Chicago, Illinois is the place I call home. The Windy City is recognized for its hardball politics and organizing history. In the late 1800s, the Pullman Strike led to major advances in improved labor law. Saul Alinsky, a well known community activist, spent his career in Chicago. He authored Rules for Radicals, still a popular handbook for organizers. His work with Chicago Industrial Area Foundation in the Back of Yards neighborhood catapulted him into organizing notoriety. Alinsky later helped found The Woodlawn Organization, a key player in the 1960s Chicago civil rights movement. The city’s rich history of activism laid the foundation for my own brief moment in organizing.
Right out of college, I was idealistic. I still am. But in my early twenties I had less financial obligation to hinder my aspirations of changing the world than I do now. When I attended my first and last job fair, the role that most interested me was a six month internship in community organizing. I spent an hour at my future mentor’s assigned table talking with him about social change as he convinced me that mobilizing every day people was the best method for systemic progress. Instead of accepting a full time job when I finished my final college course, I signed up for the internship.
I was assigned a campaign centered around police brutality on Chicago’s south side. I spent my days meeting with residents, community leaders, and local politicians in order to build a power analysis of a specific neighborhood. By the time I finished my commitment, I was fully convinced in the potential of organizing regular people to effect change for themselves. Even though I searched for a paid role in organizing after my internship ended, I did not find one. Instead, my need to pay the bills won at that moment in my life. The job that I found next was in corporate America.
Today I believe that for-profit social enterprise can also be a vehicle for the type of change we want to see in the world. But we do need good policy to support systems that provide quality of life for all, and social movements can impact policy. While social media has definitely changed the dynamics and expanded the parameters of organizing, change in society occurs because every day people choose to be vocal about what…