Elevate Difference

A Community Organizer's Tale: People and Power in San Francisco

A Community Organizer’s Tale: People and Power in San Francisco is a radical history with a heap of theory folded in and a touch of imagery. It would be fascinating and informative to anyone interested in community organizing, housing issues, ethnic and labor struggles, civil rights, the history of San Francisco, or community-friendly city planning. The author, a San Francisco native, has been deeply involved in community organizing in the area for most of seventy-two years. He has a long resume of primary and supportive positions with communities, many central to famous movements and connected to famous organizers in San Francisco and other cities. He touches on details of his experience during the '60s in significant famous events in the civil rights and labor movements and the climates that developed into one another consecutively.

Major connections are revisited several times, which was helpful for me since I am a reader without a lot of previous understanding of the timing or significance of all the events, as well as terms like urban renewal and model cities. Strategies of urban renewal and model cities, for example, have had different outcomes for each city, depending on how the greater number of individuals and cohesive organizations in the communities responded. If you are wondering what Miller’s opinion of those strategies is, it’s not all good, at least not historically. He presents the simple, logical, and real reasons why.

In addition to describing what was going on nationally and how the top organizers worked, Miller tells of his experience as an organizer, emphasizing his various organizations goals and what political and economic decisions meant for middle class workers, minorities, unemployed, and homeowners and tenants in various communities. If you live in or are familiar with San Francisco, you might be tickled or heartbroken by truths revealed about causes of change in particular neighborhoods. Individual churches, blocks, restaurants, and business people are painted in a favorable light. One of my favorite lines depicting neighborhood politics is where he states, “We were regulars there, so the owner didn’t mind his cook taking breaks to be a community leader.” My other favorite line is a quote before the introduction, a former New York Governor on community organizing: “[Barack Obama] was a community organizer... I don’t even know if that’s a job.”

This would be a great educational piece for interested students, or workers in the field. That is, anyone wanting to get up to speed on what has happened in community organizing in San Francisco, Chicago, and nationally. I recommend it to anyone wanting to be part of the future of this movement, because history really does inspire greatness.

Written by: Heather Irvine, December 23rd 2009