Version 3.3 (March 30, 2007)

Theory and Practice of Community Organizing
PS 389 (Section 5) meets with RCSSCI 360 (Section 5)

Gregory B. Markus
Professor of Political Science and Research Professor, Center for Political Studies
6735 Haven Hall
(734) 763-2222,

Class meets: Wednesdays. 1:10 to 3:00 PM, Tyler 28 (East Quad)
Office hours: Tuesdays, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm, or by appointment


After he graduated from college and before he entered Harvard Law School, U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) worked for three years as a community organizer on Chicago's south side. According to Sen. Obama:

Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build viable long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership -- and not one or two charismatic leaders -- can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions.

In this course we will study, question, put into action, and reflect upon what Sen. Obama was talking about. Through readings, discussion, writing, and practical action, you will learn how to develop effective, resilient organizations that build the leadership capacities of individuals and the democratic power of communities to control their own futures. In addition, you will gain insight into how this practical work can inform basic knowledge about political participation, democratic theory and practice, and organizational processes -- and vice versa.

The purpose of this course is not only to help you acquire a body of knowledge. It is to provide a setting in which you can think seriously about what you intend to accomplish as "leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future." That phrase is from the official mission statement of the University of Michigan.

How the Course Proceeds

Class meetings: Because we typically meet as a class only once a week and because this is, after all, a course in organizing, missing a session is to be avoided at all costs. Students who miss more than one session may be asked to drop the course. Really.

Experiential learning: You will engage in relevant activities and events out of class (including in metropolitan Detroit) as an integral part of this course, and you should expect to devote approximately 20 hours (plus travel time) to such experiential learning over the semester. Keep a journal of your experiences and reflections.


I do not grade on a curve, so there is no competition among you for a pre-set number of "A" grades. To the contrary, I encourage cooperation, studying together, and learning from one another. Of course, all work that you turn in must be your own.

If you put your head and heart into this course, you will surely excel, and your grade will reflect that. Having said that, I have seen outstanding, even admirable students contract "senioritis" in the final semester of their undergraduate education. If you are a graduating senior, please bear in mind that your classmates and the community leaders with whom we will be working deserve no less than your best effort.

Grading is on a standard, no-curve 100-point system.

Papers. You will write four 2500-word papers during the semester, worth 20 points each (80 points total). In each of paper, you will (1) comment upon our readings and class discussions and (2) summarize the key insights you are acquiring from your experiential learning activities. Paper deadlines are as noted below. Please submit your paper to me by email. Except in the case of a significant emergency, these papers must be submitted on time. As you will come to understand, submitting an assignment late for a course in organizing is simply unthinkable.

Paper assignment schedule:

Paper 1 covers Jan 10 - Jan 24 due by noon Tues, Jan 30
Paper 2 covers Jan 25 - Feb 14 due by noon Tues, Feb 20
Paper 3 covers Feb 15 - Mar 14 due by noon Tues, Mar 20
Paper 4 covers Mar 15 - Apr 11 due by noon Tues, Apr 17

Participation. The other 20 points are based on the quality of your participation in class discussions and in our experiential learning activities. Four absolutely perfect papers coupled with half-hearted participation in the life of our course will earn, at best, a course grade of B.


I suggest that you purchase the following two books for this course:

Jacobsen, Dennis A. 2001. Doing Justice. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Warren, Mark R. 2001. Dry Bones Rattling. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Nearly all other required readings (and most supplementary ones) are available through links in our online syllabus, which is available through a link from my homepage: Any required readings not available online will be distributed in class or placed on reserve in the library.

In the Course Outline below, readings marked with an asterisk are to be read by everyone. The supplementary readings are there for you to sample as you wish, or as I assign to individual students from time to time for them to present in class.

Many journal articles are available online through ProQuest, JSTOR, or other services. A simple way to locate journals online is to search for the journal title in MIRLYN. It will serve you well to become experienced in using these services.


Jan 10. Introduction to the Course and Overview of Organizing

* Obama, Barack. 1990. "Why organize? Problems and promise in the inner city." In Peg Knoepfle (ed.), After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. Springfield, IL: Illinois Issues, University of Illinois at Springfield, Ch. 4.

* Ganz, Marshall. 2002. "What is organizing." Social Policy, 33 (1): 16-17.

