A CASE STUDY
CONTRASTING THE BUILDING OF
GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ORGANIZING
COALITIONS IN DENVER AND CHICAGO
B.A., University of Colorado, 1970
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Arts
This thesis for the Masters of Arts
has been approved
Conte, Joanne (M.A., Political Science)
A Case Study: Contrasting the Building of Grassroots
Coalitions in Denver and Chicago
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Anthony Robinson
I hypothesize that the success of building
grassroots coalitions which bring about social change
are linked to three necessary factors: one, the quality
and sustainability of fiery, organizer/leaders; two,
the history and tradition of winning battles for social
change that have shaped the area or city; and three,
the severity of problems facing its people.
My thesis is designed to delineate the three
reasons as to why there is such a difference in how
Chicago and Denver view the need to come together in
First, fiery charismatic leaders like Saul
Alinsky, in Chicago, brought together neighborhood
groups, church leaders, business interests, social and
fraternal groups along with labor unions to form the
"Back of the Yards" Neighborhood Council. It righted
the wrongs wreaked on workers in this area for decades.
He developed a model of community organizing that
empowers people to come together to influence
government, business and industry. No organizer/leaders
of this magnitude have appeared during the 20th century
Secondly, a history and tradition of successful
organizing in Chicago dates back to activists like Jane
Addams who came along in the late 18th century. In
Chicago, at that time government feared anarchy and
revolution. People were willing to become martyrs to
bring about social and economic justice. Today, many
people view Chicago as a place where "people know that
everyday is a fight." In Denver, rarely do people
frame life in those terms, the whole notion of
collective struggle for justice seems to be repugnant
to the individualistic Denverite.
Thirdly, a massive severity of problems in Chicago
began with the labor struggles starting in the latter
part of the 19th century. Chicago faced unbelievably
miserable working and living conditions from the meat-
packing industry in "The Back of the Yards." Today's
problems of unemployment, poverty and crime in Chicago's
ghettos create human problems far beyond those in Denver.
Tom Noel, University of Colorado at Denver professor of
history, comments in this study: "In Denver, there are no
slums really, there is no terrible poverty here.
The presence of these three conditions provide
Chicago a sound catalyst for social action. In Denver,
no such basis exists for bringing people into coalitions
to fight back.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
This thesis is dedicated to Shel Trapp. After
all these years, I have discovered a hero. My
favorite Shel Trapp assertion: "I wake up in
the morning and Im angry that people are
getting screwed over by other people. There
isn't a helluva lot that doesn't make me
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all
members of my committee. The direction from Tony was
beyond anything that I expected. Frank Ford, as a
constant source of challenge with a somewhat different
point-of-view, led me to produce a more balanced work.
Mike Cummings provided stability and insight to the
For those in Chicago, I offer a sincere expression of
gratitude to Gale Cincotta, Shel Trapp and the staff at
NTIC who were really super people. The spontaneous
responses of Cincotta and Trapp were indeed refreshing in
a world of political correctness.
Preface ................................................ 1
2. PURPOSE AND CONCEPT OF THIS CASE STUDY.............. 17
Severity of Problems.............................. 44
3. METHODS FOR CASE STUDY.............................. 51
Hard Data from Census and Other Studies .... 54
Secondary Research from Books and Novels .... 54
Attending Meetings ............................... 55
Media Articles, and Group Reports............... 56
Independent Study ................................ 56
Discussion-Chapters 5-7: Leadership, History,
Problem Severity, Conclusion ......... 56
4. LITERATURE REVIEW................................... 63
The Jungle........................................ 65
Meatpackers and BeefBarons ....................... 68
Let the People Decide............................. 72
Poor People's Movements ................... 76
5. ANALYZING THE LEADERSHIP ISSUE ..................... 80
Denver-Chicago Contrast: Leadership .............. 86
Leadership Discussion ............................ 92
Conditions for Building Coalitions
6. ANALYZING THE HISTORY AND TRADITION ISSUE .... 106
History and Tradition Discussion ................ 121
7. ANALYZING THE SEVERITY OF PROBLEMS ISSUE .... 128
Attending Meetings in Chicago and Denver .... 133
An Interview with Leslie Moody....................146
In the 740s and 50 7s, Saul Alinsky took a new kind of
grassroots politics to the white working-class residents
of Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Alinsky7s
goal was to empower people by making them realize that
working together, they could influence government.
--- Joel Bleifuss, In These Times
Organizing a community or a neighborhood to protest
and eventually right the wrongs of insensitive governments
and big business was indeed developed by Saul Alinsky as
a neighborhood movement to be directed by professional
organizers. Alinsky7s modern American movement was
designed to utilize the professional organizer to build
organizations through neighborhood leaders, and the force
of people building groups and coalitions to fight back.
Gary Delgado, in his book, Bevond The Politics of
Place describes the Alinsky phenomenon:
A dissatisfied social worker, Alinsky shifted
his efforts into urban neighborhood organizing
and became the first organizer to develop a
replicable model. He advocated a reason for
organizing that extended beyond the mere
leveraging of additional goods and services:
building organizations of poor people that could
challenge the existing balance of power (p.9).
In March 1939, Saul Alinsky joined with Joseph Meegan
to form the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. All
elements were included in the council: neighborhood groups,
church leaders, business interests, social and fraternal
groups, and labor unions.
Robert A Slayton, in his book, Back of the Yards.
describes the history of oppression and indifference that
motivated Alinsky to action:
Chicago's problems... seemed to dwarf those of other
cities. Corporations like United States Steel and
Swift and Company were ruthless giants, ruling
with little concern for social consequences. A
pervasive desire to make money tainted the city's
culture and philosophy(p.11).
Into this hostile climate, Alinsky made his bold foray
onto the social landscape of Chicago. It is difficult to
dispute the effects that his movement has had in building
coalitions for social change in the past 50 years or so.
As a means to understand the legacy of community
organizing in Chicago and how it affects organizing today,
this case study will contrast Chicago's history of
coalition building to take on big business and big
government with that of Denver. Along with researching
the history of Chicago and Denver, this paper will rely on
literature, and interviews with organizers, scholars,
activists and those individuals working in both cities to
grasp an understanding of the injustices that oppressed
people have faced during this century.
While statistical data will provide necessary
contrasts between the cities in focusing on the
severity of problems, I will not attempt to prove with
reams of data and pronouncements from different ideological
schools of organizing that Chicago has been more successful
in building coalitions to win victories for social justice.
Rather, this thesis simply asserts that Chicago with its
rich history, overwhelming severity of human misery, and
charismatic organizer/leaders has overshadowed a city like
Denver that is still struggling to understand the need to
establish coalitions for social reform.
Following from that assertion, this study will
investigate the conditions that have shaped citizen protest
or the absence of citizen protest in both cities.
This paper will be presented in the form of a case
study using the narrative "story telling" mode of
persuasion. When possible, the major players will speak
for themselves. Excerpts from countless hours of live
interviews from people in both cities will assist in
creating a compelling reality to the story.
Charles U. Larson, in his book, Persuasion-Reception
and Responsibility describes the process:
the drama or story is the most compelling, and
persuasive metaphor that humans use to persuade and
explain events...all rational (and perhaps some
irrational) behavior can be understood using the
story, drama, or narrative as an analytical
device...Who are the persons in the narrative?
What do they do in it? Why they do what they do?
What are the results or outcomes (p.62-63)?
in Chicago, people know that
everyday is a fight, and that
everybody outside our room is
an enemy, so the only reason
we've come together is one, you
can't win on your own.
---Shel Trapp (Interview)
If one lives in the Denver metro area, a new
phenomenon has been added to everyday life: road rage
and the ensuing anxieties that are part of the package
called growth. Gridlock surrounds us whether we move
north to Boulder or south to Colorado Springs. Living
in the Denver metro area is becoming a challenge as
more and more people from states like California and
New Jersey gravitate toward the imagined open space and
the peaceful life.
While the inconveniences inherent in Denver life
seem to become more pressing as we move toward the next
century, Denver still offers a life that allows rapid
relief. In twenty minutes or so, one can escape to a
practically lily-white suburb like Arvada with a low
crime rate and lots of parks. From such a setting,
many people tend to feel free.
Roads like U.S.36 to Boulder starkly reveal an
area that almost overnight have produced box-like
houses lining up like World War II army barracks.
Motorists caught in countless traffic jams complain.
Then the politicians chime in with grandiose
transportation solutions and growth caps but no real
solutions ever seem to surface. It appears that the
sense of being hemmed-in has not truly affected people
to the point that they are forcing politicians to come
up with real solutions. The recent comprehensive
transportation proposal by the Regional Transportation
District (RTD) was soundly defeated by the voters.
People did not believe it would provide real solutions.
The early predictions that there ultimately will
be one large developed area from Fort Collins to
Colorado Springs seems to be coming true, but events
have yet to become pressing enough to alarm large
segments of the population.
Suburban communities, for the most part, compete
to bring more businesses and jobs to their cities.
This creates the need for more housing, and the
developments continue to sprout despite the absence of
a transportation system and other infrastructure
designed to meet the increased population. Elected
leaders seem to take a "God will provide" mentality.
For example, Broomfield is a Denver area city of
34.000 that is in the middle of a major boom. Politics
there are reflective of the denial approach that many
take in watching growth create future insurmountable
problems for the Denver metro area. Part of
Broomfield's development plan is that many of the
18.000 new employees who will work in Broomfield will
live in other cities, The Rocky Mountain News recently
Although Sun Microsystems, Level 3 and other
Interlocken Business Park tenants will
ultimately employ 18,000 people, not all will
live in Broomfield. The city has a long-term
development plan that calls for more upscale
homes, but many workers may choose to live in
the foothills or other nearby communities...
