Types of Community Mobilization
Community mobilization is a technique that can be used to meet many different goals. That is one of the reason that community mobilization skills are so useful: as communities and individuals have different goals and desires, they can use these skills in different ways.
However, it is important to be able to differentiate between different types of community mobilizations, in order to understand better how they work and what is similar or different from your own work. You can always learn from mobilizations that are different from yours, but you can usually learn better when you understand how they are different.
Activist and social work professor Eric Shragge, in his book Activism and Social Change uses two different scales to divide up community mobilizations. Any organization can do work that overlaps between them, but the categories in general explain a lot about what organizations do. The two fundamental divides, he argues, are between development and action and between integration and opposition.
Development is focused on improving the material and social conditions for a community. It can mean working to support economic growth or improving the housing, education, or health care available to people in a community, for instance. Most NGOs do development work primarily. By contrast, Action is focused on organizing people to demand change and get powerful systems, like employers or the government, to change what they do. Social movements, unions, and activists usually do action work.
When an organization chooses to do work that is focused on improving how people work with the systems that currently exist, then the work they do is integration. This includes work to help people access resources, do better in educational or work systems, or to benefit from an improved environment. Some common types of integration work are humanitarian aid, scholarships to private schools or universities, or helping people register for government benefits. When a mobilization aims to change how the systems that currently exist work, then the work it does is opposition. It can do this by building alternative systems, by leading protests, or by trying to change people’s minds.
Examples of the four types
Most NGOs do work that is focused on development and integration: helping people’s material wellbeing through improving the functioning of the systems that exist. This is an important function that can help people with immediate needs. But it leaves the systems in place without making much change, and often means that the root problems of people don’t change. Zeinab Mokalled started an all-women initiative in her village Arabsallem in the south of Lebanon to deal with the trash problem her community was facing. In this video, Zeinab, alongside other women involved in the initiative, talk about their work and its importance in the village.
We weren’t an organization. We didn’t even think about this issue. All we knew was that we lived in a country that has a lot of dirt and a lot of trash and there was no solution on the part of the authorities, and the reason was that in Lebanon the municipal elections were a point of contention for 30 years about money. In these 30 years, the mayor and a number of members passed away. All that was left was a clerk and an old car for waste collection with a driver who works on his own because there was no one to command him, so the waste piled up and insects, rodents, etc.
So for me the idea came to my head when I was travelling down the roads and saw barrels of waste and neither the municipality or the authorities, and they would put out a carton box, or a chair, or a table, or other things that were made (of steel?) in the heart of these barrels to save space and the remains of the waste surrounding the barrels that were swarmed with dogs and so on, and especially with insects that fed on the waste. So I thought that if we don’t throw out those things we could preserve it and keep it at home, as well as finding a solution because it’s unreasonable to have an infinite amount.
This is the idea that I started with and before going into retirement, I taught in Arabsalim and I taught in the official Miniyeh Girls High School. So I brought together around 20 women who were concerned about the general public and have some level of education to address this miserable reality. Note that the region remained at the time under Israeli occupation, we are talking about 1993, Israel only left in 2000. But the personal efforts and enthusiasm were in full force. One of the members, who isn’t present with us now, offered her garden for us to place recyclable waste in and I offered my own garden because it’s unreasonable for a woman that sorts out waste to take out an endless amount we didn’t have a car, I was telling the women who had cars to pick up waste on their way. We collaborated with each other until we gained some credibility for this work, and in order to gain more traction we started a cleaning project.
This project exhausted everyone. It wasn’t commonplace for a woman to hold a broom and sweep the streets, and to make matters more difficult, Israel started its bombstrikes. We certainly were very frightened but we planned it and wanted to deliver. That time we undertook the cleaning project against the backdrop of bombs. Now as you know for men in our societies a woman who is outstanding would be described as this man’s sister like men are the ones at the forefront, but now those men stood watching us in amazement.
Some groups try to do work that focuses on development, but is oppositional. This often means building up alternative economic or social systems that people can use to do better, but with different prevailing conditions. Dalia Association, a Palestinian community foundation mentioned in other objects, is an example of a group that does development work in an oppositional way.
So this is mainly what we do in Dalia and by doing so we try to create an active community, strong that can solve its own issues. Another thing we do is try to raise awareness that there are plenty of resources in Palestine, human and non-human capital and depending on the resources needed, we can connect them, our country is rich and we can benefit from each other even if there isn’t anything called money, and also as a social organization we do circles that try to create space for the civil community, this space is disappearing, because of pricing and etc. There are no spaces for normal people to meet and discuss problems and exchange expertise, all of these things that Arabs used to always do. So, we also try to create these spaces and we call them Neighboring activities.
