Beyond Traditional Outcomes
I just argued that more community organizing would be good for community development because it could lead to more capital funding for community development. And now I am going to critique myself for making this argument.
It is the wrong way of looking at the benefits of community organizing. It’s there, sure. But it is not the real reason why community development should make a deeper investment in community organizing.
Part of the reason why CDCs have not been able to sustain a consistent, long term set of community organizing programs—why most CDCs have not been able to do community organizing at the depth and scale and for the duration that Chinatown CDC has been able to—is that many CDCs’ relationship to community organizing has become corrupted. As CDCs became more focused on real estate development, organizing became more about gaining approval and funding for real estate development projects. The relationship with community residents became more of a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.
So community development must move beyond a politically instrumentalist approach to community organizing.
Here again, the example of Chinatown CDC is illuminating. Chinatown CDC has been successful at community organizing for so long because of a deep belief that creating community is the end goal of community organizing. But even more than this, CCDC has been so successful for so long because of love.
Because of love, the Rev. Norman Fong would run through a wall for Chinatown residents. Because of love, CCDC has a deep staff, full of people who understand what community is really about. Over beers, I have heard a CCDC staffer say that, of everything that CCDC has done—all the successful policy campaigns, all the units of affordable housing produced, all the services provided—he is most proud of the holiday parties put on by the Chinatown tenants associations, most inspired by a room full of people who have struggled together and supported each other, who know that they will do it again but who are now just taking time off and enjoying each other’s company.
It’s the love in the room. It’s the camaraderie, the karaoke… the feeling of community. Not just the feeling of community, the tangible actuality of community. And I can’t help but think that this is the special sauce that community development has been missing.