All these commuters will tax an already
overburdened U.S.36 (Rocky Mountain News. March
While the Denver area continues to create major
problems for its future, today's day-to day ever
increasing annoyances quickly disappear and seem
trivial after visiting Chicago. Ten miles out of
Chicago on the road to the city, a Denverite realizes
that this is the big leagues of survival. A steady
line of semitrucks and auto traffic bombards one's
sensibilities, converging from all directions.
Once in the city it becomes even more harrowing.
Almost every street seems to be in some stage of
repair. Added to this is the kamikaze tactics of the
Chicago driver. On the left, harried drivers cross
over the double lines and forge a new lane before on-
coming traffic forces them to cut back in front of the
startled visitor. On the right, stone faced Chicagoans
push forward until parked cars force them back into the
original lane, once again invading the space of the
incredulous visitor. It's all madness, but for the
Chicago driver it's a way of life.
Detours on practically all highways running
through the city deposit an unsuspecting visitor into
depressed areas that awaken one to the realities of the
major urban problemspoverty and congestion. It tends
to close in on an individual's psyche: that heavy
feeling, the sense of oppression, there is no escape.
William Julius Wilson, in his book, The Truly
Disadvantaged portrays an inner-city ghetto like
today's ghetto residents represent almost
exclusively the most disadvantaged segments
of the urban black communityincluding
those families that have experienced long-term
spells of poverty and/or welfare dependency,
individuals who lack training and skills
and have either experienced persistent periods of
unemployment or have dropped out of the labor
force altogether, and individuals who are
frequently involved in street criminal activity.
The term ghetto underclass refers to this
heterogeneous group of families and individuals
Chicago's inner-city reflects a sharp
dissimilarity to Denver's. Many view the city of
Denver as a place that has few, if any really run down
ghetto areas. If they exist, steps are being taken to
rejuvenate them. For instance, in the Five Points
section of Denver, there is for the most part a sense
of free movement. The tone of oppression is not all
Thomas J. Noel, professor of history at the
University of Colorado at Denver, supports this point:
In Denver there are no slums really, there
is no terrible poverty here, and the American
dream has worked for a large percentage of
the people, even for the poor people. Poor
people in Denver tend to have single family
detached homes. They don't live in tenements
or slums, so people can say the system is
basically working, the trickle down theory is
working (Live Interview).
Having set the tone of everyday life in both
cities, this case study will examine the contrasts
between Denver and Chicago when people strive to
improve their lives through organized protest.
Historically, in Chicago, people have connected many
segments of a neighborhood or community into powerful
coalitions for social change.
For example, all organizers know that Saul
Alinsky used coalitions to tap resources, from labor
unions to clergy in his relentless struggle to improve
the lives of people in the Back of the Yards. Today,
individuals like Shel Trapp, a community organizer with
the National Training and Information Center (NTIC) in
Chicago, continues the tradition. He has spent the
last thirty years both forming coalitions and educating
people on how to merge self-interest into powerful
networks. For Trapp, to protest is to organize, power
emerges when people connect in the struggle to bring
about social change. Trapp argues:
In Chicago, people know that everyday is a
fight and that just about everybody outside of
our room is an enemy. And, so the only reason
we've come together is one, you can't win on
your own. If you can win on your own, you
don't bother going into a coalition. When you
come into a coalition, you understand that
we're in a war that's too big for our local
organization to win, so we're coming together
to amass our power so that we can all win
something (Live Interview).
Turning to Denver and the surrounding area, one
finds little such drive on the parts of people to form
powerful coalitions for social justice. There is also
no strong history of organizations that have sustained
effective protest movements.
As Denver moved into the 20th century, for example,
Big Bill Haywood was stymied and discredited when he
attempted to organize both miners and service workers.
Even in the 1980's, unions were "busted" in Greeley at
Monfort Inc., a major meatpacker, in the Denver area.
Today, groups like Jobs with Justice are beginning to
rally for disadvantaged workers like janitors, but they
have not made a major impact on the Denver scene.
In the 1960's Corky Gonzales, a Chicano activist,
formed the Crusade for Justice to address the
grievances of the Latino community in Denver.
Gonzales' group did not form coalitions with other
oppressed groups in the community. While the Crusade
made a big splash on the Denver scene, it appeared to
eventually lose its effectiveness because the issues
of the crusade were generally not those of a
predominant segment of the Hispanic population. In
1998, the major legacy of the movement is an
alternative high school, Escula Tlateloco. The school
founded by Corky Gonzales in 1970 now has 65 students.
Corky's daughter, Nita Gonzales is the principal.
In the 1990's, Douglas Bruce, a Colorado Springs
attorney, became an activist fighting against
government's incessant desire to tax for new and
expensive projects. It took him three attempts through
a ballot initiative to bring about passage of an
amendment to the Colorado constitution: it places
a limitation on the ability of governmental entities
in Colorado to raise taxes; issue debt not
previously approved; and, to retain and extend revenue
in access of the entity's base as adjusted by a cost
of living index, without a vote of the people.
His TABOR Amendment, (The Taxpayers Bill of Rights),
passed in 1994. During the 1998 Colorado legislative
session, the TABOR amendment played a major role: the
State foresees up to a $416 million surplus; it will all
have to be returned to the people unless the voters
allow the state to spend part of it. Local and state
officials have tried to dismantle TABOR step by step,
but its basic premise remains in force.
Later Bruce was convicted of not maintaining
rental properties in Denver, and has been
characterized as a "slum-lord." While Bruce has
dramatically changed the way Colorado governments do
business, he has failed to succeed as a major organizer
for social protest and coalition building in Denver and
Passionate leaders like Big Bill Haywood, Corky
Gonzales and Douglas Bruce seem to be atypical blips
that appear in Denver history. Professor Tom Noel
offers insight into this phenomenon, especially
regarding union weaknesses:
Anti-union movements could be traced to the
radicalism of people like Haywood. Big Bill
Haywood joined the Socialist party, then
the Communist Party. He steered the Western
Federation of Miners into the radical camp,
and I think it made it a lot easier for the
main stream to discredit him. And, they
(people) still think of labor today as leftist
or as pinko, or as radical...Most communities
would look as mainstream, say in Chicago, but
here (Denver) they were able to label the
working movement as a...disruptive and violent
thing (Live Interview).
Noel contends that this legacy continues today. People
in Denver have little tolerance for unions, and little
tolerance for union radicals. In modern times, unions
have been "busted" at major companies like Coors and
In looking at the failure of the Crusade for
Justice movement headed by Corky Gonzales to sustain
effective organization, Noel asserts that there are a
lot of people in the Hispanic community who are
"traditional church goers who do not want to be called
Chicanos." In their book, Denver Minina Camp to
Metropolis. Stephen Leonard and Tom Noel argue
that "many moderate Hispanics disagreed with the
Crusade's tactics and rejected the organization's
anti-Vietnam War stance" (p.396).
Historically, Denver people do not become involved
in issues unless they really feel the causes and
tactics of the organizers are legitimately based on
their traditions and culture. In an interview with
Sonia Pena, the former director of Action for a
Better Community (ABC), she describes what occurred
when they attempted to organize in Denver on issues
counter to how the neighborhood perceived the problem:
A couple of years ago, we had our last campaign
around community safety, community
accountability. What we found is when we
went door to door, they all said we need the
police. We need to be really tough on crime.
When in fact those things are hurting our
community and people of color (Live
As this study continues, one will be able to see
that Corky's unpopular national stands on the war, and
continuing violence of the young people involved
with.the Crusade diminished its credibility, its
legitimacy in the eyes of many in the community.
The authors maintain that "both Hispanics and non-
Hispanics," viewed the Crusade as "a radical and
dangerous organization" (p.397).
When organizers, whether it be Gonzales or Pena
attempt to organize on issues that clash with the
moderate self-interest of the people, movements or
Association of Community Organizations for
Reform Now, ACORN, failed to assess how the people
viewed the legitimacy of a minimum wage increase in
a 1996 Denver election. Despite attempts to build a
coalition for the issue, they lost badly.
Douglas Bruce pictured as a radical anti-
government fanatic lost his ability to continue
his reform movements when he just went too far with
proposals that would have made the petition process
in many cases a substitute for representative
government. People appeared to believe that his
causes were no longer authentic.
In Denver today, in addition to ABC and ACORN,
groups like Metropolitan Organization People, MOP,
and the Community Resource Center, CRC, all work to
address grievances of poor people. During the spring of
1997, I completed an Independent Study, "A Cohesive
Power Coalition in Community Organizing" to explore the
operations of these four groups. From this study,
their records indicate successes are usually limited to
their own immediate memberships. Coalition building
has usually not played a major role in their
Dan Lopp, long-time community organizer for
CRC provides one reason:
Generally speaking, groups involved in social
justice work (Denver) have a high level of
arrogance and it's very difficult to get beyond
that sometimes...They find it very difficult to
work with other individuals...It is something
that has to happen, the question is, can it
happen (Live interview)?
John Gaudette is Director of Denver's MOP group,
While expressing an oblique interest in coalitions,
he frames the problems that are inherent in power
What the struggle usually becomes is around
power, just like in any situation...power is
taking, it's not giving! For us (MOP) to develop
what we need here, (Denver) we have to become a
power organization, that's why two
organizations can't work in the same
neighborhood, because you lose your power.
And, the City governments will play you off
each other (Live interview).
