Supporting Community Organizing to Build a More Inclusive Society
by Guest Blogger | July 27, 2015 10:23 am
By Connie Heller
Pictured to the left: A portion of a quilt created by Connie Heller in honor of Trayvon Martin.
A better world is possible. A world in which the color of our skin, our zip code and our parents’ income do not predict whether or not we’re able to get ahead in life. By focusing on racial justice and community organizing, my husband Jonathan and I have dedicated the last ten years to making a better world possible.
As we entered into both philanthropy and social justice work, we observed the failure of top-down policy change attempts to address people’s real needs and the role race has played in shaping current public policy. We were open to invitations to learn about community organizing and to attend community organizing events, which led us to recognize how central organizations like the Center for Community Change and their local grassroots partners are to changing current power dynamics.
First and foremost, community organizing involves activating latent power for change by cultivating the leadership of directly impacted people, whose expertise comes from their lived experience. It requires us to keep sight of people’s dreams for their communities and their children. When people use collective action to have increased say and control over the decisions that affect their lives, our democracy moves closer to living up to what it can and should be.
Moreover, community organizing is most effective when it explores the different ways that race and gender inequalities impact people’s lives. The strongest solutions arise when many voices are heard and when those who face inequities unite to overcome the overbearing interests of those currently in power.
We’ve seen this work in a wide range of settings. At the local level, Jonathan’s organization, Human Impact Partners, has supported organizing efforts through research that works to build cross-race, cross-issue coalitions in order to win community benefits from developers that will prevent gentrification and displacement in Los Angeles.
At the state level, the Groundswell Fund, for which I serve as Board Chair, has funded organizations working on a variety of issues to come together using a reproductive justice frame to build power – through coalition building and through integrated voter engagement – and win significant environmental justice victories in West Virginia and other states.
And, of course, CCC’s work on immigration reform at the national level through the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) has built electoral power and coalitions that have won significant immigration reform victories, though the work is not yet done.
This understanding underlies all the work we do personally and professionally. Together we do this through the Linked Fate Fund for Justice, which provides multi-year grants to organizations working on race-related analysis and the groups who implement these analyses in their work.
Our belief in using community organizing to build power motivates each of us individually. For Jonathan, it shows up in his commitment to the Community Change board and through his work at Human Impact Partners where he brings the power of public health science to bear on issues of social justice. For me, it compels me to work with philanthropic partners to help them use the tools of racial analysis, and it also comes through in the artwork I make.
Because of deep commitment to community organizing, it is logical that we would support the Center for Community Change.
We believe that our democracy can be inclusive and responsive—but only if we make it so. Our movements for change must actively work to undo the divisions of race, class and gender that have been used to divide us. This will happen only when those who have been excluded can build the political power to influence the systems that impact their lives and hold decision-makers accountable. Building power and strong social movements requires resources, political education and strategic research—and this is the contribution we will continue to make.
A better world is possible. We do what we do because we believe building power through community organizing is the way to achieve that world.
CCC’s 2015 Change Champion Awards will recognize Connie and Jonathan Heller as Champions in Community Leadership on Sept. 17 at the historic Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. For more information and tickets, go to http://www.communitychange.org/awards/