By Ethan Livermore, Economic Justice Organizer
Organizing is an attitude and a mindset. It’s a process where people who are close to each other or share some common problem come together into an organization that acts in their shared self-interest.
Community organizing work is the response to material discrepancies. Who is underserved? Who is underpaid? Who is suffering from economic injustice? They are the people that we know are disenfranchised and marginalized and are the experts – they have the power to change their lives and understand the needs of communities.
There is so much in this world that keeps us atomized. This isolation is created and reinforced by systemic oppression, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and ableism. These systems make us believe that suffering is unique to an individual experience and that they are personally responsible for their disenfranchisement.
Policy advocacy can be understood as speaking on behalf of someone or a group. In contrast, organizing is understood as either speaking alongside or creating space for someone to speak for themselves.
Although the two are connected, they often operate in two different realms and see power and change in different ways. Policy advocacy builds/creates power through actual legislation. Organizing builds/creates power through solidarity and collective action.
Ultimately, good policy advocacy needs meaningful and sustained social justice work to produce solutions that are inclusive, equitable, liberatory, and effective.
A critical difference between organizing and policy advocacy is their desired outcome. In policy advocacy, a win looks like passing a piece of legislation that accomplishes a particular goal. Rather than organizing, passing a piece of legislation could be just one of many goals for a group, with other goals not being limited to the environment of a legislature or Congress.
Organizing is the essential work to straddle the contradictions between the powerful and the powerless. It’s about bringing people who share in a struggle, a struggle against capitalism, racism, and misogyny, together so that they can recognize their agency and do something about it.
Organizing aims to lift from the bottom up. To find solutions to the significant issues of our day, organizing centers on the expertise and experiences of the people we know have been disenfranchised and marginalized. When it comes to responses to disasters like wildfires and Covid, this mindset is needed to ensure that those who need or want support get support.
Through organizing, people learn to recognize their strengths, communicate their needs, and act together. Through this collective action, organizing creates leverage, which is its power.
By building collective power and focusing on the stories and experiences of people on the ground, we can make sure that no one is left in the dust. We can make sure no one is left to fail under the pressures of systems not created to help them succeed in crises like these.
In recognition of these principles that are based in community and power-sharing, Neighborhood Partnerships is investing in organizers to bring our values of equity, reconciliation, and liberation into practice. We’re doing this through building relationships, building new narratives, and consequently building power for housing, economic, and racial justice THROUGH community organizing.
We are shifting how our spaces interact with and honor the existence of those we serve and those we work with. We are also creating new spaces for power building and community centering to grow and for atomization to be combated.
Some examples are things like community feedback sessions and saver advisory boards. We are working on these tools to make sure the IDA Initiative is changing in ways that value and support our savers in their goals and move towards true economic empowerment.
Additionally, Residents Organizing for Change has generated an atmosphere and community that has catalyzed residents of affordable housing to speak on legislative and cultural issues that impact them while at the same developing leaders to have the confidence and momentum to demand legislative solutions straight from their lived expertise and take charge in their communities to create change on their own behalf.
The Oregon Economic Justice Roundtable is a place where we have been using aspects of community organizing to create a network of organizations and people working toward economic and racial justice as well as a space for us to have conversations and do collective work to strive toward economic and racial justice in Oregon using community-created and driven solutions at the center.
But for much of the history of Neighborhood Partnerships, we have worked with and in dominant institutions and have taken cues from voices and influences from the state, private foundations, and financial institutions. While we have successfully served communities across the state to close the racial wealth gap through asset development, affordable housing, and homeownership, we have not utilized a race or class lens in our work to the extent that we are now.
Even after several years of success in working alongside ROC leaders in effecting meaningful change, we must and shall continue to center organizing as a key component of the work we do every day in ensuring economic prosperity, and safe, stable, and affordable homes for all Oregonians.