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carolyn.j's picture

"Women's Community Activism"

Naples, Nancy.  "Women's Community Activism: Exploring the Dynamics of Politicization and Diversity."  Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class and Gender.  Ed. Nancy A. Naples.  New York: Routledge, 1998.  327-349.  Print.


Nancy Naples’ essay offers an analysis of how power dynamics and institutional practices reproduce gender, race, and class inequalities, and how the dynamics of community facilitate action in response.  By Naples’ account, community activism is generally prompted by one or more of three contexts: struggles against violence and for social justice and economic security, casual interactions with people who share experience, and external pressures (337).  This is part of the state’s reproduction of inequality in that the state plays out the interests of dominant social groups, and the actions or inactions of government agencies and officials that this leads to tend to be the starting point for community action/reaction.  In so far as these actions or inactions by the state perpetuate inequalities, the community responses they prompt provide avenues for challenging these reproductions (343).  Furthermore, the development of community organizations as part of this process facilitates the emergence of activists and legitimates community demands; at the same time, though, ideological and material barriers discourage women from getting involved as activists (344-345).

Naples’ essay is concerned with grassroots communities; and while my organization is certainly concerned with those communities, it’s interesting to note its applications to my organization as a community of advocates, which is in turn part of an even larger community of the same.  And while my organization did originally grow out of organizations that were themselves formed in ways similar to that which Naples describes – communities motivated into advocacy for a variety of pressing reasons – my organization particularly has grown out of a distinct community of regional activists, all motivated and responding to the pressures Naples describes. 

In some ways I don’t think this is significant, in that in all events my organization is responding to government actions and inactions that necessitate a reaction, and as such acts in such a way that is consistent with the needs and desires of the local communities it serves.  At the same time, because at times we exist in such a distinct community of advocates, I wonder if we ever isolate ourselves within that bubble and in some ways lose touch with the variety of ways issues can be handled.  This is especially so given Naples’ focus on how community-based advocacy opens space to challenge the inequalities that government policies perpetuate.  By distancing ourselves in some ways from the community (not always, but certainly to a degree), do we risk losing those opportunities for innovation of the system, versus simply solving problems while maintaining the system.  A similar question is brought up by the other reading I did for this week, addressed in the next post.


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