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Information and Evaluation on the Networks

Christians Supporting Community Organizing

by Robert C. Linthicum,
President, Partners in Urban Transformation
September 2004


ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)

ACORN is unique among community and broad-based organizations in that it is the only network that does not organize around institutions. Instead, it is made up only of individual members. It is not theologically or biblically centered. It tends to organize around immediate, grass-roots issues, reflecting its base in individuals; likewise, I have never been asked to do anything with ACORN, either theologically or biblically. It publishes a monthly newsletter which is distributed at no cost by email; the newsletter is an excellent compendium of actions ACORN local organizations are involved in, as well as ACORNís reading of national, international and regional issues. Mike Miller is associated with ACORN, in that they are the publisher of Social Policy; but they have essentially given Mike a free hand in how he chooses to cut issues. Contact for ACORN (as well as contact people) is as follows:

88 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Phone: (718) 246-7900


Wayne Rathke, founder and still very active in setting its directions
Steve Kest, executive director


DART (Direct Action and Research Training)

DART is a midsize network, primarily doing institutional organizing in southern states and in the Midwest. Its origins were in Florida, where close to 50% of their organizations continue to exist. It is an extremely relational network, with an emphasis on building relational power. DART has a large number of African-American churches and pastors in its constituency. It tends to organize in midsize cities (Dayton, Columbus, Louisville, Jacksonville) rather than giant cities. DART is the network that does the best job of working with Protestant (especially African-American Protestant) theology, evidenced by its annual Clergy Conference which is always "sold out" with speakers of the caliber of Johnny Ray Youngblood., Curtis Jones and Rabbi Jonah Pesner. It has a very strong biblical training component that I helped to develop with them. That training includes introductory training in how to read and use the Bible to do social analysis and to work for corporate and social reform in cities through community organizing. The Clergy Conference is a continuing means for honing biblical interpretation skills. It makes strong use of the CSCO/PUT video course, "Building A People of Power" in its training. And its pastors are the primary users of a PUT curriculum, "How Godís People Can Address Injustice", which was written by R. Charles Grant (one of the pastors in DART) and myself. DART Also in its Organizers Institute, DART has probably the most systematic recruitment and training program for potential organizers of any of the networks in its Organizers Institute. Contact for DART is as follows:

The DART Center
P.O. Box 370791
314 NE 26th Terrace
Miami, FL. 3313l7-0791

Phone: (305) 576-8020


John Calkins, Director
Holly Holcomb, Associate Director
Dr. Jana Adams, Training Coordinator
Ben MacConnell, Organizer Recruiter


Gamaliel Foundation

Gamaliel is the third-largest of the networks (PICO is second and IAF is first). It is also known as the most assertive of the networks, most closely following the organizing strategies as well as the organizing philosophy of Saul Alinsky (see IAF below). The result is that local community organizations that are a part of Gamaliel have the reputation of being the most confrontive in the organizing movement today. That confrontational style is as true of their work with local churches and member institutions as it is with public agencies whom they target for action. Gamaliel has done some effective theological work, especially through their occasional theology papers and through pastors conferences. The person who provides significant leadership to Gamalielís theological reflection is Dennis Jacobsen, who is an ELCA pastor from Milwaukee where he is a mover-and-shaker in Gamalielís Milwaukee organization, MICAH. Jacobsen is best known for his book, Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2001). I have never been asked to do any work with Gamaliel. Contact for Gamaliel is as follows:

203 North Wabash, Suite 808
Chicago, IL. 60601

Phone: (312) 357-2639


Greg Galluzzo, Director
Dennis Jacobsen, pastor of Incarnation Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI.


(IAF) Industrial Areas Foundation

The IAF is the oldest and largest of the organizing networks in the United States, with nearly two-thirds of all the 134 community organizations in the US in this network. The IAF is also organizing in Great Britain, Germany and South Africa. The IAF was founded by Saul Alinsky in 1942 in order to coordinate his organizing work in the major cities of the US. It still continues that organizing task through four regional organizations working in 78 cities; those cities tend to be the largest of USA cities (New York, Los Angeles metropolitan area, Chicago metropolitan area, Houston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Dallas, Phoenix, etc.). In its organizing, it has developed several national initiatives, as well. These include the Nehemiah Homes (building affordable homes with the organizing poor in Baltimore, Boston, the Bronx, East Brooklyn, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia), the Alliance School Program (which organizes parents to be involved in the decision-making and the schooling of their childrenís schools), and Project QUEST (job creation, training and placement effort organized and controlled by the people).

