Reimagine Jobs

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.

You can also subscribe to the Radio RP&E podcast feed or listen on iTunes.

Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment

Social Movement Unionism: Teachers Can Lead the Way

Teachers, students, and parents across the United States are experiencing wrenching changes in our system of education—from the way schools are run, to who gets to teach, and what may be taught. As students are robbed of meaningful learning and time for play or creativity—in short, anything that’s not tested—hostile politicians blame teachers for an astounding list of social and economic ills ranging from unemployment to moral decline.

In all but the wealthiest school systems in the United States, academic accomplishment has been reduced to scores on standardized tests developed and evaluated by for-profit companies. Parents, teachers, and students—education’s most important stakeholders—have little say in what is taught, while corporate chiefs, politicians in their thrall, and foundations that receive funding from billionaires who profit from pro-business education policies determine the substance of education.[1] While almost every country in the world has experienced this chilling form of social engineering, in the U.S. it is sold to the public as essential to raising educational standards—making individuals and the nation economically competitive.

The Chicago Teachers’ Strike and the Struggle for a New Unionism

One of the most striking features of the Chicago Teachers’ strike was the level of community support for the teachers. Contrary to public expectations, the strike turned into a social mobilization around education rather than a battle for the special interests of teachers. This feature did not come out of nowhere, but actually reflected an on-going effort to shift the direction of labor unionism in America, and in this case, labor unionism among teachers.

As successful as teacher organizing has been over the last 50 years, there has been an increasing gap between teachers and communities.  This achieved catastrophic proportions in the disastrous 1968 New York City Teachers’ Strike, which pitted African American and Puerto Rican community-based organizations against the largely white United Federation of Teachers (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) over the issue of community control of schools. While the teachers’ unions became increasingly successful in winning a better living standard for their members, they frequently became a source of resentment for many parents and community-based organizations which no longer saw the unions as being at the vanguard of the struggle for genuine education reform.

The battle in Chicago was representative of an effort not only to democratize the Chicago Teachers Union, but also to place it on the frontlines of the fight for an education system focusing on the needs of the children and their teachers, rather than the needs of corporations. Corporate America—in both its liberal and conservative clothing—has been actively seeking to alter public education so that it utilizes inappropriate private sector methodology to teach our children. That, combined with an effort to link the school systems with the needs of the so-called free market, has created a school culture where critical thinking is not promoted, but test-taking is.

It is in this context—after years of struggles within the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—that the elements of a more social justice-oriented unionism have begun to emerge. New, progressive leaders have taken the helm of several teachers’ unions, leaders who recognize that teachers cannot fight their battles alone. Not only do teachers need allies, but the brand of unionism practiced by teachers must share a deeper connection to the larger struggle for progressive reform.

The architects of these policies—imposed first in developing countries—openly state that the changes will make education better fit the new global economy by producing workers who are (minimally) educated for jobs that require no more than a 7th or 8th grade education; while a small fraction of the population receive a high quality education to become the elite who oversee finance, industry, and technology. Since most workers do not need to be highly educated, it follows that teachers with considerable formal education and experience are neither needed nor desired because they demand higher wages, which is considered a waste of government money.[2] Most teachers need only be “good enough”—as one U.S. government official phrased it—to follow scripted materials that prepare students for standardized tests.

Resisting “Free Market” Education
Education happens to be the last sector of the economy still mainly “owned” by the public and also one of the last that still has powerful unions. So, it’s not surprising that for-profit companies wishing to access the education “market” want the teachers’ unions eliminated, or at least housebroken to accept their “educational” reforms.

Privatization, school closings, and standardized testing are all advanced with the rhetoric of improving educational opportunity for those who have been excluded from prosperity. Persistent inequality within society and in education is at the heart of this project’s appeal. What should count most in persuading poor and working people to reject “free market” reforms is the fact that these so-called “put children first” policies actually increase inequality for the vast majority of children who most need improved schools.

We cannot rely on schools to replace the massive economic and social investment needed to diminish poverty and unemployment.[3] At the same time, we need to improve what goes on in the schools that serve poor and minority youth by providing the support that can make a difference: smaller class sizes; high-quality professional development; a stable teaching force; and a school culture that respects what the children bring rather than blaming them or their families for what they lack.[4]

The Stakes in Reforming Teachers Unions
The project in education reform—based on ideas identified as “neoliberalism”—has generated opposition wherever teachers and parents have the political freedom to resist. The aim of the architects of this project is to eliminate the space for critique and social justice teaching within the schools, and the voices of parents and community who want their children to have access to the kind of education being reserved for the few. The powerful elites who share information and policies across international borders understand—better than most teachers, unfortunately—that despite their glaring problems, teachers’ unions are the main impediment to the neoliberal agenda in education.

Even when unions don’t live up to their ideals, unionism’s principles of collective action and solidarity contradict neoliberalism’s key premises—individual initiative and competition. Neoliberalism pushes a “survival of the fittest” mentality, while labor unions presume that people have to work together to protect their common interests. Moreover, unions have institutional roots and have legal rights. They are a stable force with a regular source of income in the form of membership dues and can exercise institutional power. These characteristics give teachers’ unions an organizational capacity seldom acquired by advocacy groups or parents, whose involvement generally ends with their children’s graduation.

It is an unfortunate paradox that the very factors that make teachers’ unions stable and potentially powerful also induce hierarchy and conservatism.[5] Neither unions as organizations nor union members as individuals are immune from societal prejudices that contradict the union’s premise of equality in the workplace. And despite the popular media image of teachers’ unions as “all powerful”, they are quite weak—with a disoriented and confused union leadership—where it most counts, viz. in the schools. It’s time for teachers and their unions to acknowledge that while they did not create educational inequality, they have been silent partners in maintaining it from the very start of mass public education. They must now focus on countering the well-orchestrated and extravagantly financed anti-teacher, anti-union neoliberal propaganda through their actions. After all, many of the policies of the 1960s and ‘70s that helped reduce inequality in school outcomes could not have been enacted without support from teachers, teachers’ unions, and organized labor. And the recent Chicago teachers’ strike showed that unions can provide the kind of muscle that parents and advocacy groups lack but very much need.

