What is community organizing? The Community Organizing department here at The Independence Center serves a unique but important function in the journey to provide independence for our community and the consumers we serve. Courtney Stone, The IC’s Community Organizing Manager & Jamie Muth, the Community Advocacy Coordinator, work together to address issues that negatively impact the people with disabilities community. The hope is that by addressing these issues head on, they can help to remedy the negative impact on people within the community. A few examples of issues that they might address are access to homes, and transportation for people with disabilities.
The process, which requires a high level of participation from people within the community, involves empowering individuals to grow their skill sets, create plans, learn about dynamics of power, and to grow as leaders who can identify and define problems that need to be addressed within their communities. It’s extremely important that the people doing the organizing are themselves, directly impacted by the issues being addressed. This aspect of community organizing is different from systems advocacy, where people from the outside advocate on behalf of a group that is affected by an issue. Community organizing is generally recognized as getting its start during the worker’s rights and civil rights movements, but has really been around for much longer.
Community organizing is important because it gives people who are disempowered a voice. Everyone has a story to tell, and sharing that story can create dialog that eventually leads to meaningful change. Community organizing provides a link between communities and the systems that they have to live within. Power is created and change is more likely to occur when someone affected by an issue becomes the public face of that issue.
Unfortunately though, it can be difficult to get people involved. As Jamie 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.” Plus, change happens slowly. This can be a major psychological challenge for anyone advocating for their community. It’s easy to feel defeated when you don’t see the resulting progress from your efforts, but change comes over time, like drops of water slowly carving a great canyon over the millennia.
At The Independence Center, the Community Organizing department has three main areas of focus, which include housing, transit, and training. Historically, housing and transit have made up the bulk of the efforts, but in the last year, advocacy training has become a larger part of the team’s focus. As part of the new focus, Courtney and Jamie are offering classes in Assertiveness Communication, Self-Advocacy, and Community Organizing. Between the three classes, community members can learn the skills necessary to address the issues facing their communities and affect positive change.
If you would like to learn more about the Community Organizing department or to sign up for training, please give The Independence Center a call at 719-471-8181 or visit our Community Organizing webpage.