« Organisation de collectivités : Théorie et pratique/ Community Organizing : The Theory & The Practice »
April 12-13, 2013
à Antigone Librairie-Bibliothèque-Café
22, rue des Violettes 38000 Grenoble
Tram C, arrêts "Vallier-Catane" ou "Dr Calmette"
Bus 32 arrêt "champs elysées"
Bus 26 arrêt "Vallier Catane"
Francis Feeley, Professor of American Studies, The University of Grenoble 3,
( member of C.R.E.A. at The University of Paris 10)
Habib El Garès, Professor of Geography at The Institut d’Etudes Politiques-Grenoble
(member of P.A.C.T.E. at The IEP-Grenoble)
The purpose of this conference is to bring together a group of scholars and community activists for a series of roundtable discussions to talk about several aspects of the global crisis and specifically its effects on Latin America, Europe and the United States. The word ‘crisis’ in Chinese is represented with two characters: one means danger and the other means opportunity. Together they spell ‘crisis’. This conference will focus on the strategies, tactics and logistics of community organizing, as well as the underlying principles involved in mobilizing a democratic response to ‘hard times’.
We intend to organize this two-day event along two axes: one on the theme of ‘Practice’, the other on ‘Theory’. The first day of the conference will be devoted to conversations with local activists, who will share their varied experiences –describing the goals, the obstacles, and the necessary compromises they adopted in the course of their work to facilitate the development of democratic movements for progressive changes at the local level. On the second day, we have invited scholars from Latin America, Europe and the United States to discuss their views and analyses of social solidarity and the many forces at play in daily life which weaken and ultimately threaten to dissolve these social, cultural, and political bonds between ordinary people and to privatize a major area of their hitherto social life. The topics for theoretical discussions on this second day will include several contrary relationships:
· Privatized space vs. public space;
· Competition vs. Co-operation;
· The “Iron Law of Oligarchy” vs. participatory democracy;
· Emancipation vs. solidarity;
· “Autopoiesis” vs. social conventions.
· Representative democracy vs. Direct democracy;
· Autonomy vs. Institutional hierarchies;
· ‘Astroturf’ democracy vs. ‘Grassroots’ democracy;
· Pro-active response vs. Reactive response;
· Military interventions vs. police interventions;
· Values clarification vs. class consciousness;
· Grand Strategy vs. tactics.
· Direct action vs. delegated political power;
· ‘Democratic Centralism’ vs. ‘consensus politics’;
· Private language vs. mass communication;
· ‘Mobbing’ : passive aggression vs. active aggression;
· Revolt vs. revolution.
These poignant philosophical principles have been raised repeatedly during crises in the past. In 1824, for example, Thomas Jefferson, two years before his death, wrote to his friend, Henry Lee, alerting him to the enemies of democracy.
Men by their constitution are naturally divided into two parties: (1) Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes; [and] (2) those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles; Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last appellation of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all. [Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, written August 10, 1824, and cited by Saul Alinsky in ‘Reveille For Radicals’, p.8. Also, a contemporary discussion of this theoretical conflict is found in Jacques Rancière’s book, ‘La haine de la democratie’.]
The young Alex de Tocqueville expressed a similar concern about the direction of democracy in America, when he wrote, in 1835 :
It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without possessing the other.
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated; whereas that obedience which is exacted on a few important but rare occasions only exhibits servitude at certain intervals and throws the burden of it upon a small number of men. It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.
I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. The democratic nations that have introduced freedom into their political constitution at the very time when they were augmenting the despotism of their administrative constitution have been led into strange paradoxes. To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted, the people are held to be unequal to the task; but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the play things of their ruler, and his masters, more than kings and less than men. After having exhausted all the different modes of election without finding one to suit their purpose, they are still amazed and still bent on seeking further; as if the evil they notice did not originate in the constitution of the country far more than in that of the electoral body.
It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.
A constitution, republican in its head and ultra-monarchical in all its other parts, has always appeared to me to be a short-lived monster. The vices of rulers and the ineptitude of the people would speedily bring about its ruin; and the nation, weary of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions or soon return to stretch itself at the feet of a single master. [from “Democracy in America,” Chapter VI: ‘What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,’ cited by Saul Alinsky in “Reveille For Radicals,” pp 44-45. For a contemporary discussion of democracy and its subversive nature, see : « 50 ans de démocratie locale : Comment la participation citoyenne s'est laissée endormir, pourquoi elle doit reprendre le combat » by Adrien Roux, et al.]
We will examine these historic issues and more during the two days of discussions on the University of Grenoble campus in mid-April, and our intention is to test the propositions stated above against the real experiences of knowledgeable “students” of community organizing, in an effort to locate the necessary preconditions for true democratic participation for the realization of progressive social reforms.