As the first key summary point to this juncture, it
becomes evident that: one. Chicago's organizers from
Alinsky in the 1930's to Shel Trapp today have used and
continue to use power and protest through coalitions
effectively; two. Denver organizers have rarely used
coalitions and even today appear reluctant to make firm
commitments to coalition building.
This thesis proposes that there are three
reasons for this difference. First of all,
long-sustaining organizer/leaders like Alinsky and
Trapp have been able to form effective coalitions for
power. No organizer/leaders of this magnitude have
appeared during the 20th century in Denver. When
strong leaders do appear on the scene in Denver,
they seem to be stifled or destroyed either by
a rugged individualistic mentality or by the
failure to present causes and tactics that appear
legitimate to the people.
Secondly, a history and tradition of successful
organizing in Chicago that dates back to activists like
Jane Addams who goes back to the late 18th century.
Alinsky developed professional organizing in the
1930's, and organizer/leaders like Shel Trapp of today
have been participants in developing this history.
Chicago seems to be propelled by an irreverent
historical drive. Trapp skillfully characterized
Chicago as a place where "people know that everyday is
a fight, and that everybody outside our room is an
enemy." In Denver, rarely do people frame life in those
terms: and the whole notion of collective struggle for
justice seems to be repugnant to the individualistic
Thirdly, a massive severity of problems in Chicago,
has been triggered by a population six times that of
Denver. From the past, Chicago has faced unbelievably,
miserable working conditions in the "Back of the Yards."
Today's problems of unemployment, poverty and crime in
Chicago's ghettos create human problems far beyond those
of Denver. As Tom Noel commented earlier in the study:
"In Denver there are no slums really, there is no
terrible poverty here."
In Chapter 2, the focus will be directed toward the
three necessary elements for coalition building: fiery
leadership, organizing history and severity of problems.
PURPOSE AND CONCEPT OF THIS CASE STUDY
I hypothesize that the success of building
grassroots coalitions which bring about social change
are linked to three necessary factors: one, the quality
and sustainability of fiery organizer/leaders; two, the
history and tradition of winning battles for social
change that have shaped the area or city; and three,
the severity of problems facing its people.
This case study will build its thesis around an in-
depth contrast of two cities, Denver and Chicago.
Leadership, history and severity of problems as they
relate to coalition building will be explored in the
above order. The purpose of this thesis is to
illustrate that without these three necessary elements
working in a reciprocal fashion, grassroots community
coalitions will not prosper.
As this case study has developed, Chicago's
history of facing monumental problems by virtue of
people coming together has become evident. What was the
crucial element in history that gave birth to Saul
A1insky's success in bringing groups and people
together? Partly, it was simply the scale of the
problems in Chicago which evoked the efforts of
organizers like Alinsky. Once again Robert Slayton's
Back of the Yards illustrates the unfolding of
Chicago's history by depicting the plight of the worker
and his family in the "Back of the Yards" area:
Within the community, the packers role was all-
encompassing. ..A family's home, their
children's future, the sounds they heard at
night all were determined or influenced by
company decisions. The most powerful weapon
was control of employment and wages, which
defined what the worker could do with his or
her life (p.12).
Slayton also says that the packers created the
social structure to prevent "unity" from threatening
their power. According to Slayton, the company also
"shaped the physical environment, forming a landscape
dominated by the most pervasive stench in the
industrial United States" (p. 12).
Descriptions of this nature set the tone of
the historical events producing decades of severe human
misery in Chicago. This has led to the formation of
Alinsky's first successful power coalition, the Back of
the Yards Neighborhood Council, in 1939. Alinsky then
formed the Industrial Areas Foundation in 1940, which
is still with us today, but there have been several
deviations from the original Alinsky model.
Shel Trapp came along in the early 1970's and
developed a variation of the original Alinsky approach.
Maureen Ann Connaghan, in her Master's thesis,
(University of Colorado at Denver, 1995), The Split
In Methodology of Alinskv Style Community Organizing
describes the events leading to Trapp's organizing
group, (NTIC). Connaghan reports:
Austin was a racially changing community in the
Southwest side of Chicago. The community had
traditionally been Anglo, but now a large
influx of African-Americans were moving in.
Scare tactics were being used by real estate
agents to sell their homes at undervalued
prices. Then the agent would turn around and
sell the homes to African-Americans at
overvalued high prices. The neighborhood
organization, Organization for a Better Austin
(OBA), knew they had to get both African-
Americans and Anglos involved with the
organization in order to successfully stop the
real estate scare tactics and to empower the
Connaghan goes on to discuss how Trapp came to realize
that the churches in the Austin neighborhood, the usual
base for community organizing were not representative
of the African-American residents. She describes how
Trapp started the "block club" organizing method:
"block clubs are a collective of neighbors on one
particular block; the block club meets on a regular
basis to discuss how to solve problems." Connaghan
The churches were basically white. Trapp
wanted to find a way to reach the African-
American residents, so he started to canvass
door-to-door. Instead of finding leaders
through the already established organizations
and churches as A1insky had done, Trapp went
out into the community to develop block clubs
that were not a part of the local churches.
Trapp had not organized using the local block
clubs before and feels that he was probably
one of the very first modern community
organizers to do so (Trapp 1994) p.43.
Trapp went on to join with Gale Cincotta to form
National People's Action (NPA) in 1972, a national
coalition of community groups. NPA comes together
once a year in Washington D.C. to address the major
issues affecting groups around the country.
Daniel Cordes, in his article "Levers for
Democracy," appearing in Crossroads. October 1995,
If America ever becomes a progressive
democracy, the agents of its change will
be those whom Marx would identify as today's
proletariat, the poor, the unemployed,
the underemployed; and people of both genders,
all races and sexual orientations. The
importance of the community groups who organize
this tremendous majority is thus as great
as the obscurity in which they generally labor.
...NPA is one such group, and while it is over-
shadowed by the Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and...IAF,
its low profile belies an influence which the
left would do well to understand and employ
Cordes details the organizational leadership of NTIC
and NPA: "Today, Shell Trapp, who trains neighborhood
leaders as the staff director of...NTIC, and Gale
Cincotta, chairperson of NPA, executive director of
NTIC, and president of both, provide the defacto
leadership of NPA" (p. 27).
I will plot a course showing that from a history
of organizing in this genre, Chicago has grown
a formidable group of passionate organizer/leaders such
as A1insky, Trapp and Cincotta. They have been strong
enough to take on their enemies without being destroyed
In Denver, from this case study's introductory look
at its community organizers, the notion surfaces that
whenever a major movement or leader surfaced, they were
destroyed by the established power moguls (Big Bill
Haywood) or by taking on issues that did not appear
legitimate to the majority of people (Corky
Gonzales and Douglas Bruce).
I will now examine the three hypothesized
conditions point by point: leadership, history
I wake up in the morning
and I'm angry that people
are getting screwed over by
other people. There isn't
a helluva lot that doesn't
make me angry.
---Shel Trapp (Chicago Tribune^
There must be a productive interactive and dynamic
working relationship between the community organizer
and the community leader. Organizers must walk that
fine line where they are able to provide leadership and
education to the citizens in trouble. But, they must be
able to learn from the history and traditions of the
people who are attempting to improve their lot. From
this democratic bond between the organizer and
community leaders, power can be developed. However,
the persona and force of what we will call the
organizer/leader makes it all work.
Robert Fisher, in his book Let the People Decide.
argues a position that is generally rejected by many
who work in the field:
Organizers do need to provide leadership.
Organizing projects that completely deny the
leadership role of the organizer and emphasize
letting the people decide are often dishonest
and manipulative or parochial and undirected.
Fisher enhances his point by turning to comments from
James Forman who was a leader in the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Forman criticized what
he called "local-people-itis...(which) carried with it
the idea that local people could do no wrong, that no
one, especially somebody from outside the community,
should initiate any kind of action or assume any form
of leadership" (p.226).
Joel Bleifuss, in "Sacred Cow or, Bull?
Questioning the Tenets of Political Organizing," in
the magazine In These Times reports on the 1997 annual
conference of the National Organizers Alliance (NOA)
which was attended by 380 organizers in Estes Park
The Sacred Cow of Democracy was one of the most
hotly debated. This is the idea that
organizers are facilitators, not leaders.
According to this principle, organizers should
help people to empower themselves, instead of
dictating from the top down...Organizers don't
take a side, always let the people decide. But
others...replied that...organizers exert power
and influence...With that power, they argued
comes the responsibility to challenge and
develop the groups political consciousness.
(In These Times. November 22, 1997, p.18).
As my first kev summary point of Chapter Two,
there is the idea that the organizer/leader with
passion, charisma and drive is necessary to make
coalitions come together and prosper. For movements to
be launched and organized, it takes the skilled
organizer/leader possessing the Trapp persona: "I wake
up in the morning and I'm angry that people are getting
screwed over by other people." It is time for
organizers to be more honest with themselves and their
groups by asserting that they have the power to serve
as the catalyst to make things happen. But they must
have not only the technical skills to show people how
to build organizations, they must reflect the universal
anger of a Trapp to stir people to action. The passion
of the neighborhood leader usually remains unchanneled
unless there is that fiery organizer/leader who serves
as the role model and launches the people's group into
In contrasting the Chicago and Denver approaches
to the role of leadership in coalition building, I will
offer it as a descriptive process rather than a
judgmental one. All factors will be drawn into the
process of understanding the contrasts between the two
cities: fiery organizer/leaders; history and tradition
of successful coalition building; and, the severity of
problems. The method used in this discussion will not
be predicated on which city is better in producing
social change victories, but it will examine what
effect the presence or absence of the three elements of
building successful coalitions has had on its
From my Independent Study on Denver's interest
in coalition building, I find the antithesis to Fisher
and Forman's contention that organizers need to
provide leadership, and with my further assertion that
the organizer/leader must possess universal anaer. John
Gaudette from MOP offers a view that does not square
with this point-of-view.
someone who is loved by the press usually is
an activist... it is not effective for our
organization...An organizer would never be in the
paper, nor would we actually lead a meeting or
call a mayor or call a newspaper. Leaders have
to do that...It's not my issue, therefore, I
don't have the resources or the passion or the
desire to do it (Live Interview).
