Part Eight: Influencing Policy through Community Organizing and Media Advocacy
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With its emphasis on community mobilization to bring about change, influencing the policy process would seem a logical area of concern for community organizers in fields such as health education and social welfare and for the communities with which they are engaged. Yet community residents often regard policy as abstract and confusing, and as Toby Citrin (2000) has pointed out, many professionals shy away from policy advocacy as well, deeming it too time consuming and risky. As a result, valuable opportunities for potentially influencing the lives of large numbers of people may be lost. In the final part of this volume, we turn our attention to the increasingly appreciated role that community organizing can play in helping to promote changes in policy or the broader policy environment. In chapter 20, Angela Glover Blackwell and her colleagues offer a brief introduction to the policymaking process, highlighting several popular models (e.g., Longest 2006) and the key steps or stages in the process that transcend specific models and approaches. Building on the work of Makani Themba-Nixon (1999) and her colleagues (Themba-Nixon et al. 2008) and others, they then elaborate on each of these steps with attention to the particular roles that community organizers and their allies can play at different stages in the process. The bulk of the chapter then is devoted to two case studies, each of which demonstrates the powerful role that community organizing can play in advocating for policy enactment, change, and implementation. In the first, we learn how a PART EIGHT Influencing Policy through Community Organizing and Media Advocacy community-and-academic partnership in Harlem, New York, used a combination of participatory research and community organizing and advocacy to address the problem of inadequate policy and programmatic support to ensure the successful reintegration of drug users leaving jail and prisons (Lee et al. 2006). The partnership’s use of multimethod data collection; its reframing of substance abuse and inmate reentry as public health, and not simply criminal justice issues; and its bringing together of a broad citywide coalition to press for policy and systems change are discussed. We learn about the not insignificant challenges posed along the way (including the defunding of this work well before it had resulted in policy outcomes), but also about the partnership’s commitment to the effort even without outside funding. The partnership’s substantial contributions to several key policy changes— such as the reinstatement of Medicaid coverage (and hence access to drug treatment and vital medications) immediately upon release—are described and provide a wonderful testament to the role of community organizing and advocacy, along with powerful data, in helping bring about policy-level change. In the second case study, we learn of the efforts of the nationally recognized faith-based organization ISAIAH and its partners in the area of social equity in public transit policy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Stops for Us campaign used principles of community organizing and advocacy to successfully fight to reinstate three light rail stops in a part of the city whose residents were disproportionately low-income people of color and people with disabilities. The case study then describes how ISAIAH then worked with PolicyLink and other partners on a broader campaign, Healthy Corridor for All, to ensure continued movement in the direction of healthy and just policy choices and increased community engagement in decision-making processes. Their conducting of a community-driven health impact assessment both helped identify community concerns and health and equity impacts of the pending transit development in the Central Corridor neighborhoods, but also increased the capacity of local community groups for exploring the relationship between health and land use and for taking part in land use and transit-oriented development policymaking . This case study, in sum, is a perfect example of the need to consider both distributive and procedural justice in policymaking, with the latter involving genuine and ongoing community engagement in policymaking (Minkler 2010). The chapter concludes by calling for the application of community building principles to policy INFLUENCING POLICY 368 design (see appendix 1), so that our policies themselves will be grounded in and reflect a commitment to high-level community participation and civic engagement. In earlier parts of this book, we have seen the applicability of a variety of techniques and approaches to influencing policy, key among them online activism (chapter 15) and photovoice and videovoice (chapter 16). The final chapter of this volume, describes and vividly demonstrates another tool with tremendous potential for community organizing into...



Subject Headings

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