Jane Addams (1860-1935) just filled in a big hole in my understanding about communities, and our various strategies and approaches to making them better. I knew very broadly about her, but only recently discovered more about her work through my research around Saul Alinsky and community organising.
Jane Addams was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She campaigned for woman’s rights and social reform… and she has become a fascinating and much admired figure for me, providing a working example in history of the creative collaborative approach I have been proposing in recent blog posts.
Daughter and heir of a wealth businessman in Chicago, Jane Addams bought a building in Chicago and called it Hull House. Hull house became both a centre for community and learning and expanded into many different buildings over time. What surprised and delighted me when reading about her work, was the similarity of Hull House and the ‘presence’ approach being used by Willem and Nol in their project in The Hague, which I blogged about here. Basically creating a hub in which ideas can be germinated and propagated – but very gently, and very people-led. You can read in more detail about the workings of the house, but the bit that interests me is her approach. She was a collaborator and a connector.
“Hull House made Addams famous, giving her the opportunity to put her ideas to work on a larger scale. Good with a pen and a skilled orator, Addams began speaking out on local and national issues. She soon cast aside her disdain for politics, becoming adept at lobbying for concerns close to her heart: accomplishing women's suffrage, abolishing restrictive immigration policies, improving poor working conditions, and achieving equality for African-Americans.
What made Addams so effective at promoting her vision was her ability to build coalitions. She abhorred conflict -- a product of her childhood growing up in a testy household -- and could always see both sides to an issue.”
She also offers us one of the first examples of strategic community map making, which I am so involved in developing myself. Below is an example of a map she produced on the areas nationalities, but she also completed many others – including on income etc.
But what of Jane Addams legacy? Why has the work of Saul Alinsky endured to the present day and Jane Addams’s work hasn’t? The answer is really hard to understand, especially as she was so prominent in her lifetime and her work and approach had so much impact. Despite her unpopular passivist stance in the run up to WW1 she regained the national affection before her death.
Maurice Hamingtonhas written a riveting essay comparing Addams and Alinksy:
“It is not coincidence that Chicago produced two of the most important figures in community organizing of the twentieth century: Jane Addams and Saul Alinsky (1909-1972). Chicago was a center of social upheaval as exhibited by the Haymarket Riots of 1888, the Pullman Strike of 1894, and the Race Riots of 1919 (as well as race riots in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s). This city’s social unrest existed in dynamic relationship to ideas about social change and reform fomented in Chicago as witnessed in the settlement work of Addams’ Hull House, the socialist work of Eugene Debs’s American Railway Union, the urban research and social theorizing of the “Chicago School”[i], and the Back of the Yards organization founded by Saul Alinsky."
In the essay Hamington suggests that Addams, despite Alinsky’s expressed rejection and disdain, may in fact have influenced his work in a meaningful way, being the forerunner of community intevention in the same city, and feeding in her thinking to the Chicago University.
"Marie Weil lists various United States social movements with significant female leadership, and no one is associated with more movements than Addams. Despite this delineation, Weil falls prey to gender perceptions, claiming:
Despite a rich and proud heritage of female organizers and movement leaders, the field of community organization, in both its teaching models and its major exponents, have been a male-dominated preserve, where, even though values are expressed in terms of participatory democracy, much of the focus within the dominant practice methods has been nonsupportive or antithetical to feminism. Strategies have largely been based on “macho-power” models, manipulativeness, and zero-sum gamesmanship.
I would qualify Weil’s largely accurate description by suggesting not that the field has been male dominated, but that the portrayal of it has been. Much like Alinsky’s effort to depict himself as using necessary masculine methods over and against inferior feminine methods, history has masked the successful communitarian and cooperative efforts of women organizers as anachronistic. In this manner, feminist community organizing is hidden behind the acclaim heaped upon male organizing. The feminist process of reassessing given historical truths reveals more grassroots organizing than is commonly attributed.”
Over the last couple of weeks I have tried to grapple with and understand the differences in approach between the classic or ‘formal’ community organizing models, and the more creative changes process I have been unearthing through studying new types of emergent case studies. So far, in studying over 100 case studies of citizen-led (but not ‘organised’) initiatives that create positive change in communities, I have identified 5 different major change processes that build collaborative capacities in communities.
I see a great deal of divergence in how communities are coming together themselves to collaborate for positive change, using predominantly new ideas and thinking around the ‘power to do’, rather than the ‘power to decision-make’.
So what of the commonalities? I see one major thing in common – the need to connect people: to campaign in the case of ‘community organising’, to collaborate in the case of these new emergent models.
Another commonality is an assumption that some type of activation or stimulation is needed in communities to create new type of outcomes.
What about communities that are extremely overactive already? Returning to Chicago I have made some study of the work of Gary Slutkin, a man with experience of reversing epidemics such as aids and cholera and tuberculosis, who turned his attention and understanding of infectious control on the problem of violence in Chicago neighbourhoods.
Slutkin discovered that when he studied the pattern of violence it looks in every single way like the spread of disease. And in an identical way he has approached preventing the spread of an invisible virus, he has reduced violence in the areas he has worked by 45% - 75%.
While new models of activation work on connection, Sluktin’s primary change lever is interruption. He reduces connection. Frontline workers drawn from within the community are trained to start conversations with people who might be thinking of acting or reacting violently. They interrupt the thoughts and they interrupt the connections between violent gang members – they work to transform thinking. They also connect in another way – whenever there is violence they organize local demonstrations. Not directed at authorities – directed at the violence – basically saying ‘we don’t want this anymore’.
They have found that when the frontline workers are around things get cooled down, when they aren’t people get killed. And over time this combined activity has changed the social norms… As Slutkin says ‘for these communities violence is simply normal – we work to make it unusual’.
With these examples we have one axis with campaigning/conflict vs creative/collaboration and on the other we have connection/activation vs interruption/deactivating.
And last but by no means least, Chicago offers us John McKnight, who developed the amazing Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach to helping communities collaborate and build on their ideas and talents.