Shel Trapp on the same issue of passion and the
role of leadership:
(we) need a good organizer somebody who is
willing to cajole, titillate, kick ass...
(But) its gotta be people in the street.
If people aren't willing to shake fists, I am
sure as hell not shaking my fist...None of my
staff will ever negotiate for a community...
We do not talk to the press, that is the
leader's job...we will get them (media) there,
(then) I disappear, the leader has to talk to
the press (Live Interview).
In juxtaposing Guadette and Trapp's positions, one can
see that they both believe strongly in the Alinsky
tradition of organizing: the organizer trains the
leaders who build the organizational power; the leader
negotiates, talks to the press, etc. They agree that
the organizer does not take on those tasks, the
indigenous leaders must do them.
The most glaring difference between Trapp and
Gaudette revolves around the passion issue. Trapp
talks about "shaking his fist" if the people are out
there shaking their fists. He also talks about the
role of the organizer, as willing "to cajole,
titillate, kick ass," to move the leaders to action.
Earlier in the study, Trapp insists: "I wake up in the
morning and I'm angry that people are getting screwed
over by other people; there isn't a helluva lot that
doesn't make me anary."
On the other hand, Gaudette says that, "it is not
my issue, therefore, I don't have the resources or the
passion or the desire to do it."
Clearly Trapp's drive and fiery leadership stem
from the Chicago tradition stated earlier by him: "in
Chicago, people know that everyday is a fight, and that
everybody outside our room is an enemy."
Gaudette's low-key, non-passionate type
of organizing seems to square with what Steve Graham,
the executive director of the Community Resource
Center (CRC), calls "Denver's individualism:"
Denver does not have the tradition (Chicago's
militant organizing) at all. Denver if
anything grew out of an isolated,
individualistic approach to the world (Live
Graham explains Gaudette's seeming lack of passion
in his organizing style:
what he (Gaudette) is saying is that I don't
live there, this isn't my community, how can I
care about whether there is crime in this
community, when at night I go somewhere
else...its gotta be people here who care about
whether there is crime and poverty in the
community. I think that he would say that his
role is...to help stimulate that concern, but
in the end if there aren't people locally to
carry it, it doesn't matter how passionate he
is. (Live Interview)
When Graham was asked if he believed that the good
organizer is also a good leader:
I think that the notion that the organizer
doesn't lead is wrong, they do lead to
some degree, the question is the less they
can lead the better, the more they can
develop leadership among the community
to play that role the better (Live
Graham asserts that, "if the organizer is always the
person in the center, then the other people are waiting
for that person to do that for them rather than do it
After several interviews of organizers in Denver,
it seems that some local organizers fear that the
charismatic "outsider" will stir people up, but then
leave them before an organization is built by the
locals. This is far from the way Shel Trapp perceives
it. A Chicago Tribune interview, of 1995,
it's indicative of his (Trapp) total lack of ego
involvement, which is also a key to his
longevity and success. A good organizer, Trapp
believes should be the itinerant instigator who
riles everybody up, paces the periphery while
they plot and execute their action, and goes
away as soon as they're sturdy on their
fledgling legs (2/17/95-p.3).
But, does Shell Trapp truly go away, even after
local leaders are developed? In interviewing Trapp, it
is clear that he believes in developing indigenous or
local leaders. However, the longer that one talks to
Trapp, the clearer it becomes that he is the fiery,
drive behind the local success. He responds to the
questionhow long can coalitions stay in place:
That (length of coalitions) can go on from one
meeting to...like the re-investment, fifteen
years. So there is no limit on it, if there
are victories along the way that we can claim,
then we'll keep the coalition going. The re-
investment coalition is kept going because
we keep attacking new banks, we keep
monitoring old agreements, making sure they
are being met. And, so that sucker has just
kept going. Again, as long as the people
are willing to come, and they see progress,
we will keep the coalition going (Live
If Trapp is the choreographer, inciting the anger in
the streets and plotting the strategies that make the
neighborhood leader successful, Gale Cincotta,
Chicago's Executive Director of NTIC is the
inspirational leader. In the media, her picture always
seems to be there with politicians and local leaders
celebrating one of their many victories. Pictures of
Trapp are rare. Cincotta said: she sees herself as "a
leader who knows how to organize." Most organizers
familiar with her work say she is a tough negotiator.
Cincotta responds to the question of whether NTIC should
continue if she and Trapp were no longer there:
Maybe it necessarily shouldn't, because a lot of
times, a group's name survives, the ability to
raise money survives, and they don't do anything.
So I don't have that urge that there has to be
this legacy, and this thing has to go on forever
Trapp disagrees with Cincotta on this one, he
says: "I've got a staff of 18 folks, three of whom
could take over tomorrow if I dropped dead."
Sanford D. Horwitt, in his book Let Them Call Me
Rebel. questions if A1insky ever practiced what he
preached about setting up the group and then going
away. Horwitt says:
Apparently, Alinsky had become a believer
of his own romantic rhetoric, that after
three years, a Peoples Organization could-
-and must stand on its own feet and no longer
rely on his services... it was "evidence" of
Alinsky's belief in the capacities of ordinary
people...But, the truth of his own experience
should have led him to a different conclusion.
His most successful, stable, and enduring
organization was the Back of Yards Neighborhood
Council in which he remained active as a
mentor-consultant to Joe Meegan for more than
twenty years (p.512).
In returning to the elements of leadership that
propel Shel Trapp to his intense, in-your-face
involvement with the organization, the Chicago Tribune
article describes how Trapp takes the pain of others
very personally." This pain creates the motivation for
Trapp's "don't be nice," philosophy: "citizens become
successful bulldogs when they learn to stop worrying
about being nice to their enemies, Trapp says". The
He can be as warm, patient and approachable as a
growling marine drill sergeant, especially in
battlefield situations where he has no tolerance
for nonsense and timidity..."When dealing with
your enemy, you have to be a bulldog on their
leg. It's pretty hard to walk with a bulldog on
your leg and eventually you get noticed." Know
your enemy. Trapp advises, "wherever they
don't want you to be, that's the first place you
should be" (p. 3 February 17, 1995).
John Gaudette of MOP does not view "anger" the
same way as Trapp. He says that in "church based
organization there is a certain level of civility
involved, it's not like the old Alinsky days where
they'd go literally just storm into a city council
meeting and take it over. Now what we teach people is
about power, and power does not come from uncontrolled
anger. It comes from being organized and focusing your
passion into certain areas." Gaudette' comments serve as
a night and day comparison to Shel Trapp's anger because
"people are getting screwed over by other people." It is
the unrelenting bulldog nature of individuals like Trapp
who make it work, while the dispassionate, workmanlike
stance of Denver organizer's like Gaudette appear
to be a major factor in preventing major coalitional
successes in Denveri
It must be noted that while Gaudette (director of
MOP probably the most successful community organizing
group in Denver) tends to downplay passion it is not
generally true for all organizers in Denver.
I met Carolyn Siegel, Head-Organizer, for ACORN,
in Denver, while doing research for the Independent
Study in March 1997. Siegel believes:
Our job as organizers is to teach tactics and
strategies that will get results. If that
means the official didn't show up to the first
action, and they are trying to get a street
repaired, and its a busy street, people feel
ready in blocking that street at a busy time of
traffic. Most people are ready to fight. (Live
ACORN has won victories in Denver. Siegel describes
the action against the Denver Urban Renewal Authority
they (DURA) had given out $200 Million, of
subsidies to businesses...wasn't hiring from
the community...We won a first source hiring
policy, now you have to give first priority
to low income Denver residents (Live
ACORN attempted to build a coalition in 1996 with
the Labor Federation. It was designed to raise the
minimum wage in Denver through an initiated election.
According to Siegel, "we lost the election and pretty
badly, and we saw the major politicos go against
Leslie Moody was a former organizer with
Jobs With Justice and is now the newly elected
president of the Denver Area Labor Federation.
She is an organizer with extreme passion who recently
conducted "demonstrations every week, two to four
to five hundred people in front of downtown buildings"
(Live Interview). These demonstrations produced a
victory for janitors who had all of their demands met.
Moody describes what went wrong with the ACORN-
union coalition on minimum wage. According to Moody,
the organizers just did not have the experience,
nor the tradition of winning coalitional battles:
I think there were real power issues on the
part of ACORN. I have worked with ACORN for
years, and I love Carolyn (Siegel) dearly,
but, I think she was just learning how to work
in coalitions...herself and the president of
the labor council, the labor federation (Live
Moody says that the ACORN-labor coalition was just not
prepared enough to bring the issue to a coalition. For
Moody, "power needs to be shared and people need to be
involved from day one:"
for something that's going to require thousands
and thousands of volunteer hours, and just tons
of public support, there needs to be huge
coalitions from the outset, saying this is what
we want. And, we agree this is a good idea,
and we will help. Instead, we had two leaders
who were organizers, who made decisions, and
then tried to involve groups after the fact
Moody goes on to say: "commitments were not made early,
so we couldn't get community support like the Urban
League and the NAACP." Without these groups being
informed about the issue, the propaganda of the
opponents convinced a lot of people that they
would have to pay more for food, jobs would abandon
Denver, and women on Social security would be adversely
affected. According to Moody, when the minimum wage
issue was raised in Baltimore, they had their groups
together producing factual information from the start
of the campaign. Moody says they have learned a lot
from the disastrous Denver campaign, and that this
information will be helpful in future attempts to build
In analyzing the problems of how to develop
solid leadership to build coalitions, Moody stresses
Denver's lack of history and tradition of community
organizing: "Denver is very infantile in its organizing,
it's in an early stage."
