Community Activists Network
I've been teasing out the questions about CD and Asset Based CD and Community Organising as if it mattered to anyone except national organisations flying the flag for one of these approaches. Clearly, as a member of CDX it has a lot of impact on us, not least because the Govt had such a downer on CD before they "arranged" to get into power, perceiving CD as both left wing (radical CD) and entrenched in New Labour top-down programmes (managerial). So damned if you do, damned if you don't. Financially damned, at any rate.The emergence of community organising as the preferred tradition at national programme level, with a relatively small pot, has coincided with the squeezing-out of CD organisations locally, regionally and nationally. We are still here but with gritted teeth and shrinking resources - in a way, it's been good for us to rediscover a bit of anger and to reassert why we think CD is worth having around. But whenever I talk with people, there is often a weariness about this never-ending wrangle within the family of community work. Some say "if the Govt doesn't like CD, call it something else". And wear masks? I think that we need to focus on what we have in common and seek to bring together the shared visions and ways of working - many community organisers won't swallow Alinsky where they recognise that there are dangers in that power power power approach (the equalities arguments fit here). And many community organisers have CD backgrounds, but are rejecting the CD variety which got entangled in top-down programmes as a poodle. But that's only one element in CD - there are basically many CDs and many Com Org schools out there which share in a deep desire for empowered and empowering ways of working. Asset Based CD has emerged as a refreshing "accentuate the positive" approach, singing the positives about communities having their own sttengths and the need to focus on these qualities (arguing that other CDs are downers, rooting around in a mire of needs and problems, and demoralising communities by under-playing their abilities to take positive action. And thereby creating dependency on outside experts to solve the identified complex problems). So there's a notion that other CDs are deficit CD, dragging communities down. Again, there's some truth in saying that there has been a miserabilist tendency in some CD, but there has also been a lot of issue-based CD which really supports communities to identify the situation they are in (in a Freirian way) and to take very positive collective action ("to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them"). I wouldn't want us to get so wrapped up in positivity that we herald blue skies when it's pissing down on everyone living under the cloud, but CD has to balance positive desire and energy and a critical analysis - so asset based CD has loads to offer us all in the 'optimism of the will' department. Our shared problem in all of these community work traditions is that we are becoming competing brands, emphasising the differences in a competitive way in order to corner a tiny market, turning ourselves into hunters for a franchise. It is in all of our interests to seek solidarity and communication, welcome our diversity and collaborate.
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