The stakes are very high. If we fail to make the unions what they should be, most students in the U.S. will end up trained for a life of menial labor, poverty, or imprisonment.

It’s Time for Social Movement Teachers’ Unions
It will take broad political and social resistance to reverse the tidal wave currently destroying public education. Teachers have to find an alternative to the service or business model of unionism which dominates most U.S. unions. Under the current model of unionism, members are mostly passive except when it comes to voting on a contract and electing officers every few years. The union’s goals are also restricted to members’ immediate economic concerns.

In a social movement union on the other hand, the union derives strength from its ability to mobilize members to struggle on their own behalf. Power comes from the bottom up, as it does in social movements, and the union’s organizational form is just as important as its purpose. Within a social movement union, the members’ self-interest would be broadly defined—going beyond immediate economic and contractual concerns. Such a union struggles for its members’ stake in creating a democratic and equitable society, and allies itself with other movements also working for social justice, peace, and equality.

History has shown that when teachers’ unions limit their responsibility to their members’ immediate economic concerns, they end up taking positions that come back to haunt them. The union often uses its resources to win a skirmish today at the expense of building consensus with potential allies whom it may need at a later date to win more important battles. A prime example of this short-sighted approach is the matter of health care, where teachers’ unions—along with the rest of the labor movement—used their political power to obtain health care coverage for their members but did not fight for universal health care, such as exists in Canada and Western Europe. Now politicians have easily convinced tax payers that teachers and other public employees should not have the benefits that most voters lack. As a result, teachers have been isolated in trying to save their benefits, which have been drastically reduced.

Social Movement Unionism is Practical
A social movement teachers’ union builds consensus with its potential allies on educational issues by examining how all stakeholders view the problem before taking action. Consider the difference in how a social movement union and a business union respond to school closings, ‘co-location’ of charter schools in existing school buildings, or the replacing of school districts with networks of schools run by nonprofit groups beholden to the agenda of billionaires. The damage in privatizing schools, creating charter schools, and charter school networks is well-documented[6], but teachers’ unions have been incapable of stopping this trend because the current business model union assumes that its power consists of union officers’ expertise to win concessions.

In contrast, a social movement teachers’ union reaches out to members, parents, students, and other school employees, as well as unions representing other workers in the schools, and takes leadership in organizing a coalition that looks to mobilize more support within the immediate neighborhood and the larger community.[7] What changes are needed to make the school more successful? How can the union help win these from the School Board? The campaign to avoid school closings begins with mobilizing parents and school employees and is based on the principle that no decision of such importance should be made without consulting those affected. Campaigns in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Rochester have included demonstrations, packing Board meetings for presentations, circulating petitions to the Board and local politicians, and civil disobedience, such as occupying the school building. The protests are organized and publicized through social media to counter the “news” in the corporate media, which seldom explains the harm done in school closings.

Social movement unionism requires stretching the union’s definition of “what counts” for its members. Ideally, it would include reaching out to parents, community, and labor, and casting issues in terms of social justice, not just teachers’ immediate self-interest. Goals would be configured in light of how the school and school system currently operate, without shirking from naming systemic racism as one of the problems. The union functions as a connective tissue, linking struggles for a just and equitable society with teachers’ concerns for schools and education.

The reform leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union developed a program that laid out what schools should look like, based on what the children deserve but don’t receive because of educational apartheid.[8] It used contract negotiations creatively to fight for improvements that affected children directly, such as giving teachers the right to distribute books on the first day of school and providing air conditioning on hot days. The union countered the Mayor’s insistence on a longer day for students—for more test preparation—and no extra pay for teachers, with a demand for a better day and the reinstallation of art, music, and physical education teachers.

Thinking Globally As We Fight Locally
The union is almost never strong enough to determine the contours of struggles—especially now when the unions and public education are under such sustained, brutal attack—so union activists and supporters in the community must often confront tough choices about how long and hard to fight, and for what. While unions must be pressed to win parent and community trust and continue to earn it, the advocacy groups must in turn keep in mind that though unions make strong allies, they are subject to limitations (legal and internal) that advocacy groups are not. This is a tension that we have to live with.

The attacks on public education and teachers’ unions are actually part of a global project, so our resistance must be international. It’s not enough for teachers in one community to organize, or for a union to have a strong national presence. Education policies are borrowed and adapted through collaborations of the wealthy and powerful at economic organizations and international summits.

Unions in the U.S. have an important stake in the success of teachers’ resistance elsewhere in the world because it helps weaken a common opponent. When Joel Klein, former head of the New York City school system, meets with Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain, we can be sure that they don’t just exchange recommendations for good restaurants in their hometowns. We cannot duck this global aspect, any more than we can effectively address climate change by working within one community. Neoliberalism’s devastation of public education is a global epidemic that requires a global cure. International solidarity is not charity; it’s in our self-interest, as is democratizing and revitalizing teachers unions.

1.    The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fairtest) produces fact sheets that summarize relevant research on the effects of standardized testing. See <>.
2.    A perspective laid out in a World Bank report, “Making Services Work for Poor People,” explained in my article for New Politics ( (See RP&E Journal, Public Property Popular Power—New Majority Rising).
3.    David Berliner in “Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth,” explains why powerful forces outside of schools make economic and social improvements essential for academic achievement across the board. Available at
4.    Much has been written about helping teachers to see beyond what students lack, to identify and draw on the “funds of knowledge” in students’ families and communities. See <> for research supported by the federal government in the 1990s but jettisoned in favor of standardized testing.
5.    See <>.
6.    In its latest report on education, “Making Schools Work: New Evidence on Accountability Reforms,” the World Bank advocates making teachers “contract workers” (<,,contentMDK:22840768~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.html>). See <> for Richard Ingersoll’s report on why teacher-turnover hurts student achievement.
7.    See <> for a New York City panel discussion on the nuts and bolts of this type of organizing.
8.    See <>.