As this chapter concludes, it becomes evident
that the Chicago tradition and history of community
organizing and coalition building has produced
passionate organizer/leaders like Trapp. He has in
turn trained many effective organizers who have
produced what Trapp calls "mean-ass" leaders.
On the other hand, in Denver the absence of
history and tradition of an in-your face approach
to organizing has shaped the leadership approach
of a John Gaudette who reflects a low-key non-
passionate style. He also seems reluctant to move
MOP into building coalitional activity.
In Carolyn Siegel, we witnessed an organizer with
a passionate leadership approach. However, the Denver
absence of a history of coalition building seemed to
doom ACORN's effort to bring groups together around the
minimum wage issue in 1996.
One of the more revealing moments of support for
the presence of a fiery organizer/leader as the on-
going catalyst for change occurred at an appearance of
Shel Trapp in Denver. NEWSED Community Development
Development Corporation brought Trapp to Denver to
After a spirited presentation by the flamboyant
Trapp, a middle aged Latino man stated that there is no
Trapp in Denver, so how can people bring about major
and sustained victories?
Trapp responded with fervor: the neighborhood
must fight, must not be nice, take on the enemies. The
Latino gentlemen sat down with a blank look on his
face. He seemed to realize that while the neighborhood
and community had legitimate needs, no action could
take place until a Trapp type firebrand organizer/
leader came on the scene. He seemed to feel that
this person did not exist in Denver.
In reality, this is not true, fiery leaders
do in fact exist. They just do not receive lots of
press. Leslie Moody is definitely a passionate and
effective charismatic leader. As the study continues,
I will introduce Linda Meric from 9to5Colorado who
just built a diverse coalition on the affirmative
action issue in Colorado.
(Yes) some, but not as many organizer/leaders
do exist in Denver. But, they are fewer and less
powerful. Why? It is obvious that leadership is
diminished by the weakness of the other two conditions:
cultural history and tradition of organizing in Denver?
and severe problems that make people feel personally
In Chapter Five of this case study, an in-depth
analysis of the role of the passionate organizer/leader
will take place. Extensive interviews with Shel Trapp
and Gale Cincotta of NTIC and NPA will focus on the
passion and leadership qualities of the organizer/
leader in Chicago coalition building. Susan Clarke
and Frank Ford, professors from the University of
Colorado will contrast and compare the leadership
approach in Denver.
Although the first labor legislation
was but bringing Illinois into line with
the nations within the modern world..."that
the child, the young person and the woman
may be protected from their own weaknesses
and necessity," nevertheless from the
first it ran counter to the instinct and
Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago
around the turn of the century. In her book, Twenty
Years At Hull House, she described her successes in
convincing the Illinois State Legislature to "limit the
hours of all women working in the factories or
workshops to eight a day, or forty eight a week"
(p.203). Addams makes it clear that this legislation
was almost antithetical "to the very religion of the
manufacturers of the state" (p.206).
This legislation was a milestone or the turning of
the corner in righting the wrongs of big business and
industry. Her settlement house activities gave birth
to the notion of community organizing and coalition
building in Chicago.
Jane Addams had mustered support from people at
the settlement house who lobbied the legislature for
the passage of the bill. Its passage was the first
success for the labor movement. In Twenty Years At
Hull House. Addams describes the important role of
the unions in making certain that the law was
Chicago had for years been notoriously
lax in the administration of law and the
enforcement of an unpopular measure was
resented equally by the president of a
large manufacturing concern and by the
former victim of a sweatshop who had
started a place of his own (p.207).
Addams maintained that after legislation of this kind
was passed, "trades-unions" must work to see that it
was enforced. She quotes an "English Statesmen;" he
stated "a common rule for the standard of life
and the conditions of labor may be secured by
legislation, but it must be maintained by trades
unionism" (p, 208). The unions were effective in
making certain the law was enforced. But in Colorado,
during the same period,the unions were not strong enough
to ensure the enforcement of similar legislation: "an
eight-hour law passed by the legislature (Colorado) gave
workers no relief; employers circumvented it by reducing
wages," according to Leonard and Noel, Denver Minina Camp
to Metropolis" (p.172).
In Chicago, during the later part of the 1800's,
the government was extremely anxious over the threat of
revolution. Addams writes, in Twenty Years At Hull
House about her feelings for the Russian
Revolution. She says:
Certain it is, as the distinguished Russian
revolutionists have come to Chicago, they have
impressed me as no one else ever has done,
as belonging to that noble company of martyrs
who have ever and again poured forth blood that
human progress might be advanced. Sometimes
these men and women have addressed audiences
gathered quite outside the Russian colony and
and have filled to overflowing Chicago's
largest halls with American citizens deeply
touched by this message of martyrdom (p. 402).
In Chicago, this was a period of unrest and fear of
revolution and anarchism was ripe. Addams tells about
the assassination of President McKinley. This
increased the establishment's fear of revolution:
Hull-House had doubtless laid itself open to
...attack through an incident connected with
the imprisonment of an anarchistic editor
(he had spoken at Hull-House), who was
arrested in Chicago immediately after the
assassination of President McKinley. In the
excitement following the national calamity
and the avowal by the assassin of the
influence of the anarchistic lecture to which
he had listened, arrests were made in Chicago
of everyone suspected of anarchy, in the
belief that a wide-spread plot would be
uncovered" (p.4 0 3).
Five years prior to the assassination of
Me Kinley, Chicago had suffered through the Haymarket
Riot, May 4, 1886, a confrontation between police and
labor protestors who were battling to have the labor
movement recognized in the United States:
On May 3, six persons had been killed during
police intervention in a strike at the
McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. The
protest meeting in Haymarket Square was
announced by inflammatory leaflets but
remained peaceful until police attempted to
disperse it. A dynamite bomb thrown by a
person never positively identified, killed
seven policeman, whose companions opened fire.
(Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974-vol. IV, p.
Four "anarchist labor leaders" were hanged on November
11, 1887. One of the surviving leaders "committed
suicide and the surviving three were pardoned in 1893
by the Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld."
In Denver, there has been no similar revolutionary
or anarchistic movements. This has just not been part
of Denver's past. The absence of this revolutionary
history can be viewed as a strong factor in the
weakness of organizing and protest in today's
Denver. It did not experience what Addams reported
as "people being touched by the message of martyrdom"
(p.402): there is just no basis for that commitment
to suffer for a cause, no strong belief in the battle
for social justice that can be found in Chicago.
In his book, Back of the Yards. Robert Slayton
addresses the more recent labor and human struggles in
the Chicago community just to the west of the Chicago
area in which Addams once worked:
the Back of the Yards exploded onto the national
scene in sensational fashion. The occasion was
the publication in February 1906 of Upton
Sinclair's The Jungle, a graphic description
of an immigrant's exploitation by the Chicago
meat packing industry that quickly became a
best seller (p.3).
Everything about Chicago was big, even in 1900.
Chicago's meat packing industry produced "32.7 percent
of the industry's national total." But, wages for the
packers never seemed to be adequate.
In November 1921, wages were again lowered
and the Amalgamated called a strike...By
early January, however, the strike was
broken as cold and hunger forced workers back
to their jobs...The Amalgamated was crushed,
never to rise again. Not until the 1930's
and the rise of the CIO would labor
organizations again enter the yards in
In March 1939, Saul Alinsky joined with Joseph
Meegan to form the Back of the Yards Neighborhood
Council. It was a coalition made up of
"representatives of neighborhood organizations, church
business, social, fraternal and labor" (p.292). The
Council worked to solve human abuses such as poor
housing, disease and unemployment.
This early attempt at coalition building was
successful. Working with the CIO, the Council was
effective in bringing about a Union victory. In 1946,
the president of the Local Union wrote to Meegan:
It is the sincere and firm position that
the Back of the Yards Council...made
it possible for our Union to win the fight
against such a powerful adversary as the
As the second kev summary point of Chapter Two, it
is critical to understand that there is a rich history
of Chicago protest and organization building. When
highlighting a history of great leaders and movements
from Jane Addams to Upton Sinclair to Saul Alinsky, one
can see the tone being set for today's drive to solve
problems of human misery through coalitions.
It was from Addams' actions that much of the modern
profession of social work was formed. Sinclair's
The Jungle powerfully sparked the Progressive movement
of the early 1900's. Saul Alinsky is widely regarded
as the genius behind modern neighborhood organizing.
From Denver's early history, however we come to
see that strong leaders like Big Bill Haywood were
squelched in their attempts to build solidarity among
skilled and unskilled workers. Haywood formed the
Western Federation of Miners (WFM), but received
resistance from both big business and religious
leaders. In their book, Denver Minina Camp to
Metropolis. Stephen Leonard and Thomas Noel describe
the situation as it was in the early 1900's:
An eight-hour law passed by the legislature in
1899 gave workers no relief; employers
circumvented it by reducing wages. Angry
workers joined the WFM and walked off their
jobs in mid-june 1899. That strike failed.
At every turn the WFM met strong opposition.
Denver's Roman Catholic bishop, Nicholas
C. Matz, told his flock to "choose between
the Western Federation and your church."
