landscape of community building and community organizing in the early twenty-first century. By December 2010, just three countries had populations bigger than Facebook, with its close to 600 million members (Stengel 2010), and large numbers of communities and community-based organizations were expanding their reach and visibility through YouTube, Twitter, and other “new media” channels. With cell phones doubling as cameras and video recorders, and once expensive technologies now in the hands of countless Americans, even in low-income neighborhoods, the power of such approaches for helping to build healthy communities has never been greater (see chapters 15 and 16). Yet community organizing on the Internet is no more immune from racism, xenophobia, and other destructive forces than is organizing in the virtual world, and the relative anonymity the Internet provides may indeed allow such uses to flourish (Daniels 2009). The use of new and more traditional organizing approaches, including coalition building and the creation of effective partnerships, is being seen in the fights for (and against) health care reform, immigrant rights, gay marriage, restricted soda sales in schools, and a multitude of programs, practices, and policies that could strengthen and improve—or set back—the public’s health and well-being. As this book goes to press, the mass protest movement Occupy Wall Street, with its motto “We are the 99 percent,” has engaged millions of people from New York and Washington, D.C., to Oakland, California, and in small towns and large urban centers across the land. Giving voice to “populist demands for jobs, fair taxes and corporate oversight” (Scherer 2011), the Occupy movement has brought together participants and supporters spanning a wide range of social classes, racial/ethnic groups and ages. Despite occasional property damage by fringe elements in a few locations, by October 2011, over half of Americans polled (54 percent) had a favorable image of the Occupy movement, compared with just a third for the Tea Party movement (Scherer 2011). Rapidly changing demographics in the United States, with more than half the nation projected to be composed of people of color well before midcentury, also has underscored the centrality of community building and organizing approaches that emphasize cultural sensitivity and humility (Tervalon and Murray-Garcia 1998). A theme that will resurface many times in this book, cultural humility is the notion that while we can’t be competent in another’s culture, we can engage in self-reflection, learning our own biases, being open to others’ cultures, and committing ourselves to authentic partnership and redressing power imbalances (Tervalon and Murray-Garcia 1998; Chávez et al. 2008). Further, and particularly in the difficult economic times that followed the Great Recession, which began in late 2007, the need for, on the one hand, identifying and building on community assets and strengths (Kretzmann and McKnight 1993; see chapter 10) and, on the other, realizing that low-resource communities in particular cannot be expected to thrive without substantial external resources, opportunities, and support (DeFilippis et al. 2010; Hyatt 2008; see chapter 6) has rarely been greater. This book is designed for professionals and students in fields, such as health education, social work, community psychology, and urban and regional planning, that lie at the interface of health, broadly defined, and social systems and communities . The book’s diverse contributors share a belief that community organizing and community building must occupy a central place in health education, health promotion, and related fields in the twenty-first century. With Lawrence Wallack and his colleagues (1993, 5), we argue that “contemporary public health is as much about facilitating...



Subject Headings

  • Health promotion.
  • Community health services -- Citizen participation.
  • Community organization.
  • Community development.
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