Lois Weiner is a life-long teacher, union activist, educator, and author. She has been an officer of three union locals and is internationally known for her work on urban teacher education. This article is adapted from her new book, The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice, published by Haymarket Press (

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.


Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


Related Stories: 
PDF icon 19-2.weiner.pdf1.25 MB
Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 
In all but the wealthiest school systems in the United States, academic accomplishment has been reduced to scores on standardized tests developed and evaluated by for-profit companies.

Employment Equity in Minneapolis

On August 8, 2012, Minneapolis became the first city in the nation to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment. Coauthored by Councilmembers Cam Gordon and Don Samuels and passed unanimously, it declares institutional racism “a primary reason for unemployment disparities” and requires the city to take action to ensure that people of color have a fair shot at government jobs, promotions, and contracts.

“We heard from the community that the city better have its own house in order,” said Gordon. “If we can develop tools that make a difference within the city, that’s going to be more powerful than [trying] to tell others what they should be doing.”

The council has set itself a target of reducing racial disparities in employment and poverty rates for residents of color by 25 percent by 2016; and increasing the people of color hired on city-funded projects to 32 percent (from 11 percent ).[1]

Without Inclusion—Goodbye Growth
The Twin Cities region has the worst racial employment gap in the nation, according to Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute. African Americans are more than three times as likely as whites to be out of work, and Native Americans are four times more likely to be jobless.[2]

Forty percent of Minneapolis residents are people of color but they only hold 17 percent of the jobs and make up 23 percent of the city’s workforce. Such inequities are potentially disastrous for the region’s future, officials and advocates agree.

“If you want a region to be viable and growing, you need to draw from all sectors of society, especially those that will be dominant in decades to come,” says Shawn Lewis, an urban planner who played a major role in promoting the ordinance. “This is not only a moral argument, it’s economic.”

The city took the first steps toward adopting the resolution in 2008, when it established an Equity in Employment Task Force and in 2012, hired a full-time Director of Employment Equity. But it resulted from years of advocacy and grassroots organizing from the people.

When Communities Lead, Cities Must Follow
HIRE Minnesota, a coalition of 70 diverse organizations and 2,000 residents, began a campaign to bring the state “from worst to first” in 2008. HIRE actively participated in the Minneapolis City Council process—sitting on the task force and filling council chambers with members who spoke in support of the resolution.

Metro Talking Circle, a volunteer group which works to advance economic equity for African American and Native American communities, developed recommendations for the task force and laid out these goals for the city: (1) lead by example; (2) strengthen workforce development; and (3) support efforts by business to hire, retain, and promote more people of color.
In response, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has increased its hiring of people of color on projects by 138 percent since 2009.

Towards Action and Accountability
As a first step toward implementation, the city is developing an equity and assessment toolkit to guide its budget, policy, and program decisions.

Also acknowledging the need for action at the regional level, the city has joined with the Ramsey County Blue Ribbon Commission’s “Everybody In” effort to reduce employment disparities throughout the Twin Cities metro area.[3]

“We will be in the room, reading the reports, raising questions,” says HIRE Organizer Avi Viswanathan. He is hopeful that the city’s commitment to leading by example will have a ripple effect that reaches private employers as well.

1.    Nick Sudheimer. “Minneapolis Revises Minority Workforce Goals.” The Minnesota Daily. April 09, 2012. <>
2.     Algernon Austin. “Black Metropolitan Unemployment in 2011.” Economic Policy Institute. July 2, 2012. <>
3.     “Everybody In: A Report to Reduce Racial Employment Disparities in the Ramsey County Metropolitan Area.” September 2011. Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board. <>

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.


Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


Related Stories: 
PDF icon 19-2.policylink.pdf1.03 MB

Jeans with Justice Worker Coop in Texas Thrives Decades After Plant Shutdown

Fall 2012 marked 20 years since the signing ceremony of the North American Free Trade Agreemhent (NAFTA) in San Antonio, Texas. The city held a two-day conference in November to commemorate the signing. It’s also 22 years since San Antonio’s Levi’s factory closed—throwing 1,150 women out of work. A 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that almost 700,000 U.S. workers were displaced by NAFTA.1 In San Antonio, the workers fought back. –Ed.

On November 17, one day after the big NAFTA conference in San Antonio’s Northside, we at Fuerza Unida (Strength Together) were in the Southside, celebrating our first line of denim clothing, including “Jeans with Justice.” These aren’t just important because they represent our newest cooperative enterprise, but because our organization started when we lost our jobs making blue jeans for Levi Strauss.

We are two of the 1,150 women workers who lost our jobs when the Levi’s factory closed on January 15, 1990. We were laid off without notice and without fair compensation. When we worked in the factory, our eyes were closed. We knew nothing of politics. We didn’t know we had rights as workers, nor did we know how to organize. But when the plant closed, we began to organize together with other workers and allies to demand fair compensation from Levi’s and better conditions for workers in other plants.

Our campaign served as an example for workers in the same situation across the country. Most of us were Mexican immigrants with little education and limited English. But our story helped other women understand that they can organize and fight. We worked with women in factories from San Antonio to San Francisco. Thanks to our efforts, Levi’s provided a much bigger severance package to the workers laid off from plants that closed after ours.

Part of our response was to form Fuerza Unida, a membership organization that empowers women workers and their families to achieve social, economic, and environmental justice. We aspire to a world where workers, especially immigrants and women of color and their families, can take back their voices and live full lives with dignity and respect for their traditions and cultural values.

In the late 1990s, we got together and decided to organize all workers, whether or not they were Levi’s workers. We also began to concentrate on problems outside the workplace, responding to a variety of needs in our community. We currently do voter registration work and citizenship counseling, and hold workshops on domestic violence and immigration. We also provide health services, have a food program, and work with San Antonio’s youth. These initiatives have come out of our monthly meetings with community members who come to tell us about the needs and problems they face.

In our struggle, solidarity with groups both inside and outside the U.S. has been very important. This work cannot be done alone; we need to connect in order to help one another. The talks we’ve had, not just here in San Antonio but also in Albuquerque, Washington, D.C., and other cities, as well as in other countries, such as South Africa, Brazil, and Canada, have served to tell our stories. This is another way we resist and struggle against injustice.

