This past week, TPMCafe brought together some smart folks to talk about whether there’s a resurgence of organizing and what to make of it. One of the more interesting contributions was from the woefully-under-appreciated Chris Hayes, who wrote:
The entire Industrial Areas Foundation method (utilized by a young community organizer named Barack Obama while organizing on Chicago’s far south side) involved leveraging the social capital of parishes towards achieving the interests of the community members. That’s an oversimplification, but it gets at something essential about Alinsky’s approach: you find the sources of pre-existing power in a neighborhood and you try to build on them. The $64,000 question is to what degree the internet can instantiate social capital in the very real and immediate way that neighborhood parishes did in the Back of the Yards. Much of the post 1970s decline in organizing (and indeed the fate of the Democratic party and progressives) can be tied, I think, to the unraveling of much of the social capital our constituencies used to have. This process has been documented quite famously by Robert Putnam and Theda Skocpol. So can the internet reverse the trend?