Haywood, facing trumped up criminal charges, was
kidnapped by a deputy sheriff and "dragged off to
Idaho." Haywood was cleared of that charge but was
later sentenced to a 20-year penitentiary term for
"protesting U.S. involvement in World War 1." He fled
to the Soviet Union where he died in 1928.
In the 1930's meat packers continued the strong
opposition to unions in Denver. Leonard and Noel
Andrew Kelley, the first president of Denver's
Packinghouse Union, thanked prolabor national
laws, enacted in the 1930's for forcing the
companies to recognize his union. But, Kelley
reported recognition meant little since the
packers frustrated labor's efforts to improve
workers pay. Kelley was blackballed from the
In 1982, the same pattern continued in Colorado.
In her book, Meatpackers and Beef Barons. Carol
Andreas tells about Monfort, Inc. breaking the union
at its Greeley plant:
Charlie Sykes was a well-known union-buster who
had opened an office in Denver after working for
years with IBP and other packers in Iowa,
Nebraska and elsewhere. When the vote in
Greeley was lost by 396 to 301, the union
challenged 94 of the votes...The National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) eventually ruled that
Monfort Inc. had committed, "numerous, pervasive
and outrageous" violations of labor law (p.79).
Well into the 1990's Monfort delayed settlement with
the union. Andreas concludes that "regardless of the
outcome, the company's union-busting schemehowever
illegalhad already paid off handsomely" (p.80).
Contrasting the above history of Chicago and the
Denver and Greeley experiences concerning the labor
abuses of its workers, I can come to understand how
the Alinsky tradition of coalition building in Chicago
is rooted in deep rich historical soil and has led to
precedent setting social change.
In Denver and Greeley, there have been no
organizer/leaders capable of standing up to the union
busting at Monfort. The history of ineffective and
quashed organizing weighs like a nightmare on the
brains of current organizers, as Marx might say.
As the third key summary point of Chapter Two,
it is necessary to stress that today in Denver, the
absence of this long history of successfully organizing
coalitions helps prevent major advances in local
organizing efforts. There is simply no environment
of organic support for such activities among "the
people," nor is there a Chicago-comparable store
of mythical heros and history for organizers to
Steve Graham of CRC provides a compelling
There is the tradition of organizing that
goes way back before Saul A1insky and
community organizing. It goes way back to
Haymarket Demonstrations...the extensive
labor organizing, the kind of militant
work that went on there for years and years.
Denver does not have the tradition at all.
Denver if anything grew out of an isolated
individualistic approach to the world
Severity of Problems
the 1970's was a violent decade
in the history of Chicago. The
number of violent crimes in the
city began to rise in the mid-
1960's...The number of homicides
jumped from 195 in 1965 to 810 in
--- The Truly Disadvantaged
Reports from the U.S. Department of Justice show
that in 1991, Chicago, with a population approximately
six times that of Denver, had thirteen times more
murders (851 to 67). Chicago reported approximately
thirty times more robbery (37,156 to 1,312) and almost
eighteen times more aggravated assaults (41,114 to
When turning to the issue of sub-standard housing,
Denver received great benefit from requiring homes to
be built with brick at one time in history. This
factor has played a big role in preventing mass
deterioration of older houses.
According to the Department of Buildings, City of
Chicago, the city has issued permits for the demolition
of 18,593 residential units since 1993. In sharp
contrast, the City of Denver, Building Inspection
Records report that 1534 demolition permits have been
issued since 1993. Considering that the population
of Chicago is six times that of Denver, this calculates
out to Denver demolishing about half as many units.
Placing the Chicago demolition numbers into
perspective, the city of Arvada, Colorado a suburb
would lose half their houses with that scale of
demolition, Arvada with its 100,000 people has about
37.000 dwelling units. In Chicago, there are also
5.000 dwelling units whose fate is awaiting disposition
in the courts.
The contrasts between the deterioration of
residential units in Chicago and Denver not only
reflects the results of building wood structures as
opposed to brick in early Denver, but it is
indicative of the fact that Denver just did not grow
as quickly and overall is a much younger city.
In perusing the public housing issue, Chicago's
Housing Authority reports that they have approximately
40.000 public housing units while Denver's Housing
Authority maintains only 4,100 units. Again, factoring
in the population difference, Chicago has sixty percent
more units than Denver.
Such numbers support the notion advanced in this
case study, Chicago must cope with much higher
concentrations of poverty in subsidizing the poor and
in dealing with the social problems that grow out of
Unemployment figures indicate the same disparity
between the two cities. The census of 1990, according
to the United States Census Summary Social, Economic,
and Housing Characteristics, shows that 39 percent
of its population is African-American while it is 13
percent in Denver. Unemployment for African-Americans
was 19.4 percent in Chicago and 11.5 percent in Denver.
In Denver, the 5.9 unemployment rate for whites
was about half as much as for African-Americans. In
Chicago, the 6.1 level for white people out of work was
a third of the number for African-Americans.
Interestingly enough, the Hispanic population in
Denver and Chicago is approximately twenty percent,
with unemployment at the same level, 11 percent (U.S.
The United States Census for 1990 also shows that
families with incomes in 1989, below the poverty level
was 11.7 percent in Denver, while it reached 17.8
percent in. Chicago.
Noel offers the rationale as to why Denver has
been spared the major problems of industrial cities
like Chicago, thus limiting the development of protest
we have been spared the post industrial damages
of Philadelphia, St. Louis, and a lot of
places...Denver was an industrial city in the
80's (1880's) and 90's (1890's). But, when
mining collapsed, it shifted to service
industries. So, we didn't have the
industrial base with huge amounts of people
being thrown out of work by the closing
of factories and plants that you see in other
cities (Live Interview).
Noel contends that the absence of large unemployment
and labor unrest has limited the development of a
"radical movement" to support coalition building
for protest in Denver. But, in Chicago when the
industrial giants controlled every aspect of the
worker's life, the people were driven to fight back.
In summarizing the severity of problems factor,
perhaps a closer look at the numbers of people
facing poverty in the two cities can provide
a clear contrast. In Chicago, with a 1990 population
of approximately 2,800,000 (U.S. Census 1990), there
are 606,530 people living at the poverty level (21.2%).
And there are 119,123 individuals living below the
poverty level (17.8%).
In Denver, with a 1990 population of approximately
585,000 people, there are 96,892 people at the poverty
level (16.6%), of these people 16,456 exist below the
poverty level (11.7%).
The 823,530 people in Chicago at the poverty level
is a staggering number of poor people, approximately
25% larger than the entire population of Denver.
A book published in 1997, The Betrayal of the
Urban Poor, by Helene Slessarev examines today's
problems stemming from the massive poverty in Chicago:
Chicago is a city of stark contrasts, its
wealth and resources are spread very unevenly,
with some communities doing extremely well
while others are descending into abject
poverty. The Northside community of Lincoln
Park has an average family income of $114,000
while in Oakland on the southside, the average
family income is only $11,500. Today more than
one-third of all children in Chicago are
growing up in poor families. The city's legacy
of segregation has created whole communities
made up entirely of poor people, without hope,
without jobs, with collapsing infrastructures,
and schools that cannot cope (p.20).
The scale of the human deprivation situation in
Chicago is sometimes mind boggling. Denver, a city
"that has no obvious 'ghetto' area," according to, A
Report of the Piton Foundation, shows that poverty in
Denver has increased 3.4% between 1979 and 1989.
The report (Facing the Facts) provides an analysis of
Denver's poverty issues:
Poverty in the city of Denver is no longer
concentrated in just a few very poor
neighborhoods, but is afflicting many people
and neighborhoods...Economic shifts are making
it harder for people with limited education
and skills to obtain work that enables
them to support a family (p.9).
The major contrast between the two cities
focuses on the deterioration of "whole communities," of
poor people, in Chicago. Denver has not experienced
massive deterioration of neighborhoods. In fact, the
Piton Report states:
but 1990 census data also offers some reason
for hope. Not only are some extremely poor
and old poor neighborhoods stabilizing, they
may in some instances even be improving (p.46).
In concluding this chapter on severity of
problems, Chicago with the massive scope of its
problems provides the opportunities for coalitional
activities that motivate masses of people into
confrontation with the politicians and other power
While I was in Chicago, the Northwest
Neighborhood Federation was planning a community
meeting expecting 1,000 people, based on previous
meeting of this nature. The issues to be addressed
included housing, senior concerns schools and crime.
This coalitional meeting drawing designed to draw
groups from several areas was aimed at placing pressure
on officials from the Mayor to the Police
Superintendent. In Denver, it is difficult to imagine
bringing together 1,000 people on welfare reform and
poverty related issues.
METHODS FOR CASE STUDY
This case study will employ several different
approaches to develop the research and analysis to
support the thesis:
1) extensive interviews with the players involved
in grassroots coalition building, both in Denver and
Chicago; I spent a week in Chicago, walked, talked and
drove through a city that requires strong survival
mechanisms, but it also displays a lot of openness,
humor and savvy when you spend time with its people;
2) hard data from census and other studies showing
the severity of problems in both cities;
3) secondary research from books and novels
which are both historical and analytical;
4) attendance at meetings of groups involved in
grassroots organizing both in Denver and Chicago;
5) newspaper, magazine articles, training materials
and reports from groups who have experienced successes
and failures in building coalitions;
6)an Independent Study completed in June
1997, "A Cohesive Power Coalition in Community
Organizing," which explored the issue of forming
grass roots community organizing coalitions in Denver.
Taped interviews and excerpts from those
interviews will play a major role in this case study.
The interviews were taped in both Denver and Chicago.
Shell Trapp and Gale Cincotta, along with Joe Mariano
and Gordon Mayer of NTIC, were questioned about
their views on coalition building in Chicago.