Cortes, Ernesto (1993) "Reweaving the fabric: The Iron Rule and the IAF strategy for power and politics." In Henry G. Cisneros, ed., Interwoven Destinies. New York: Norton, pp. 295-319.

Parachini, Larry, and Sally Covington. 2001. "Community organizing: The basics." The Community Organizing Toolbox. Washington, DC: National Funders Group. 

Ramsay, Meredith. 1998. "Redeeming the city: Exploring the relationship between church and metropolis," Urban Affairs Review, 33 (5): 595-626. READ pp. 602-621. (Available via MIRLYN)

 Jan 15 (Mon). MLK Day Events

10 AM, Hill Auditorium. Kweisi Mfume, 20th Anniversary MLK Memorial Lecture

3:30-5 PM, 6050 Institute for Social Research, "Communities at Risk" panel presentation

6 PM, MOSES 10th Anniversary MLK Banquet. Burton Manor, 27777 Schoolcraft Rd, Livonia

 Jan 17 . History and Traditions of Organizing

* Jacobsen, ch. 4.

* Warren, ch. 2, 7.

* Jensen, Richard J., and John C. Hammerback. 2000. "Working in 'quiet places': The community organizing rhetoric of Robert Parris Moses," Howard Journal of Communications, 11 (1): 1-18.

Websites of: DART, Gamaliel, IAF, PICO, and ACORN ... also RCNO, NTIC, and Midwest Academy!

Parachini, Larry, and Sally Covington. 2001. "Types of CO groups and the work they do." The Community Organizing Toolbox. Washington, DC: National Funders Group.

Speer, Paul W., Joseph Hughey, Leah K. Gensheimer, and Warren Adams-Leavitt. 1995. "Organizing for power: A comparative case study," Journal of Community Psychology, 23: 57-73.

Moses, Robert P., and Charles Cobb Jr. 2001. "Organizing algebra: The need to voice a demand," Social Policy, 31 (4): 4-12. (Available via MIRLYN)

Fisher, Robert. 1995. "Neighborhood organizing: The importance of historical context."

Alinsky, Saul. 1969. Reveille for Radicals. New York: Vintage.

Alinsky, Saul. 1989. Rules for Radicals. New York: Vintage.

Boyte, Harry C. CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. New York: Free Press. Ch. 4-8.

Fisher, Robert. 1994. Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America. Updated ed. New York: Twayne.

Horwitt, Sanford D. 1989. Let Them Call Me Rebel. New York: Knopf.

Matthiessen, Peter. 2000. Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Morris, Aldon. 1984. Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: Free Press.

Payne, Charles M. 1995. I've Got the Light of Freedom. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rogers, Mary Beth. 1900. Cold Anger. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press.

Rooney, Jim. 1995. Organizing the South Bronx. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

 Jan 24. Values, Interests, and Power

Visit to class by Rev. Kevin Turman, MOSES president and pastor of Second Baptist Church, Detroit, and Bill O'Brien, Gamaliel Foundation

* Jacobsen, ch. 1-3, 5, 6.

* Arnstein, Sherry R. 1969. "A ladder of citizen participation," Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35 (July): 216-224.

* Markus, Gregory B. 2002. "Civic participation in American cities." Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, pp. 1-29 and section 10 (pp. 38-42).

* Dahle, Cheryl. 1999. "Social justice - Ernesto Cortes, Jr." Fast Company, 30 (Dec.)

* Hayward, Clarissa Rile. 1998. "De-facing power," Polity, 31 (1): 1-22.

Bachrach, Peter, and Morton Baratz. 1962. "Two faces of power," American Political Science Review 56 (4): 947-52.

Pierce, Gregory F. A. 1984. Activism that makes sense: Congregations and community organization. Chicago: ACTA Publications. Introduction and Chapters 1-4.

Gaventa, John. 1980. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Kozol, Jonathan. 1995. Amazing Grace. New York: HarperPerennial.

 Jan 30 (Tues). Equity and Access in a Post-Affirmative Action Environment

1-3 PM. Prof. john a. powell. Forum Hall, Palmer Commons (4th floor)

 Jan 31. Relationships, Networks, Community, and Power

* McNeil, Larry B. 1995. "The soft arts of organizing," Social Policy, 26 (2): 16- 22. (Available via MIRLYN)

* Jacobsen, Dennis A. 2006. "Resisting the empire: Organizing from below," Human Quest (Jul/Aug).

