Through my research on the Flint Water Crisis and the community’s response, I am firm in the belief that community organizing is equally about mitigating social problems and empowering the communities affected. Residents in Flint organized to raise awareness about the Flint Water Crisis, humanize the effects of lead-poisoning in the public’s eyes, and demand action by agents at fault.
By doing so, they increased public attention towards the problem and thereby affected federal and state governmental response to the crisis. Flint community members used their many voices to amplify their singular, united message: they deserve clean water, their children deserve clean water, and they demand action to fix a government-caused problem. By building their own capacities to organize and recognizing themselves as change-makers, Flint residents equally facilitated government intervention and oversight while simultaneously empowering themselves and their community.
Lessons in Class
We began our class on Community Organizing and Urban Education exploring the various principles of community organizing. We read John Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems, conversations between Paulo Friere and Myles Horton in We Make the Road By Walking, learned about Ella Baker, and finished with reading Rules for Radicals with Saul Alinsky.
After exploring the different principles of education, we discussed the different and sometimes overlapping reasons of why urban communities choose to organize. Some of those include:
Then, we explored different strategies and outcomes of organizing, mostly through reading A Match on Dry Grass (Warren & Mapp, 2011) and Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality (Kirshner, 2015). And afterwards, our Professor challenged us to create our own models of organizing for education. Various components of our models included reflection, research, self-realization of change-making agent, increasing knowledge capacities of community members, challenging common sense, contextualization within institutional structures, attempts at implementation, further reflection, and more organizing. However, in all of our case studies, it seemed each community took different approaches and all met success in different ways. Whether they won an actionable goal or empowered themselves through organizing, all of these communities were organizing.
I included the long description of how we went about the learning process to emphasize that after each step we repeatedly changed and “corrected” our organizing model. And after going through the process with my fellow classmates, I feel confident in saying there is no right way to organize. Learning and self-realization occurs at all stages and cultural changes might occur prior to institutional implementation of change, or vice versa. Thus, in my reflection of the course evolution, I believe there is no correct way to organize, as long as the community that will be affected is in charge.
An integral component to our EDUC 2272 Community Organizing and Urban Education class was Twitter. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the constant and wide-reaching activity on the social media platform. But then I looked at it from a different perspective… By creating a Twitter account (@AnnieRo51017542) and employing different Twitter hashtags (i.e. #UrbanEd), I gained access to multi-faceted perspectives on social issues I previously only understood through one lens. By following different nonprofit organizations, political officials, and community leaders, I encountered people with similar or different and more or less nuanced perspectives than me. I connected with millions of personal experiences shared through the public storytelling platform. Different Twitter users would suggest
I witness firsthand how Twitter was being used as a tool for social change. The online platform crosses regional divides connecting people across the country. It is a space where power can be equally accessed, and citizens can connect with their local officials or community leaders. Power differentials become irrelevant for the time being. For instance, college students in the class engaged in many conversations with the authors of the articles and books we were reading in class. Additionally, we connected with other Twitter users also using the hashtag #UrbanEd.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore Twitter as a tool for powerful advocacy, public storytelling, and organizing.