Interviews also took place at meetings in Chicago
where neighborhoods met to build coalitions that would
address major problems in the community and
neighborhoods. Both organizers and neighborhood
leaders talked rapidly, with obvious fervor and
passion. In some cases the language was graphic,
in one case there was a description of how the group
would use low-level violence. This discussion occurred
at a meeting concerning FHA disclosures.
In Denver, interviews took place with John
Gaudette from MOP, Carolyn Siegel from ACORN, Sonia
Pena from ABC, (Action for a Better Community,
Steve Graham and Dan Lopp from CRC, Leslie Moody, head
of the Denver Area Labor Federation and Linda Meric
From the ranks of the scholars in the field,
interviews with Frank Ford (from the Colorado Center
for Community Development and the University of
Colorado at Denver), Tom Noel, (history professor,
University of Colorado at Denver), and Susan Clarke,
(political science professor, University of Colorado at
Boulder), provide important analysis of the issues
discussed in this thesis. Professor Tony Robinson,
(political science, University of Colorado at Denver)
has provided indispensable, on-going, behind the scenes
direction and insights for this study.
Nita Gonzales and Juan Haro, who were involved
in the Crusade for Justice led by Chicano activist
Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzales were also interviewed. They
have strongly contrasting views on the 1960's and
1970's, which is reflective of severe in-fighting in
the Crusade. Though the Crusade has been shut down for
a long time, the in-fighting, the anger, the
vindictiveness are still very much alive in this
segment of the Hispanic community.
These excerpts from interviews will enhance the
story telling, narrative tone of the case study. But,
it will be necessary to integrate this narrative form
into the case study without sacrificing the analytical
goals of the thesis.
Hard Data from Census and Other Studies
Statistical data from the United States census
will provide some of the basic contrasts in the history
and severity of problems in both cities. Also, Poverty
Denver Facing the Facts, a "Report of the Piton
Foundation" will provide information on the poverty and
employment issues in Denver. Statistical data from both
the City of Denver and the City of Chicago concerning
housing units will be utilized along with numbers from
the Department of Justice on crime statistics.
Books like William Julius Wilson's The Truly
Disadvantaged has provided statistical and analytical
information on the social issues of crime and poverty.
Secondary Research from Books and Novels
Upton Sinclair's novel, The Jungle helps one
understand how excruciating it was to live and work in
the stockyard area of Chicago's "Back of the Yards."
Books like Let the People Decide. Meatpackers and
BeefBarons. Poor People's Movements. and Beyond the
Politics of Place offer both theoretical and empirical
elements to the case study. Works like Denver Minina
Camp to Metropolis and Back of the Yards provide a rich
and compelling description of the early history of
Denver and Chicago. Twenty Years at Hull-House by
Jane Addams exudes the flavor of the early days of
mobilizing people against injustice in turn of the
While in Chicago, I attended a neighborhood
meeting that drove home the confrontational organizing
strategies used in that city. The meeting was held at
Kelvyn Park field house, where about seventy five
people confronted the regional administrator of HUD.
The neighborhood was protesting the number of FHA loans
that are granted without adequate inspections. Most of
the people affected were minorities who are forced to
pay for repairs that were not identified when the house
was sold. They cannot pay for both repairs and the
mortgage payment. Consequently, they lose their homes.
In Denver, I attended a meeting of CRC concerning
the future of the Grassroots First Steering Committee.
Confusion and despair circulated in the room indicating
feelings on the parts of many that the state-wide
campaign on welfare rights launched by this group
These meetings will be analyzed in Chapter 7,
the Severity of Problems analysis.
Media Articles and Group Reports
I will make extensive use of newspaper and
magazine articles from both cities to describe
coalitional activities in both cities. Reports
from groups describing successes and progress will also
be integrated into the study.
During the spring semester of 1997, at the
University of Colorado, Denver, I completed a fifty
page pre-thesis independent study. Over the period
of four months, I interviewed and observed five
neighborhood and community groups with an eye
toward understanding the nature of inner-city
community organizing in Denver. Lengthy interviews
with the organizers from MOP, ACORN, ABC, and
CRC took place.
Chapters 5-7: Leadership. History. Problem Severity
Chapter 5, the Leadership chapter, will probe
into the notion that passionate leaders, and angry,
fiery radicals must be there to incite people into
action. Then after the victories, it is incumbent upon
these charismatic leaders to keep the organizations
functioning productively. The Trapp and Cincotta
interviews will highlight their experiences as
instigators launching forays against the "enemies."
Must the passion and anger of a Trapp or Cincotta
be necessary for major victories? Is the Gaudette
approach of being a non-passionate organizer indicative
of why there is such a coalitional famine in Denver? The
MOP approach of focusing their activities in the
neighborhood (place-based organizing) will be
scrutinized. MOP is in sharp contrast to the NTIC/ NPA
format that moves issues from the neighborhood to a
national focus, and then back to the neighborhoods
after major victories occur on the federal level.
In Chapter 4, the Literature Review chapter,
Robert Fisher's, Let The People Decide will set the
tone for the leadership discussion in Chapter 5. It
will provide an extensive history of Saul Alinsky's
early movement to the changes that occurred after his
death. Fisher also provides his menu for present day
Chapter 4 will also expand on Fisher's intensive
analysis by introducing the book, Poor People's
Movements. by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward.
Their work antagonized a lot of traditional thinkers on
grass-roots organization building by asserting that
"it was not formal organizations, but mass defiance
that won what was won in the 1930's and 1960's"
Mass defiance is certainly necessary to bring
about social change, but Piven and Cloward go too far
when they insist that groups usually disband after
victories. The authors believe that leaders usually
are bought-out by the enemies. The authors fail to
consider that leaders like Alinsky, and today Cincotta
and Trapp prevailed for decades. It must be noted
that it requires the charismatic, fiery, organizer/
leaders to resist the temptation to sell out and then
go on to keep the organization on solid ground. It would
be difficult to imagine an Alinsky, Cincotta or Trapp
being bought-out by anyone.
Organizer/leaders like Trapp and Cincotta have
kept NPA and NTIC winning victories through insurgency,
for twenty five years. They have not sold out to the
establishment. They stand in contradiction to Piven
and Cloward's claim that once insurgency "subsides,"
the organizations "fade away" (p.xxi).
Interviews with Frank Ford and Susan Clarke will
aid in the discussion of these topics. Ford argues
that in a city like Denver with "less" of a history of
successful organizing, and with no really severe
problems, it may require the charismatic leader to
Clarke agrees with the necessity for a charismatic
leader, characterizing that person as a "policy
entrepreneur." She also believes that it is time for a
more collaborative role in organizing, while Ford holds
to the conflict model.
In Chapter 6, the History chapter, the major
research will be centered around the value of having a
long history of successful activism and organizing
around protest and confrontation. Can Denver organizers
overcome the absence of such a history?
It appears that Chicago has a political climate
which is accustomed to collective social reform
movements, but Denver does not.
Directly focusing on the role that the
organizer/leader plays on bringing about coalition
successes, this chapter will compare and contrast
Cincotta's involvement as a leader in community
organizing in Chicago, with the movement by Corky
Gonzales and his Crusade for Justice in Denver. An
interview with Gale Cincotta along with insights
from Harry Boyte's book, The Backyard Revolution will
provide an understanding of how Cincotta developed her
leadership and power from OBA to NPA.
Interviews with Nita Gonzalez and Juan Haro
along with a video, After Joaauin. the Crusade for
Justice may shed light on what prevented the Crusade
for Justice from using effective coalition building to
bring about major social change in Denver. Two books,
I am Joaquin, by Corky Gonzales and Stephen Leonard and
Tom Noel's book Denver Minina Camp to Metropolis
will trace the activities of Gonzales who eventually lost
legitimacy with a good portion of the Hispanic community.
To gauge the impact of Cincotta and Trapp's
influence on social change, NTIC's Twenty Five Years
report will illustrate some of NPA and NTIC's major
Frank Ford from the Colorado Center for Community
Development, and Linda Meric from 9to5Colorado will
discuss some of the successful coalition building
activities in Denver which have occurred recently. They
will also describe some of the obstacles that prevent
groups from pooling their resources to help poor and low-
Chapter 7, the Severity of Problems chapter will
begin with an affirmation of earlier findings:
Chicago has always been faced with more human
suffering than Denver, from "The Back of the Yards,"
with its horrible conditions for meatpacking workers,
to massive poverty, and unemployment of the Chicago
ghettos of today.
Tom Noel provides a summary of how Denver's
absence of an industrial history has made for a better-
life in Denver and limited the need for protest
movements in Denver.
Frank Ford will offer his evaluation of the
severity of today's problems in Denver. Chapter Seven
will also examine the methods that Shel Trapp sometimes
uses to seek national solutions that can be filtered
back down to neighborhoods.
From meetings attended in both Chicago and
Denver, I will contrasts the styles and results'
of how they address severe problems in the community.
Chapter 8, the Conclusion, searches for
a model that could serve as a platform for coalition
building in Denver. A discussion focuses on some of
the rising stars in Denver: Linda Meric from
9o5Colorado, and Leslie Moody the new president of
the Denver Area Labor Federation. They have built some
coalitions in Denver and have come away with some
victories. Organizers of this caliber may provide some
hope for bringing people together to launch massive
protest. However, unless the problems facing Denver
become far more severe even dedicated, talented
leaders will be unable to motivate people to action.
In Denver today, the sense of relative or personal
deprivation of the citizens remains low: they just do
not perceive that there are social justice aspects
to life in the mile-high city.