* Harris, Fredrick C. 1994. "Something within: Religion as a mobilizer of African-American activism," Journal of Politics, 56 (1): 42-68.

* Green, Louise. (n.d.) "Sustainable action: Planting the seeds of relational organizing." Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association.

McAdam, Doug. 1986. "Recruitment to high-risk activism: The case of Freedom Summer," American Journal of Sociology, 2 (1): 64-90.

Wood, Richard L. 1997. "Social capital and political culture: God meets politics in the inner city," American Behavioral Scientist, 40 (March): 595-605. (Available via MIRLYN)

DeFilippis, James 2001. "The myth of social capital in community development," Housing Policy Debate, 12 (4): 781-806.

Borgos, Seth, and Scott Douglas. 1996. "Community organizing and civic renewal: A view from the South," Social Policy, 27 (Winter): 18-28. (Available via MIRLYN)

Stall, Susan, and Randy Stoecker. 1998. "Community organizing or organizing community?: Gender and the crafts of empowerment," Gender and Society, 12 (Dec): 729-756.

Chambers, Ed. 2003. Roots for Radicals. New York: Continuum. Ch. 2, 4.

Coles, Romand. 2004. "Moving democracy: Industrial Areas Foundation social movements and the political arts of listening, traveling, and tabling," Political Theory, 32 (5): 678-705. (Available via MIRLYN)

Boyte, Harry. 1990. CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. New York: Free Press. Chapter 6 (excerpts).

 Feb 7 . Developing Leaders and Leadership

Visit to class by Bill O'Brien, Gamaliel Foundation

* Jacobsen, ch. 7, 8.

* Warren, ch. 1, 8.

* Ganz, Marshal.  2004. "Organizing." In George R. Goethals, Georgia J. Sorenson, and James MacGregor Burns, eds. Encyclopedia of Leadership. Vol. 3. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

* Markus, Gregory B. 2002. "Civic participation in American cities." Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research. Read Section 9 (pp. 32-38).

Chavez, Cesar. 1966. "The organizer's tale," Ramparts (July 5): 43-50.

 Pierce, Gregory F. A. 1984. Activism That Makes Sense: Congregations and Community Organization. Chicago: ACTA Publications. Chapter 7.

Feb 14. Meetings that Build Power and Effect Change

* Freeman, Jo. 1972-73. "The tyranny of structurelessness," Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 17: 151-165.

* Bobo, Kim, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max. 2001. Organizing for Social Change, 3rd ed. Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press. Chapter 12.

* "Six tips for effective meetings" 

Lencioni, Patrick M, 2002. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Feb 21. Organizing Across Fault Lines

* Jacobsen, ch. 9.

* Warren, ch. 4, 5.

* Kurth, Joel, et al. 2001. "Region is diverse, not mixed: Metro Detroit is most segregated area in nation, census shows," Detroit News (April 1).

* Morin, Richard. 2001. "Misperceptions cloud whites' view of blacks," Washington Post (July 11), p. A1.

* Miller, Mike. 2005. "Wedges, dividers and majorities," Social Policy (Summer). (Free registration required.)

Lowenstein, Roger. 2006. "The immigration equation," New York Times Magazine (July 9).

Schultze, George E. 2003. "The seamless garment of life: Organizing in the Roman Catholic community," Social Policy, 34 (1). Read also (even especially) the accompanying comments offered by Jeff Korgen, Greg Galluzzo, and Bob Lithicum. (Free registration required.)

Shaw, Todd C., and Lester K. Spence. 2004. "Race and representation in Detroit's community development coalitions," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 594 (July): 125-142. (Available via MIRLYN)

James, Franklin J., Jeff A. Romine, and Peter E. Zwanzig. 1998. "The effects of immigration on urban communities," Cityscape 3 (3): 171-192.

Alex-Assensoh, Yvette Marie and Lawrence J. Hanks. 2000. "In search of Black and multiracial politics in America." In Yvette Marie Alex-Assensoh and Lawrence J. Hanks, eds. Black and Multiracial Politics in America. New York: New York University Press.

Gecan, Mike. 2005. "Taking faith seriously," Boston Review, 30 (April/May).

Lerner, Michael. 2004. "Needed: A new spiritual left," America Magazine, 191 (Nov. 29).

