Organizing Urban America: Secular and Faith-Based Progressive Movements

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Overview

Collective action through organized social movements has long expanded American citizens’ rights and liberties. Recently, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has helped win living wage initiatives in more than 130 cities across the country. Likewise, congregation-based groups have established countless health, education, and other social programs at city and state levels. Despite modest budgets, these organizations—different in their approach, but at the same time working for social change—have won billions of dollars in redistributive programs.

 

Looking closely at this phenomenon, Heidi J. Swarts explores activist groups’ cultural, organizational, and political strategies. Focusing on ACORN chapters and church federations in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Jose, California, Swarts demonstrates that congregation-based organizing has developed an innovative cultural strategy, combining democratic deliberation and leadership development to produce a “culture of commitment” among its cross-class, multiracial membership.  By contrast, ACORN’s more homogeneous low-income class base has a national structure that allows it to coordinate campaigns quickly, and its seasoned staff excels in tactical innovations. By making these often-invisible grassroots organizers evident, Swarts sheds light on factors that constrain or enable other social movements in the United States.

 

Heidi J. Swarts is assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University.

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Product Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii
Abbreviations     xi
Introduction: Invisible Actors: Community Organizing, Agenda Setting, and American Social Movements     xiii
Different Mobilizing Cultures: Congregation-based Organizing and ACORN     1
Religion and Progressive Politics: Congregation-based Community Organizing's Innovative Cultural Strategy     45
Experimenting with National Organizing Campaigns: ACORN's Innovative Political Strategy     71
Organizing Is a Numbers Game: St. Louis ACORN     91
A Seat at the Regional Table: Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis     110
La Puebla Unida: ACORN in the Sunbelt     127
The Power Is in the Relationship: San Jose PACT     142
The Results of Organizing     161
American Inequality and the Potential of Community Organizing     177
Excerpts from "PICO Principles"     193
Methodological Appendix     195
Policy Outcomes for Selected National and Local Organizations since 1990     201
Agenda Setting: Selected Proposals Introduced by Four Community Organizations since 1990     227
Notes     231
Bibliography     265
Index     287
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