In 1996, we started our own sewing collective with ex-Levi’s workers and other women from the community. We made pajamas, recycled handbags, scarves, and sweaters, and did alterations. Now we’ve started making denim jeans. With the collective we have a lot more control over our work. But we’re not just producing things; as we work, we talk about politics and anything that affects our community.

Through the sewing collective, we provide work and raise money for Fuerza Unida. We’ve developed plans to grow from six to 10 workers in 2013, and to 15 in 2014. We’re in the process of buying our own building. Our board of directors, made up of our members, continues its development for our joint growth.

Fuerza Unida is maintained by its members; this is a key part of our process. Members pay an annual fee to receive educational workshops, access to the food program, plus a voice and a vote on the organization’s mission and programs. This organizational model, similar to a union, does not just build member involvement, it also helps members find ways to support themselves economically and guarantees them the right to guide the development of the organization. We’re all in the same boat and have the same vision of struggle.

Nelson Wolf, the mayor of San Antonio at the time NAFTA was signed, talks about all the jobs that NAFTA brought to the city. At the same time, across our nation, we hear about high rates of unemployment and how the middle class is suffering. People are talking about the struggle to retain Social Security, to provide health insurance to people who can’t afford to purchase it. They’re talking about the lack of plans and resources for retirement. We ask ourselves every day: “What will it be like for our kids?”
Some so-called leaders say that NAFTA created a lot of jobs, but that hasn’t been our experience. Since we announced that we’ll be making blue jeans many people have called looking for work . The workers who call us talk about the way they’re treated at their jobs, which means that there are no good jobs. The only jobs that NAFTA brought are the poorly paid jobs with no benefits.

In San Antonio, our community is getting together to create a statewide agenda opposing the lack of adequate polices for the Latino community. Hotel and restaurant workers are organizing to demand that they be paid their tips, and domestic workers are organizing to demand fairer treatment at the local and the national level.

It will take a lot of work to achieve our vision of justice and human rights for all. We need to continue the struggle if we want to live with dignity and solidarity. Having the right to vote is very important but voting is not the only way to get involved in social, political, economic, and environmental struggles. This is a constant struggle. It’s a way of achieving justice and hope—the hope that one day our people’s rights will no longer be violated.

1.    Robert Scott. “Heading South: U.S.-Mexico trade and job displacement after NAFTA.” Economic Policy Institute. The report estimates 682,900 U.S. jobs have been “lost or displaced” because of the agreement.

Executive Director Petra Mata and Program Director Viola Casares are cofounders of Fuerza Unida.

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.


Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


Related Stories: 
PDF icon 19-2.casares-mata.pdf1.22 MB

Reimagine Everything

From a Speech by Grace Lee Boggs

I’m a very old woman. I was born in 1915 in what was later known as the First World War, two years before the Russian Revolution. And because I was born to Chinese immigrant parents and because I was born female—I learned very quickly that the world needed changing.

But what I also learned as I grew older was that how we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change.

The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to think not only about change in our institutions, but changes in ourselves. We are at the stage where the people in charge of the government and industry are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s up to us to reimagine the alternatives and not just protest against them and expect them to do better.

We are at the point of a cultural revolution in ourselves and in our institutions that is as far-reaching as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture 11,000 years ago, and from agriculture to industry a few hundred years ago. How do we reimagine education? How do we reimagine community? How do we reimagine family? How do we reimagine sexual identity? How do we reimagine everything in the light of a change that is so far reaching and is our responsibility to make? We have to think beyond capitalist categories. We can’t expect them to make it. We have to do the reimagining ourselves.

How Do We Reimagine?
We reimagine by combining activism with philosophy. We have to do what I call visionary organizing. We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity. It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected. But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative; to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition. That’s why it’s so wonderful to be here today—that we dare to talk about revolution in such fundamental terms.

Detroit: From Unimaginable to Reimagined
I came to Detroit nearly 60 years ago and since that time I’ve lived in the same house most of the time. When I came to Detroit there were two million people here. [Now there are about 700,000.] The Chrysler plant, where my husband worked, employed 17,000 workers. Outside my house, if you threw a stone up in the air, it would hit a Chrysler worker on the way down. Within a  year, the 17,000 workers dwindled to 2,000. High-tech automation was eliminating the jobs that had made Detroit the arsenal of democracy during World War II.

How do we grapple with a change as remarkable as that? How do we take advantage of high tech to create a new mode of production? How do we use it to make ourselves more self-reliant and more productive?

We have to reimagine work—we can’t talk about jobs any more. We can’t beg for jobs or hope for jobs. And we have to recognize that jobs in the industrial period were actually a way to fragment our humanity. We began to depend on higher wages and consumer goods to compensate for our dehumanization. We have to create forms of work that create community and expand our humanity. I mean that’s where we are!

That’s why we have to talk about revolution these days. We have to get rid of the old ideas of leadership and followership and use our imaginations to create the new.

I’d like to say something about the crisis we faced in Detroit in the 1980s. In the wake of the rebellions, a lot of violence had broken out in the city. The veterans who were coming back from the Vietnam War, were developing a crack society—a lot of crack, a lot of violence against one another. [Mayor] Coleman Young proposed that we should create a casino industry to create jobs because [he said] a lack of jobs was responsible for the violence. We said “no.” The alternative was to involve the young people in the rebuilding, the redefining, and the re-inspiriting of the city from the ground up. We created this program called Detroit Summer. Shea Howell was the co-coordinator of the first Detroit Summer and for many years after. I think that is visionary organizing.

How do we rebuild, how do we redefine, how do we re-spirit our communities and one another? We can’t expect Obama or Mitt Romney to abolish the war in Afghanistan. They have put us in those wars. They have created the crisis. They are not going to solve it. We’re the ones who have to solve it by creating another kind of society and by taking advantage of their helplessness and their powerlessness to do it.