Bobo, Lawrence D., Melvin L. Oliver, James H. Johnson, Jr., et al. 2000. Prismatic Metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Wood, Richard L. 2002. Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Naples, Nancy A., ed. 1998/ Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing across Race, Class, and Gender. New York: Routledge.

Stout, Linda. 1996. Bridging the Class Divide. Boston: Beacon Press.

Mar 7 . Analysis and Strategy

* Jacobsen, ch. 8.

* Kretzmann, John P. 1995. "Building communities from the inside out," Shelterforce (Sept./Oct.)

* Ganz, Marshall. 2000. "Strategy, analytics, meetings." Cambridge, MA: Kennedy School of Government.

* McKnight, John. 1995. "Politicizing health care." In John McKnight, The Careless Society. New York: Basic Books.

* Mintzberg, Henry, and Frances Westley. 2001. "Decision making: It's not what you think," MIT Sloan Management Review, 42 (3): 89-93. (Available via MIRLYN)

Bobo, Kim, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max. 2001. Organizing for Social Change, 3rd ed. Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press. Ch. 3, 4, 20.

Bagwell, Jennifer. 1999. "Let there be mass transit," Detroit Metrotimes (Oct. 27).

Center for Community Change. 2005. An Action Guide for Education Organizing. Washington, DC: Center for Community Change.

Ganz, Marshall. 2000. "Resource and resourcefulness: Strategic capacity in the unionization of California agriculture, 1959-1966," American Journal of Sociology, 105 (4): 1003-1062.

Mintzberg, Henry. 1987. "Crafting strategy," Harvard Business Review 65 (4): 66-76.

Mintzberg, Henry. 1994. "The rise and fall of strategic planning," Harvard Business Review, 72 (1): 107-15.

Mintzberg, Henry and Alexandra McHugh. 1985. "Strategy formation in an adhocracy," Administrative Science Quarterly, 30 (2): 160-98.

Morris, Aldon D. 1993. "Birmingham confrontation reconsidered: an analysis of the dynamics and tactics of mobilization," American Sociological Review, 58: 621-36.

Morris, Aldon. 1981. "Black southern sit-in movement: An analysis of internal organization," American Sociological Review, 46 (6): 744-767.

Stoecker, Randy. 2005. Research Methods for Community Change. Sage: Thousand Oaks.

Mar 14. Action, Reflection, and Celebration

* Beckwith, Dave, with Cristina Lopez. 1997. Community Organizing: People Power from the Grassroots. Washington, DC: Center for Community Change.

* Shel Trapp. 1986. Basics Of Organizing. Chicago: National Training and Information Center.

* Bobo, Kim, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max. 2001. Organizing for Social Change, 3rd ed. Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press. Chapter 8 (all 10 sections).

* handles

Rathke, Wade. 2001. "Tactical tension," Social Policy, 31 (Fall): 10-15. (Available via MIRLYN)

Shel Trapp. 1976. Dynamics Of Organizing. Chicago: National Training and Information Center.

Bobo, Kim, et al.. 2001. Organizing for Social Change, 3rd ed. Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press. Ch. 5, 7.

Mott, Andrew. 2003. Evaluation: The good news for funders. Washington, DC: Neighborhood Funders Group.

Epstein, Robin. 1996. "Ballot brigade," City Limits Magazine (Dec.).

Dionne, E. J., Jr. 2000. "After-school special," Washington Post (May 26).

Miller, Mike. 1997. "Tenderloin Senior Organizing Project," Shelterforce (May/June).

Chambers, Ed. 2003. Roots for Radicals. New York: Continuum. Ch. 5.

Senge, Peter. 1990. The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday.

Mar 15. MOSES Leaders Meeting, 7 to 8:30 PM, Christ the King Church, Detroit

Mar 21. Campaigns that Win Victories and Build Power

Visit to class by Vicky Kovari, founding organizer of Southwest Alliance for Neighborhoods (SWAN), former MOSES senior lead organizer, and 2002 recipient of Ford Foundation's "Leadership for a Changing World" award

* Warren, ch. 3, 6.

* Walljasper, Jay 1997. "When activists win: the renaissance of Dudley St." The Nation, March 3. See also the DSNI Website.

* Hertz, Judy. 2002. "Organizing for change: Stories of success." Washington, DC: Neighborhood Funders Group.