While remaining faithful to Alinskyís vision of a peopleís democracy and his primary principles (e.g., the Iron Rule:: "Never do for others what they can do for themselves"), the IAF has proven itself particularly adept at adapting and even changing Alinsky strategies to work more effectively in a different age. Some of those adaptations include: (1) building permanent organizations (Alinsky believed an organization could effectively last for only five years; some of the IAF organizations are now more than 30 years old); (2) changing from "community organizing" to "broad-based organizing", in which a politically diverse, ethnically diverse, organizationally diverse and geographically diverse body, is built that ties middle class, working class and the poor into a common organization (e.g., the IAF broad-based organization of Los Angeles that I belong to - ONE LA Ė consists of 125 organizations, including Protestant and Catholic churches, synagogues, mosques, unions, schools, and non-profit organizations spread across nearly 50 of the 88 cities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area; their founding convention on July 11, 2004 had 12,300 people from these 125 organizations present as well as every major politician whose constituency is within Los Angeles County); (3) formal training for all organizers and volunteers (Alinsky didnít believe in formal training, but rather only the training an organizer-candidate would receive following around a professional organizer) exemplified in their quarterly 10-day trainings around the US; (4) the concept of power as being both unilateral (what institutions exercise) and relational (what people exercise), and building relational power by building public-life relationships with people through the strategies of individual (one-on-one) and house meetings (Alinsky thought one-on-ones and house meetings were a waste of time); (5) building organizing around the concept of an "exchange of power" between the people and the political, economic, educational or social institutions they might target, rather than solely around the tactic of "confrontation"; an exchange of power is built through the nurturance of relationships with officials and out of those relationships, placing people pressure upon them to win negotiated settlements. Many of these practices have become a standard part of the organizing of any network, but it was the IAF that first developed and practiced each of the above strategies that has ended up "re-making" organizing theory and action.

IAF has a strong biblical and theological tradition. Alinsky didnít have much tolerance for religious institutions (including the Catholic Church) except to use them in his organizing efforts. The present IAF sees religious institutions as its power base, and therefore places a strong emphasis upon building the interior power and strength of each of its religious bodies. It does this in three ways: (1) organizing: it is commonplace for an organizer to be assigned to a local congregation; that is one reason why the organizing staff of each local broad-based organization is so large (e.g., ONE LA has nearly 20 organizers); that organizer is to help that church build a "core team" to provide leadership to the church in its involvement in organizing, but the organizer is also available to the pastor and leadership of that church to help them use organizing strategy in the interior life of their congregation (e.g., stewardship, new member recruitment, conducting meetings, etc.); (2) training Ė every pastor and every member of a core team and the entire leadership of a given church are invited to participate in the 1, 5 and 10 day trainings IAF holds monthly throughout the year; each training includes times of reflection on how the principles or strategies they are learning can be applied to the strengthening and building up of their churches; (3) providing frequent opportunity for pastors and church leaders to do biblical and theological reflection both on doing social analysis and in learning how to more effectively organize. For example, ONE LA has one overnight retreat every quarter for all its clergy, with usually over 100 present; presenters have included people like Walter Bruggemann, Ron White and myself. Besides my personal and church involvement in ONE LA, I have also put together a comprehensive biblical learning design for the SW Region of IAF, have trained all its organizers in Protestant and evangelical biblical reflection and have done two- to three-day pastors workshops for SW Region IAF organizations in Austin, the Bay area (San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley), Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans and northern Louisiana, Phoenix and Sacramento as well as Philadelphia, Portland and Spokane in other regions..

There are many books written about the work of the IAF, including Alinskyís classic Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, Ed Chambers Roots for Radicals, Sam Freedmanís Upon This Rock, Greg Pierceís Activism That Makes Sense, Mary Beth Rogerís Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Power In Action and Rick Warrenís Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American Democracy (probably the most academic and thorough examination of the IAF). Contact information for IAF is as follows:

220 West Kinzie Street
Chicago, IL. 60610

Phone: (312) 245-9211


Edward T. Chambers, Executive Director

Executive Team:
Ernesto Cortes, Jr. (SW Regional Director)
Michael Gecan (NE Regional Director)
Arnold Graf (Midwest Regional Director)
Margaret McKenzie (Pacific Regional Director)
Christine Stephens (Director of IAFís theological, biblical and conceptual training)

National Staff:
Pearl Ceasar
Jonathan Lange
Maribeth Larkin
Frank Pierson
Stephen Roberson
Gerald Taylor


PICO (Pacific Institute for Community Organization)

PICO began as an organizing effort on the west coast (hence its name), but it now is organizing in cities as far east as Camden, New Jersey! It is the second largest organizing network in the United States. It was founded by Ed Bauman, a former Jesuit seminarian who was one of Alinskyís lieutenants, organzing alongside Ed Chambers, Fred Ross and Dick Harmon. PICO makes a major emphasis upon theological reflection and the building of a relational culture; that reflection was deeply influenced by the spirituality of the Jesuit tradition, but has become quite board as it has sought to be responsive both to the growth of Protestant churches in PICO organizations and of religious institutions outside of Christendom. Contact information on PICO is as follows:

171 Santa Rosa Avenue
Oakland, CA. 94610

Phone: (510) 655-2801


Ed Bauman, Executive Director


RCNO (Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations)

RCNO is the smallest of the organizing networks, basically because it is so focused in its organizing work. It concentrates exclusively on organizing among small to midsize African American urban churches. It believes that the uniqueness of the African-American experience is inadequately appreciated by the other networks. Likewise, it believes that there is significant social capital in the small to midsize (below 300) member church that, because of its smallness, tends to get overlooked in metropolitan-wide organizing. Therefore, RCNO seeks to fill this unique niche and to organize around relationships and issues unique to the African-American church. Because of its unique niche, RCNO concentrates a great deal on African-American theology and biblical reflection, both within the Protestant and Pentecostal church experience. Contact information for RCNO is as follows:

738 East 92nd Street
Los Angeles, CA. 90002

Phone: (323) 755-RCNO


Rev. Eugene Williams, Executive Director


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