Vehicles of change: context and participation in power-based community organizing
Christens, Brian David
This is a study of participation and engagement in power-based community organizing – a multidimensional approach to community and person-level change. Community organizing groups seek to develop and strengthen local networks of voluntary members that operate independent of particular issues, and span multiple constituencies. The local federations participating in this research have harnessed the power of volunteer participation to pursue fair lending, affordable housing, improvements in education, community development, crime prevention, and other issues of local concern. Understanding impacts on participation, particularly setting-level or contextual influences, is crucial to furthering the goals of power-based organizing, especially as these goals are addressed by maintaining and deepening member participation. This study examines individual participation patterns in context – specifically, the settings, networks, and neighborhoods in which participatory activities occur. Longitudinal data analysis on participation in organizing groups demonstrates great variation in rates of return and attrition among participants. Attendance at certain types of meetings (particularly research actions), participation in the relational work of organizing through one-to-one meetings, and social network engagement are found to be important determinants of future participation. This study sheds light on dynamics within the practice of community organizing at the interstices of group process and individual behaviors, and suggests ways that intentionality in the application of an organizing model can help to sustain and deepen member participation, enhancing the power of local organizing groups. Implications are explored more broadly as they relate to movement building, and attempts to increase civic engagement.