Ciezadlo, Annia. 2001. "The new wage movement," City Limits (March).

Gordon, Jennifer. 1995. "We make the road by walking: Immigrant workers, the Workplace Project, and the struggle for social change," Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 30 (Summer): 407-450.

Meyerson, Harold. 2000. "A clean sweep," The American Prospect, 11(15): 24-29.

Evans, Mike, George Goehl, and Kim Bobo, 1996. "Not another parking lot: Fight city hall -- and WIN!" Shelterforce (Jan/Feb).

Grengs, Joe. 2005. "Fighting for balanced transportation in the Motor City," Progressive Planning (Spring).

Speer, Paul W., et al. 2003. "The intentional exercise of power: Community organizing in Camden, New Jersey," Journal of Community and Applied Psychology, 13: 399-408.

Warren, Mark R. 2005. "Communities and schools: A new view of urban education reform," Harvard Educational Review, 75 (2): 133-174. (Available via MIRLYN)

Shirley, Dennis. 1997. Community Organizing for Urban School Reform. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

 Mar 28. Organizing and Participatory Democracy

* Mahan, Leah and Mark Lipman. 1996. "Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street." Documentary video available at U-M Film and Video Library.

* Warren, Mark. 1992. "Democratic theory and self-transformation," American Political Science Review, 86 (1): 8-23.

* Eliasoph, Nina. 1997. "'Close to home': The work of avoiding politics," Theory and Society, 26 (5): 605-647.

Coles, Romand. 2006. "Of tensions and tricksters: Grassroots democracy between theory and practice," Perspectives on Politics, 4 (3): 547-561.

Orr, Marion (ed.) 2007. Transforming the City: Community Organizing and the Challenge of Community Change. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster. Chapter 1.

Pateman, Carole. 1970. Participation and Democratic Theory. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

Mar 29. MOSES Transit Task Force Meeting, 4:30 to 5:30 PM, Mt. Zion MBC, Ecorse

Apr 4. The Limits of Organizing

* Immergluck, Dan. 2005. "Building power, losing power: The rise and fall of a prominent community economic development coalition," Economic Development Quarterly, 19 (Aug.): 211-224.

* McKnight, John, and John Kretzmann. 1984. "Community organizing in the 80's: Toward a post-Alinsky agenda," Social Policy 14 (1): 15-17.  Available on our Ctools site. Reprinted in John McKnight. 1995. The Careless Society. New York: Basic Books (UGLI Reserve:  HN 58 .M351 1995).

* Kleidman, Robert. 2004. "Community organizing and regionalism," City and Community, 3 (4): 403-421.

* Boyle, Mary-Ellen, and Ira Silver. 2005. "Poverty, partnerships, and privilege: Elite institutions and community empowerment," City and Community, 4 (3): 233-253.

Calpotura, Francis, and Kim Fellner. 1997. "The square pegs find their groove: Reshaping the organizing circle."

Ganz, Marshall. 2002. Review of Mark Warren, Dry Bones Rattling.

Sullivan, Lisa Y. 1996. "The demise of black civil society: Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored meets the hip-hop generation," Social Policy, 27 (2): 6-11. (Available via MIRLYN)

Lancourt, Joan E. 1979. Confront or Concede: The Alinsky Citizen Action Organizations. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.

Piven, Frances Fox, and Richard Cloward. 1977. Poor People's Movements: How They Succeed, Why They Fail. New York: Random House.

Apr 11. Organizing as a Profession

* Jacobsen, ch. 10-12.

* Rubin, Herbert J. 1995. "Renewing hope in the inner city: Conversations with community-based development practitioners," Administration and Society, 27 (May): 127-160. (Available from our Ctools site.)

O'Donnell, Sandy, Jane Beckett, and Jean Rudd. 2005. "Promising practices in revenue generation for community organizing." Washington, DC: Center for Community Change.

Bobo, Kim, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max. 2001. Organizing for Social Change, 3rd ed. Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press. Ch. 16, 21-25.

Chambers, Ed. 2003. Roots for Radicals. New York: Continuum. Ch. 6.

Gecan, Michael. 2002. Going Public. Boston: Beacon Press.

Apr 18. (Extra class, in lieu of final examination)

Organizing team presentations: Each team will make a10-minute presentation, plus up to 5 minutes for Q&A (Refreshments provided)