Principles of Organizing

Education serves as both a reason to organize and a result of organization. Community members unite around a shared problem, working to find attainable solutions and develop the means to implement them. As a public institution accessible to children of any race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, the public school system possesses the power to act as an equalizer. However, systemic obstacles prevent the establishment of egalitarian principles in academia. Our schools do not educate all children equitably. The reality is harsh; public education often facilitates the very problems we believe it should remedy. As a consequence of the public school system failing to meet the needs of all its students, communities often organize to bring attention to the system’s deficiencies and mobilize to ensure the institution serves all its students equitably.

In its serving of the wider public, the state maintains power over the public in its ability to select which needs and interests it chooses to meet and cater to. Despite the expectation of officials to represent the interests of the public in transactions it is absent for, the state does not always fulfill its duty in serving and protecting the public. The actions of the state are not necessarily productive or good for the well-being of its citizens. When the state and the public do not meet eye to eye, a new public emerges. If the public desires new treatment and cannot rely on its representatives to provide it, they must organize to protect themselves.

Dewey (1927) argues that we assess public institutions on whether or not they represent and serve our personal interests. When our personal needs, such as our children’s education, are not met by public institutions built to serve us, we naturally develop and harbor dissatisfaction. Upon the state disregarding the interests of the people, dissatisfaction grows and is ultimately recognized across different groups of people. Recognition of shared distress facilitates the formation of the new public, created to demand new treatment to meet their evolved needs and interests. The process of organizing occurs when we recognize our shared grievances and mobilize to shape institutions to better serve the community’s interests.

Similarly, President Obama (2012) lays claim to the power of community organizing in “Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City.” Much like Dewey, Obama (2012) attributes the successes of community organizing to the coalescence of power. In fact, he argues that organizing must be rooted in the belief that the problems hurting marginalized communities do not result from a lack of solutions but from a lack of power to implement these solutions. Rather, the problem originates in the state, not the public. Obama’s insistence on the community seizing power through pooling resources and organizing mirrors Dewey’s tenet of the people seizing power through recognizing their shared discontent and creating the new public.

As Dewey (1927) argues, “the local is the ultimate universal, and as near an absolute as exists” (p. 369); it is on the local stage that larger social implications can take place. Through recognition of discontent, the public claims its power. Naming a new public means naming their new needs and organizing to meet them.