We have been lucky in Detroit. Out of the devastation of deindustrialization, we have recognized the need to create a post-modern, post-industrial society. I urge you to come to Detroit and get the idea and share the experience of the American revolution we are creating and to begin your own visionary organizing back in your own community. We have the opportunity; we have the challenge in this period to create a new humanity, to create a new society, to create a whole new paradigm of education. We have to think of education and young people not as a problem but as a solution. We have to enlist them in the solutions to the problems of our communities. That’s a whole new way of reimagining youth and the relationships between generations. [It’s] an enormous challenge, an enormous task. Now, where do we go from here?

It seems to me that we don’t need to talk only about the hours of work but about the difference between the way women look at work and the way you have a job. You have jobs that demean you, that dehumanize you, that fragment you; that make you an appendage to the machine. We make up for it by demanding higher wages or shorter hours. What we need is the kind of work that women do—not counting the hours because they care—and that’s a real transformation from a patriarchal concept of work to a matriarchal concept of work. That’s where we are. I mean we are fundamentally [challenged] in terms of our human identity at this moment. Until we approach this moment with that challenge in mind, we’re going to get lost.

Growing Our Souls
I first used the concept of growing our souls about 10 years ago. Radicals don’t usually talk about souls—but I think we have to. What I mean by souls is the capacity to create the world anew, which each of us has. How do we talk about that with one another? It’s not only important to act, it’s important to talk because when you talk you begin to create new ideas and new languages. We’ve all been damaged by this system—it’s not only the capitalists who are the scoundrels, the villains; we are all part of it. And we all have to change what we say, what we do, what we think, what we imagine.
I like to encourage folks to not only think dialectically and philosophically but also to think more about our brains, about neuroscience—about the capacity we have to think anew. We can only do that if we understand that there’s a tendency in the structure of our brains to get fixed in old categories, to get locked into old concepts. That’s why philosophy is so important—thinking dialectically, thinking philosophically, thinking about growing our souls.

Grace Lee Boggs is a Detorit-based organizer. Excerpted from “On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis” held on March 2, 2012 at the Pauley Ballroom, University of California, Berkeley. Transcript courtesy of Making Contact.

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive. 


You can also subscribe to the Radio RP&E podcast feed or listen on iTunes

Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


PDF icon 19-2.boggs_.pdf1.3 MB
Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 
"The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. — Grace Lee Boggs

Good Jobs in Bad Times: Evergreen Worker Coops in Ohio

Cleveland rocks!” is the theme song of the long-running Drew Carey TV show. But not all neighborhoods rock equally, at least when it comes to jobs and economic opportunity.

Cleveland—once put down as “the mistake on the lake”—has undergone a dramatic revival in its downtown business district over the past 15 years with popular attractions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the East 4th Street food and entertainment section, and new stadiums and arena for professional sports teams. University Circle—the city’s cultural center—has a vibrant core of health, cultural, and educational institutions, as well as some major international businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in good-paying jobs.

In sharp contrast are the poor areas which have not shared in the revival. These neighborhoods, where vacant lots, deteriorated buildings, water shut-offs, and foreclosure signs are common, are home to about 43,000 people and an unemployment rate close to 40 percent. The median annual income is less than $18,500.

 “University Circle has been radically disconnected from the poor neighborhoods surrounding it,” Ted Howard, director of the Democracy Collaborative, told attendees at the 2010 ACE (Association of Cooperative Educators) Institute in Cleveland last summer. “So... how do we break down this barrier and create opportunity for the people of the surrounding neighborhoods?”

Worker-Owned Coops Offer Second Chance
A part of the answer lies with Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland—a network of worker-owned businesses—first launched in October 2009. The Evergreen Laundry Cooperative serves several large healthcare institutions in the University Circle area, and the Ohio Cooperative Solar installs solar panels for large institutions and businesses.

Many of the worker-owners of the coops have had to overcome incarceration records and substance abuse and have struggled to find decent jobs in the past. To them, merely finding a steady job in their depressed neighborhoods is an accomplishment, let alone one that helps them build equity. Next year, the Green City Growers Cooperative plans to break ground on one of the nation’s largest urban food production greenhouses. Another coop venture is The Neighborhood Voice, a free student-operated online and print monthly targeted towards those who live and work in the greater University Circle area.

Ultimately, the hope is that there will be dozens of worker-owned coops operating under the Evergreen umbrella, transforming and lifting Cleveland’s economy in much the same way as the worker-owned cooperatives of northern Spain’s Mondragon region, according to James Anderson of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), which helped spearhead the launch of the Evergreen project. Mondragon began with one coop and a handful of jobs 50 years ago but is a large and diverse network providing more than 100,000 good jobs today.

Novel Ways to Break Cycle of Poverty
In December 2006, the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland—a research and policy center focused on community wealth-building strategies—held a roundtable in Cleveland to explore innovative ways to break the cycle of poverty in the greater University Circle area. Participants included faculty members, community development experts, leaders of Employee Stock Ownership Plans, chamber of commerce leaders, and a hospital CEO, among others.

Subsequently, the Cleveland Foundation—the region’s largest philanthropy—asked to help develop a new economic inclusion plan for the greater University Circle area.

“We were lucky to have the Ohio Employee Ownership Center just down the road and access to low-cost capital,” said Howard, of the Democracy Collaborative. “Lack of capital is the biggest restraint on the spread of the coop movement.” He recalled a conversation with the leader of an economic Empowerment Zone created earlier to direct more financial resources to the greater University Circle area. Despite the expenditure of some $34 million under that effort, “there was virtually nothing left behind afterward. It did not make a difference.”

The consensus was to try and attack the problem with a business development strategy and create for-profit businesses owned by workers from the community and the institutions that are their customers. These worker-owned businesses would pay living wages and offer an opportunity for wealth-building through equity accumulation in the businesses.

“We wanted to root capital in the community so that it would not get up and leave,” said Howard. “Worker-owners of a business are not going to offshore their own jobs.”

