Have you ever wondered how a community bands together to address an issue affecting the people living there, and change the things that aren’t working for them? In most cases, change comes from understanding the issues and dynamics of power within a community, and assertively advocating for the necessary changes. This process is usually advanced with the help of community organizers, who devote their careers to challenges just like this. Commonly, these issues could include things like increasing access to homes and public transportation for people with disabilities.
When speaking with individuals who aren’t normally exposed to this type of work, I’ve found that people have a hard time understanding exactly what it is that the Community Organizing department here at The Independence Center does. I have to admit, it was a long while before I fully grasped the complex role of the department myself. Community organizing at The IC comes in a couple different flavors. Number one, they work to address issues within the community that affect people with disabilities. This could come in the form of speaking at a city council meeting to help shape the views of public officials, or helping to organize a new accessible voting location for people with disabilities, or in a number of other creative ways. And number two, they train people within the community who are themselves impacted by an issue, how to advocate for changes that positively impact them and their community. Tactics used could include dialog with government officials, protest, as well as social and economic noncooperation.
When looking at the training role that Community Organizing plays, it’s essential to understand the importance of giving a voice to the people in the community who are facing an issue. It’s possible for someone on the outside to advocate for a community, but the impact is much greater when the people facing the issue actually advocate for themselves. Because of this, The IC’s Community Organizing department has been refocusing their historic systems advocacy role to focus more on training people in the community how to become leaders who can recognize issues within their communities, and take the steps necessary to create meaningful change on their own. On the downside, it’s tough to get people involved. As Jamie Muth, the Community Advocacy Coordinator at The IC told me “It’s hard to expect people to be involved when they’ve been consistently ignored, or they’ve felt very defeated, or they feel that it’s not their place to do these things.” And secondly, change is slow. It can be difficult for someone advocating for an issue in their community not to lose hope when they aren’t seeing immediate progress for their hard work.
Our Community Organizing department consists of Courtney Stone, our Community Organizing Manager and Jamie Muth, our Community Advocacy Coordinator. Together, this dynamic duo works to make the world a better place, one issue, and one community member at a time. If you would like to learn more about Community Organizing, or about The Independence Center, visit our Community Organizing webpage.