Organizing to Build Our Community

meridith-levy-at-sccBy Meridith Levy, SCC Deputy Director

Why do we organize at Somerville Community Corporation? Community organizing can be defined most simply as “people working together to get things done” (Si Kahn). Organizing can be further described as an approach of “restoring local accountability”(Saul Alinsky) and building power among leaders to create a shared and tactical approach to influencing decisions impacting the community.

Some organizations have attempted to temper the potency of the term organizing by reclassifying it as community building, or civic engagement or empowerment.  While SCC supports community building efforts in general, we are dedicated to building power among community members through a direct and strategic organizing approach in order to reach our deeper goals of social equity. 

Empowering Individuals and Communities

Union-United-participants-in-Fight-for-$15-Rally 4-15-2015

We have fallen into a disturbing era where people’s personal freedoms are disappearing before us – some explicit, such as impeding freedom of speech or denying the rights of particular groups of people. Some are disguised through budget cuts to public programs, services, infrastructure and education that will impact our population for years to come. We know that low-income people, people of color and immigrants are particularly vulnerable to draconian policy changes. We also know that it is the same group of people who are most at risk of getting bounced around by a mercurial economy.  

Whether it’s to fight oppressive policies at the federal level or to make sure people do not get displaced when the market gets hot in our own community, community organizing gives us a tool to establish a collective voice and build a shared strategy for protecting individuals’ rights. Organizing also helps us create the changes we need in our community so that everyone – no matter their income, no matter their country of origin, no matter their race or ethnicity – can live well.  

SCC’s Approach

The organizing approach SCC adheres to includes:

  • finding and developing leaders
  • understanding shared struggles and issues
  • engaging in community based research to uncover best practices and establish sharp proposals that directly address community needs
  • building a growing base of power to strategically move these proposals forward.

Each area of SCC’s work relies on our engaged members to direct our work, keep us on track and expand the horizons for what Somerville can accomplish, all in service to our social equity agenda. For example, SCC builds and preserves affordable housing. But because of our community organizing, we now have more access to the money we need to acquire housing resulting from higher Linkage Fee dollars and the Community Preservation Act. We now have more Inclusionary Housing units in Somerville.

Similarly, the City of Somerville and SCC have prioritized a local hiring agenda with more resources dedicated to job training for its local workforce, and a new Jobs Linkage Fee. None of this would be on the books today were it not for the steady dedication of our leaders and partners who came together to create and assert a common agenda, executed over months and years through a systematic organizing plan.

Staying the Course

People are most effective in getting the kind of results that most directly benefit their lives when they band together to establish strategic plans of actions, build power and ask for specific changes through judicious action. Not only do the results of these campaigns change lives, but the very act of establishing the rooted connections between people is transformative. This, to us, is what organizing is all about. In this new era, the call for community resilience is high. SCC will count on its broad base of members and leaders to stay on its path of steadfast organizing to build the collective power we all will need to keep our diverse community intact.