To help refine the strategy, 120 people—mostly leaders of large institutions and businesses of the University Circle area—identified as the primary customers of the new coops were interviewed over the ensuing six months. When it was determined that there was a huge economic opportunity to source business locally, Evergreen was formed.

Key Strategies: Locally Focused and Green
When looking to organize and launch the first Evergreen business, Howard recalled the late John Logue, founder of the OEOC, saying: “This project cannot be allowed to fail, so we must have Jim Anderson (who formerly led the Republic Storage system in Canton, OH) on board.” It was a tribute to the business acumen and organizational savvy Anderson displayed during his long professional career with employee-owned firms.

Anderson served as CEO of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry during its first year before turning over leadership to a team of coop members in keeping with the coop’s goal of providing a career ladder to senior management for employees.

From the start, Evergreen focused on tapping the large “anchor institutions” at University Circle, which purchased goods and services worth about $3 billion annually—virtually none of them locally.

A parallel focus was to launch “green” businesses that operate in an environmentally benign manner. The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, Anderson claims, “is the greenest laundry in northeast Ohio, probably in the entire state.” Heat and water used in the operation is recycled, harsh chemicals are kept to a minimum, and the operation is housed in a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver building—an internationally recognized “green building” certification system.

Nitty-Gritty of Funding a Coop
The Evergreen Cooperative Development Fund was created as the financing entity for the entire family of coops under the Evergreen name. The first $750,000 raised came in the form of a long-term, low-interest (1 percent) loan from the Cleveland Foundation. That money was used to leverage the rest of the $5.7 million—including a $1.5 million loan from the city of Cleveland’s Housing and Urban Development 108 funds—that it cost to launch the laundry coop. The initial funding also helped Evergreen raise funds from two commercial banks and qualify for a $250,000 loan from the Commonwealth Revolving Loan Fund, established by the OEOC at Kent State University.

The initial business plan calls for the coop to break even within 18 months and beyond that, to grow the fund to about $50 million. A corporate entity—Evergreen Business Services—supplies “back office” services to all the coops in addition to housing the CEOs and offices of human resources and finance.

A Desperate Need for Good Jobs
As opening day approached, the desperate need for good jobs in the area was underscored by the roughly 500 applications received for the first dozen openings at the laundry.

“We pay a significantly higher wage,” noted Medrick Addison, a worker-supervisor at the laundry and one of the first two hires. New employees have to go through a six-month trial, at the end of which existing coop members vote on whether to accept them.

“You have to prove yourself to your fellow workers because you are essentially choosing to go into business with them,” Addison pointed out. A worker who becomes a coop member qualifies for a $2-an-hour bonus and benefits, such as Evergreen’s no-cost health package.

Many people in the area have been through various job-training programs in the past, only to find there were no jobs for them when they complete the training. Although training is still part of the picture at the laundry, it is much more than simply how to do the work and most importantly, offers a good job from day one.

Worker training provided by the OEOC begins with personal financial literacy classes, followed by basic worker coop issues—such as, knowing when to wear a owner hat vs. a worker hat—and business financial literacy. In all, training lasts about a year, with classes held every other week.

The laundry currently employs about 25 but future plans call for 50 coop members by the time the laundry reaches a “mature” level of operation—cleaning 10 million pounds of laundry annually.

When the business becomes profitable, 10 percent of profits will go back to the Evergreen Development Fund to help start other coops. Of the balance, 80 percent is distributed among the members, of which 20 percent has to be paid in cash.

Members have to invest $3,000 for a share of co-op ownership, which they can pay off at a rate of 50 cents per hour deducted from their pay increase. As the company earns profits, earnings will be placed annually in worker capital accounts with the goal of generating up to $65,000 in coop equity for each worker who stays on the job for eight years. Workers receive the money when they leave the company or retire.

“We want to keep the money circulating locally… to stop it leaking out of northeast Ohio,” says Anderson. To this end, they are constantly developing new business ideas for worker coops, including refurbishing neighborhood houses, recycling, and turning hospital medical waste into energy.

Customer Satisfaction Key to Coop Success
The future of the coop rests as much with its customers—especially the large healthcare institutions that account for most of its business—as it does with the worker-owners. So, Addison personally addresses any complaint that touches on quality control.
Additionally, one seat on the coop laundry’s board of directors is reserved for a customer. The rest of the board is made up of two coop members and two appointees of the Evergreen Cooperative Corporation, the coop network’s “holding company.” No lenders sit on the board and the bylaws have been set up to ensure that the coop is never demutualized.

Ultimately, the success of worker coops depends upon building a culture of ownership, points out Howard and underscores the point with the following story: A member of a group touring the Evergreen laundry recently—one of two union representatives from a laundry in Pittsburgh—remarked how superior it was to the laundry that they worked for, to which, an Evergreen coop member responded: “That’s the difference; we don’t work ‘for’ this business, we own it and we work for ourselves.”

Dan Campbell is the editor of Rural Cooperatives, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development bimonthly magazine from which this article is adapted.

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.


Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


Related Stories: 
PDF icon 19-2.campbell.pdf1.16 MB

Republic Windows Opens New Era for Coops in Chigago

In December 2008, the Republic Windows and Doors Company of Chicago announced that it would be closing its factory because Bank of America had refused to extend a loan. Faced with the loss of their jobs, 200 workers occupied the building and refused to leave.

As Lalos, one of the workers explained: “Bank of America has a lot to do with the problem we’re having now. [It] is one of the banks that received billions of dollars from the government.”

The workers—members of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE)—did not have to go it alone, however, because while they occupied the factory in shifts, outside in the snow, other trade unionists showed their support.

Six days into the sit-in, Bank of America agreed to extend the loan to the company and following a unanimous vote to end the occupation, the workers left the factory through the front doors—declaring victory.

At the union’s headquarters in Chicago recently, Ricky Maclin, vice president of UE Local 10, looking back on the successful occupation, pointed out that in 2008, there were many abrupt plant closures in Chicago and all over the country.
“What made us unique was our decision to fight back,” he said. “After we won they tried to make it a victory for union workers, but it was much more than that, it was a labor victory.”

