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carolyn.j's picture

"Gender, Race, and Community Activism"

Howe, Carolyn.  "Gender, Race, and Community Activism: Competing Strategies in the Struggle for Public Education."  Community Activism and Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class and Gender.  Ed. Nancy A. Naples.  New York: Routledge, 1998.  237-254.  Print.


Carolyn Howe’s essay provides an analysis of two different strategies taken by a local community to address challenges facing the school system.  The first strategy was one adopted by a group represetntative of normative politics and organizing, composed of socially dominant groups.  This strategy focused on winning endorsements from key community figures and contacting sympathetic voters.  Contrasted to this was the group of women and minorities, which adopted a strategy of organizing based on networking – through the schools and the various communities that intersected with – and then educating and mobilizing those networks of people. 

By Howe’s analysis, these two strategies mutually reinforced each other – and did result in victory – but ultimately the second strategy was subsumed by the first.  What’s more, the two strategies were crucially different in that the first relied on solving a problem while reinforcing the system that had produce it, while the second strategy offered an avenue for challenging the problematic structure of the system itself while also campaigning for resolution of the particular issue at hand. 

In this way, Howe’s essay touches on an issue similarly discussed in Naples’ piece – the value of community- and network-based organizing as embodying strategies that not only confront the problem at hand, but also seek to challenge and reform the structures and institutions that produced the problem.  In this sense, I find it encouraging that my organization’s ideology and methodology very clearly aligns with those of the second group’s in Howe’s analysis.  We focus on educating and mobilizing networks of people; and while we do not necessarily explicitly challenge the state structures opposing us, our methods of engaging the community are such that we facilitate more community activism and some degree of non-institutional thinking. 


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