When Elephants Fight: Why We Need More Sustainable Community Organizing

“Why are you wasting time by reaching out to people who can’t be bothered to come to meetings, or who don’t dare open their mouths? You’re bottom-dragging.”

I was shocked when I heard the words “bottom-dragging,” a terribly insulting way to refer to efforts to connect people with one another. The questions, asked of us by the Industrial Areas Foundation about ATD Fourth World‘s work in Brooklyn, pinpoint one of our fundamental disagreements with them. Ever since Saul Alinsky founded the IAF in 1940, community organizing has become a tool for bottom-up change in neighborhoods around the world. But people living in the worst situations of poverty are often not part of the groups through which IAF works.

Our own goal at ATD Fourth World is not simply to reach the worst-off, but to design all our programs together with them. Without their collaboration, no matter how much a community progresses, someone will always be left behind. One of our members in Switzerland, Nelly Schenker, puts it this way: 

If we stop in our tracks and turn to go see someone who is behind us on the road, it’s not because we are going backwards. It’s because that person has an experience and a knowledge that none of us has. We are still going forward, toward a society where we can learn from everyone’s unique experience. Click here to read more...

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