Labor Wins, Workers Dream, A Coop is Born
Soon after the occupation, the owners of Republic Windows sold the business to California-based Serious Materials. In February this year, the new owners announced their intention to close the factory down and once again, the workers decided to occupy the factory. They demanded that it be kept open for 90 days, to allow time for another company to buy the business and within hours, the owners agreed.

When 90 days passed with no offers to buy the factory, the workers decided to try and run the business themselves.
“Republic walked away from our jobs and Serious walked away from our jobs but we [weren’t going to] walk away from our jobs,” explained Maclin.

Armando Robles, president of the UE, supported the idea from the start saying: “If no one buys the company we could create a cooperative.” The idea being that a cooperative would not only conserve jobs, it could create new jobs and help the local communities.

The idea was very exciting to Denis Kelleher, executive director of the Center for Workplace Democracy, because Chicago does not currently have a manufacturing cooperative of that size. The Center began classes for workers from the factory on how to run a cooperative business where one of the most important skills is knowing how to make decisions as a group.
In May this year, the factory was incorporated as a cooperative under a new name: New Era Windows LLC.

“Through the unions we learned we had more control over our jobs, safety, wages—things that matter to our family,” said Maclin, who sees the cooperative as the next step for the labor movement. “Now, as a coop, we will be owners as well as workers. We will have that perfect model we’re looking for that’s not there yet.”

Workers Buy the Means of Production
Setting up the new cooperative, not surprisingly, has not been easy. After the second occupation at the factory, Serious Materials had agreed to sell the equipment to the workers if they could come up with the cash. That was the first obstacle. The other, was overcoming the general perception that the workers could not run the business.

Contrary to that perception, Maclin points out that most jobs actually run just great without bosses and supervisors. “Most of your supervisors don’t know as much as your [less educated] workers on the line!” he says.

But can they make a successful business out of a factory that’s already closed down twice? Kelleher believes that worker-controlled businesses are uniquely suited to handle challenges that often bring down the traditional business model. Because the business is owned by the workers, it’s more likely to try and cut operating costs before laying people off.

“In a worker cooperative there’s a primacy of labor over capital. So, when things are slow, the concerns are: How do we preserve the solidarity and democracy in the workplace?” Kelleher says. “One of the last things that a worker cooperative would want to do is reduce the workforce. Historically worker cooperatives have been formed out of a need to preserve jobs.”

New Era Opening for Worker-Owned Businesses
New Era Windows would be the beginning of a new era—the first in a long time—for worker-owned businesses, Kelleher hopes.
“Chicago has a very rich history of worker cooperatives,” he explains. “Back in the late 1800s, much of the union organizing also involved worker cooperatives. When the Knights of Labor disappeared many of the coops disappeared with them. But the history is there. Right now, there are few coops in Chicago and that’s what we’re working to change at the Center for Workplace for Democracy. We want to help develop a more cooperative economy in Chicago.”

After the first factory occupation, Maclin took part in a victory tour of the country, giving talks in different towns and cities, encouraging other workers to take similar action. Now he wants to encourage others to follow the Chicago workers’ lead in taking control of their workplaces.

On his victory tour, Maclin frequently told the following story:
“Years ago, as a small child, I used to go to the circus [where] I saw this humungous elephant held in place by this small chain and peg [attached] to one leg. ‘How is that small chain holding that big elephant?’ I asked.

[And I learned] that they put that chain on the elephant when the elephant is small—so he really can’t move. So, you have this elephant who is able to move buildings but will not try to move this peg!

I look at that now as an adult and see that we the working force, the workers, are this huge elephant. And we’re being held down because we’ve been told that we can never win and that we are powerless. Well, the elephant in the room has awakened and is no longer going to be held down by these idiotic preconceived notions. We know in reality that the workers are the ones who make the world move.”

This story is based on a piece that aired on Making Contact, a radio program of the National Radio Project. George Lavender is an independent journalist based in Oakland, California. A producer for Making Contact, he also reports for Free Speech Radio News and Radio France International. Follow him on Twitter @georgelavender.

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.


Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


Related Stories: 
PDF icon 19-2.lavender.pdf1.22 MB

Community Organizing Wins Transit Jobs

James Hill has worked at the same St. Louis, Missouri establishment for over 20 years. And for 20 years, he has been advocating for a bus system that better accommodates his wheelchair. He acknowledges the major improvements to public transit since the early 1980s when he faced incredible discrimination but believes the system still has a long way to go.
“Metro drivers didn’t want to pick up disabled persons,” he recalls. “They’d leave wheelchair [users] sitting at bus stops, or if they did stop, the wheelchair lifts didn’t work.”

Nowadays there are working wheelchair lifts on every running bus in St. Louis, but Hill knows that the fight is far from over. To get to work, he must travel in his wheelchair to the closest bus line, nearly a mile from his home. While the $30,000 electric wheelchair makes this possible, the journey along sidewalks and streets can feel quite hazardous in bad weather and insurance is not forthcoming when it comes to paying for repairs. Still, the wheelchair and the bus line, which drops Hill within a block of his place of work, constitute a lifeline to freedom. Hill has many wheelchair-bound friends who have to make at least one transfer, if not two, to get to their places of employment.

In 2008, Hill and other low-income individuals who rely on public transit were threatened with losing their ability to commute to work when St. Louis County voted down a one-half percent sales tax to fund public transit. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) immediately reduced and re-routed many of their established bus lines and terminated the Call-A-Ride service, forcing Hill to rely upon the goodwill of coworkers and friends to drive him to work for over three months. He recognized that something had to be done and that he, along with others, needed to act.

People Organizing Help Fund St. Louis Transit
Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), a faith-based community organizing group in the St. Louis region, organized a campaign with allies, such as Citizens for Modern Transit, to reinstate the much-needed but under-funded public transit programs by raising the sales tax. They rallied with other transportation advocates to place their initiative—Proposition A—on the 2010 Spring ballot.