Political parties and unions do a lot of work that is action in an integration way. So do groups that make demands against the government or powerful local figures to better meet their needs, but without challenging how the system is set up. For instance, Jai Sen, an activist, architect, and scholar, worked with urban poor people in India to improve their access to services.
We worked in terms of the housing struggles of ordinary labouring people. By virtue of the kind of economy that India has, on the one hand, it is displacing huge numbers of people from agriculture – which has always been the dominant occupation – because of mechanization, because of the agricultural revolution the green revolution that took place in India as well as subsequent development in the field (industrialization of the field). Also, the industrialization of the country and the building of huge development projects has led to the displacement of millions and millions – like hundreds of millions- of people that have been displaced in this time. They have moved to the cities, but by virtue of having lost everything, they have to live on the margins. So they usually have to live in what is called illegal base or unauthorized base. It is a dehumanization of a kind which is very difficult to imagine, perhaps other than for people such as the students whom the course is directed at – people who have been evicted from their home.
People of that kind have a very different perspective to life and I learnt a great deal from them from 1975 and onwards. The work that we did was very – initially new work – was successful and I think everybody was surprised. We were basically organizing people to be able to gain their rights and consciousness of what their rights are, whether it be women, men or children and to be able to put forward an organized voice. I think the state was also surprised that people were conscious, that they had rights under municipal laws, such as drinking water, sanitation and getting letters where they live, voting. In India at that time, people would receive ration cards which were essential in getting essential commodities like rice, grain and oil at controlled prices. These people had been left out of this loop entirely. This was a very simple elementary part of life that we take for granted, but for them it was very real.
For the first few years it was successful yet very unpopular with the government. We were attacked by the government frontally as well as by the political parties. They attacked us because, in a way, we were playing a role that they did not expect anybody to be playing: organizing people. It was a historically new thing that was taking place. However, – and it worked- it was also successful in other manners. Similar things were happening in other parts of the country. Similar people had simultaneously started working and we came together to build a national platform, called the national campaign for housing rights, and it became the first broad cross-sectoral platform in India composed of hundreds of organizations of all kinds. From slum-dwellers and tenants, through agriculture workers, through factory workers, through women, environmentalists, political parties and human rights activists – just about any field you can think of. Because the home is so central to every part of life.
In the five years of its existence, it succeeded in raising this question – some likened it to a fire that was burning in the country – a lot of people came around agreeing that housing was not about buildings, it was about a place to live in security and dignity. This redefinition – aside from our trying to bring it to national policy and into law – ended up also going up to the UN and becoming embedded into UN agreements and covenants and so forth. We did not do that by ourselves, we joined an international coalition of people concerned about housing issues and it was that coalition that carried that forward.
Social movements are the obvious example of a group that does oppositional action. However, you can also do oppositional action without holding protests. For instance, Huellas de la Memoría (Footprints/Traces of Memory) is a Mexican organization that uses art to oppose forced disappearances.
Alexander: Huellas de la Memoria is a graphic art project that uses the technique of engraving as a tool to speak out against forced disappearance.
Alfredo: It is also a project that helps to make visible the terrible situation that we have been going through for more than 40 years.
Alexander: In Mexico, personally, since the case of Ayotzinapa many artists started engaging publicly, aiming to express what cannot be said with words. Art has that effect, that mission –to be able to express what is at this point beyond words: the relationship between frustration, sadness, powerlessness. I think that is why art is such an effective tool for this kind of denunciation.
Alfredo: Before the terror strategy that is forced disappearance, not just recently but for 40 or even 50 years since the first documented disappearance, we were looking for ways to explain to people what forced disappearance means –especially because forced disappearance is a practice of state terrorism, not just in Mexico. It was also suffered throughout Latin America and in certain African countries. It is a practice in the world. We found a way to explain what forced disappearance is through stories that we were told directly by relatives. In the project there are two stories: the story of the disappeared person and the story of the people that are looking for her. Inside the shoes there is a letter that tells the story about who the disappeared person was –what she did, if she was a student, if she was a worker, a rural worker—and the story of who is looking for her –her mother, her father, her son, her brother. It is an idea that uses the strategy and the skills of art to be able to communicate and explain what forced disappearance is. It has a power that has to be brought out.
Alfredo: It started by being a project that denounced forced disappearance in Mexico. However, it is a project that has expanded a lot: we started to receive shoes from Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and we recently received shoes from Algeria. So it became an open project. We invite people anywhere in the world, if it is a project that helps to render visible forced disappearance wherever, they are welcome –all the shoes that denounce forced disappearance in the world. That is the invitation.