MCU leaders began by educating local communities about the ballot initiative and the effects of transit funding. They hosted a public meeting where transit users, such as Hill, could share their stories and educate community members, including key state legislators. They also helped organize other community leaders and spur extensive actions, such as canvassing, holding rallies, collecting pledge cards, and testifying before the county council.

Proposition A passed with a 62 percent majority in an off-year election with a 12 percent above average voter turnout, and promised to generate more than $75 million in transit funding annually, ensuring rides for isolated and impoverished communities through an expanded metro bus system. Area jobs and local economic development could also look forward to a boost. Hill’s bus route was reinstated and through his work with MCU, he was able to secure a commitment from MoDOT to install certain sidewalks and make bus shelters more wheelchair accessible. While not all of the work has been completed, Hill is now able to use Call-a-Ride to return home from work rather than wait for the bus on the side of the street because there is no wheelchair access to the bus shelter.

Across the nation, public transportation is under attack. Transit decisions are being made without input from the primary users of public transit, i.e. people with disabilities, racial minorities, and low income people. Fortunately there is a growing countervailing force.

The Gamaliel network, which extends across 17 states and represents over 1,200 diverse faith groups—including MCU—has successfully harnessed the energy of hundreds of thousands of community members to generate local and state policy changes and create jobs through expanded public services. The successes gained by MCU in St. Louis and groups elsewhere in the Gamaliel network proves once and for all that community organizing itself can provide economic benefit to the community.

SMART Strategy Keeps Detroit Working
Detroit has two major public transit systems: DDOT (Detroit Department of Transportation), which operates within the city, and SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation), which connects the suburbs to the city. SMART has the highest ridership of any transit system in Michigan, connecting people to job opportunities and services in Detroit.

SMART transit is funded by a property tax that sunsets every few years, raising the possibility of disruption in transit service if the tax is not renewed. To prevent such an occurrence, MOSES, the Gamaliel organizing group in Detroit, partnered with Citizens for a SMART Future to plan a campaign aimed at ensuring that all municipalities opt in to support the most important transit program in the area. Campaign members planned an action where they rode the busiest transit lines, speaking to as many people as possible about the importance of the tax.

The education and advocacy paid off, leading to the passage of the SMART transit tax with an overwhelming majority. But the campaign did much more than help to keep the buses rolling for commuters—it helped to sustain job security for transit workers.
The successful Detroit transit funding campaign is just one of many transit victories for the affiliates of Gamaliel Michigan over the last five years. The organizing has caused millions of dollars to flow into the Michigan economy by helping to keep hundreds of transit workers on the job and thousands of other workers commuting to their jobs, prompting Gamaliel to publish a new study on the economic benefits of their work: “Community Organizing As a Job Creator: An Investment That Works For All”.    

Community Organizing as Job Creator
Victories achieved through community organizing are not isolated events. The study by Gamaliel shows clearly that community organizing should be viewed and understood in terms of the number of jobs generated and the increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that occurs as a consequence.

In the past five years, the work done by Gamaliel community organizers and leaders has created nearly 594,000 jobs in the area of transit and infrastructure alone. Victorious campaigns around transit and infrastructure can have especially significant returns on investment. For every dollar invested, the GDP increases by $1.44 for transit and $1.31 for infrastructure in the following year.

One notable campaign conducted by Gamaliel is known as the Missouri Model and has come to be regarded as Gamaliel’s signature campaign. When community leaders in St. Louis and East St. Louis noticed a lack of minorities in the construction workforce throughout the metro area, they became concerned. So, United Congregations of Metro East (UCM) and MCU banded together to create a campaign that led to the best workforce diversity on a highway project in the history of the U.S. When the $550 million dollar project was finally completed, organizers could boast that their efforts had resulted in 27 percent of the work being done by women and minorities.

To achieve this significant victory, UCM and MCU had to work on federal legislation. Section 1920 of the 2005 transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU (A Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users), contained an encouragement by Congress to expand workforce diversity. UCM and MCU used it to insist that diversity would not be possible without pre-apprenticeship training dollars and on-the-job training opportunities for low-income individuals, people of color, and women. They succeeded in pushing their agenda with surprising results for both the community and the project itself.
“The project met its goals, was $11 million dollars below budget, and provided jobs for those who most needed them, but more than that, it stimulated the local economy,” says Dr. Ron Trimmer, who is credited with creating the Missouri Model. “We figured out a solution that lifted all the boats and provided a way out of poverty.”

Making Organizing a Way of Living and Working
The evidence shows clearly that by investing in community organizing, we, the people can generate the political will for job growth and economic recovery, and create and sustain employment opportunities. So, we have come up with the following recommendations for each of the parties involved:

  • Grassroots Organizers and Leaders should quantify the success of their work in terms of the jobs created and the actual effect on the local GDP using broadly accepted formulas. This can help them understand the real impact of community organizing better and be more effective in communicating it to promote further investment in organizing.
  • Public Officials should provide government support for community organizing through grant programs—as they did in the past—at the local, state and federal levels to build capacity for meaningful engagement in the job creation process. Current programs, such as VISTA, discourage community organizing and create barriers against engaging in the organizing process. These barriers should be removed.
  • Funders should consider the proven viability of community organizing as the most effective and cost-efficient vehicle for creating sustainable employment and economic growth and make it a priority when it comes to making investment decisions. Specifically, they should provide support for transit organizing, which has been shown to create sustainable employment, economic growth, and jobs that are safe from outsourcing.
  • Private and Public Donors should prioritize organizing around jobs and economic development as a strategy for job creation and create grant opportunities for community organizing.

From significant changes to public policy, to the development of urban areas, to social movements resulting in long-term benefits to local communities—the impact of community organizing cannot be overstated. If we are to successfully address the economic crisis and create space for low income and middle class families to achieve economic dignity, community organizing must be at the center of our response, prioritized and supported by foundations, governments, and individuals.

Laura Barrett is the executive director of the Tranportation Equity Network (TEN). To learn more about the full report, Community Organizing As Job Creator: An Investment That Works For All, see Research and Resources on page 85.

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.


Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment


Related Stories: 
PDF icon 19-2.barrett.pdf1.25 MB