In this chapter, I will review four books: The
Jungle. by Upton Sinclair; Meatpackers and BeefBarons,
by Carol Andreas; Let the People Decide by Robert
Fisher; and Poor People/s Movements, by Frances Fox
Cloward and Richard A. Piven. These books accurately
reflect the continuum of issues raised in this study.
The Jungle eloquently paints the glaring horrors
that grow out of the power of greed. Industrial and
corporate moguls act as if they have a right to acquire
riches no matter what level of human degradation is
wreaked on the poor. Such a theme ties to the
study's contention that severity of problems
pushed poor people (led by powerful leaders) to
activate during the latter part of 19th century and
throughout the 20th century.
Such an excess of human grief has provided an
impetus for charismatic leaders to develop and
build a history and tradition of community organizing
successes. Today, these three factors stand as the
instigating force behind effective coalition building
Turning to Meatpackers and BeefBarons. I came to
see similar horrors present to those depicted in The
Jungle. Imagine a meatpacking plant in Greeley,
Colorado, 80 years later, with horrific labor
conditions similar to the days of "Back of the Yards."
And there were no organizers nor leaders to prevent the
union from being "busted." Carol Andreas describes the
severity of conditions at the plant:
Instead of opening their newspapers to learn
of one more Citizen of the Year award for
Ken Monfort, retiring president of ConAgra
Red Meats, Greeley residents learned that
the local slaughterhouse was one of the
most dangerous workplaces in the nation (p.31).
From Andreas' book, this study draws on the stark
revelation that there were no charismatic leaders, no
effective organizations to fight back against the
beefbarons" who were driven to "speed" up the
meatpacking process to increase profits.
Let the People Decide serves as a vehicle for
Robert Fisher to offer an eclectic guide for
organizations to effectively fight back: 1) employ
conflict; 2) develop organizers who also provide
leadership; 3) build organizations that launch
actions at all venues including the national level.
Poor People's Movements is a work that focuses on
the organizer's obligation to use passion, anger and
confrontation to achieve success in the struggle for
righting the wrongs against the poor. One of the
shortcomings of this book centers around its tenet that
organizer's build an organization, win a victory, then
sell out to the "elites." This pessimistic view fails
to take into consideration organizer/leaders like
Alinsky, Trapp and Cincotta who have built
organizations that last for decades.
Upton Sinclair's The Jungle tells the story of
the horror that the meatpacker inflicted upon workers
in the "Back of the Yards" area of Chicago. In
a foreward to the book, written sixty years after the
book was first published in 1905, Sinclair explains
how he gathered material for his work:
There had been a strike of some twenty-thousand
workers in the meat-packing plants of Chicago.
The strike had been put down with the utmost
brutality, so week after week an ardent young
author read horror stories of the mistreatment
of packing plant workers, most of them
foreigners, some unable to speak English.
In the end their unions were paralyzed and
they went back to work (p.v).
Sinclair's fictional characters, Jurgis and his
wife Ona were gleaned from the time he spent living
among the workers: "I talked with men who worked on the
killing bed and bn the lard vats, where they some
times slipped and fell in; with workers in the
fertilizer rooms, where the acids destroyed the soles
of their feet," (p.vi).
Sinclair follows the Rudkis' from the time
that they were married to their annihilation at the
hands of the system, Ona dead, Jurgis blackballed.
Sinclair begins by creating the moment that Jurgis
first faced the reality of the stockyards:
It was late, almost dark, and government
inspectors had all gone...That day they
had killed about four thousand cattle...
some of them got hurt. There were some
with broken legs, and some with gored sides;
there were some that died...they all were
to be disposed of, here in darkness and
silence...in the end Jurgis saw them go into
the chilling room with the rest of the meat
When he came home that night he was in a very
somber mood, having begun to see at last
how those might be right who had laughed at
at him for his faith in America (p.62).
Jurgis bought a house near the plant, he
eventually lost it, and it was sold again as a new
house. Sinclair tells about the reality that "cheap
as the houses were they were sold with the idea that
people would not be able to pay for them," (p.65).
Next, Sinclair portrays the "speed-up" used
by the company to increase production:
nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good
work...the man who minded his own business
and did his workwhy, they would "speed
him up" till they had worn him out, and
then they would throw him into the gutter,
Sinclair tells how the plant owner vowed that the
workers "would never again call a strike on him."
So, there was always a push to bring new workers
from Europe: "the Poles, who had come by tens of
thousands, had been driven to the wall by the
Lithuanians, and now the Lithuanians were giving
way to the Slovaks" (p.66).
Jurgis eventually suffers a work injury. Not
able to keep up with the stronger workers he ends
up in the fertilizer works:
He was working in the steaming pit of hell;
...there was not an organ of his body that
did its work without pain, Until the sound
of ocean breakers echoed in his head day and
night, and the buildings swayed and danced
before him as he went down the street. And
from all the unending horror of this there
was a respite, deliverance, he could drink
Toward the end of the "Foreward" in The Jungle.
Sinclair says: "I have never been back to the
stockyards, but this much I can tell you. Forty eight
years ago (1906) the unions were completely crushed and
hopeless, but now they are powerful and alert. Their
leaders have paid tribute to The Jungle" (p.x).
(Yes), it was the monstrous indifference to the
basic human needs of workers that stimulated Saul
Alinsky to coalesce the victims into action: churches,
neighborhood groups, unions, business people, and
basically suffering people from all segments of Chicago.
Meatpackers and BeefBarons
When turning to Carol Andreas' book, Meatpackers
and Beef Barons. I learned quickly that the conditions
at the meatpacking plant in Greeley, about fifty miles
or so from Denver posed similar hazards and
deprivations to workers that were found in The Jungle.
Incredibly, in many instances worker conditions
in Greeley were just as horrible as those in Chicago
approximately eighty years after the Jungle:
The new immigrant workers are from Mexico,
Southeast Asia, and Central and South America.
Like there predecessors, they find that the
reality of life in the United States falls far
short of the dream. Whereas earlier
immigrants were disabled by infectious
diseases and blood poisoningas described by
Upton Sinclair nearly a century agothe new
meatpackers suffer injuries to their muscles,
nerves, and bones caused by a kind of physical
and psychological stress never before
One of major contrasts between the situations in
the two books is the amount of people suffering the
inhumanity, and the size of the geographic area in
which they live and work. The second factor focuses
on the total control that the employer had over the
worker's life in Chicago as contrasted to the less
encompassing power of the Greeley operation.
Andreas goes on to make clear the implications of
the horrendous conditions on the exploited worker. She
says that "turnover at Monfort is high because most
workers cannot keep up with the speed of production:" It
has "more than doubled since the 1970's." Most workers
end up looking for "temporary or seasonal work...
Temporary work is the fastest growing sector of Greeley's
When workers sought redress of their grievances,
as discussed earlier in this case study, Monfort
"busted" the union in the 1980's. The NLRB ruled that
"Monfort had committed...outrageous violations of labor
law" (p.79) that regardless of the outcome, the
company's union busting schemehowever illegalhad
paid off handsomely."
Another major contrast in the situations between
Greeley and Chicago was the nonexistence of coalition
building that Alinsky eventually delivered to the "Back
of the Yards." Coalition building and union strength
simply does not exist in Denver and Colorado to the
extent that labor conditions can be drastically
changed. Andreas offers a sensitive view of the labor
The union at the Monfort slaughterhouse was
broken in 1980 when the plant was temporarily
closed down. Since the plant reopened in 1982
the threat of a new closure, or the threat of
arbitrary dismissal has kept workers
subordinated to management goals of increased
production and decreased cost. Besides
drastically reduced wages, many work benefits
have disappeared. But company profits are
at an all time high (p.5).
In comparing and contrasting The Jungle with
Meatpackers and BeefBarons, one learns the lessons of
rebellion and the absence of rebellion. People in the
throes of the ugly, denigrating labor conditions of
Chicago around the turn of the last century began to
struggle back. In Jane Addams7, Twenty Years At Hull
House, she described how the Russian Revolution began to
seem attractive to the oppressed workers in Chicago:
the "message of martyrdom" began to have meaning
for people who were being exploited by avaricious
businesses and industries.
In The Jungle. Sinclair delivers the message that
conditions were so horrible that it led to a widespread
socialist movement. Sinclair writes:
It was all so painfully obvious to Jurgis! It
was so incomprehensible how a man could fail to
see it! Here were all the opportunities of the
country, the land, and the buildings upon
the land, the railroads, the mines, the
factories, and the stores, all in the hands of
a few private individuals called capitalists...
The whole balance of what the people produced
went to heap up the fortunes of those
capitalists..if the people cut off the share of
those who merely 7owned', the share of those
who worked would be much greater p.313).
Sinclair ends The Jungle with a stirring portrayal of
the worker striking back through socialism:
So spoke an orator upon the platform;
"Organize! Organize! Organize!"... they (old
party politicians) will...give our (socialist)
party in Chicago the greatest opportunity that
has ever come to Socialism in America...we will
begin the rush that will never be checked, the
tide that will never turn till it has reached
its floodand we shall organize them...We
shall bear down the opposition, we shall sweep
it before usand Chicago will be ours! Chicago
will be ours! CHICAGO WILL BE OURS! (p.334).
Threats of revolution, anarchism and the rise of
socialism posing threats to Chicago's politicians and
"beefbarons" makes understandable the raison
d'etre behind the saying, "the worse, the better:"
corporations and businesses that created the inhumane
working conditions also created the need for organized
movements to battle back.
Again the thesis of this study emerges,
social and human misery create organizer/leaders
who benefit from the grotesque conditions. They build a
base for bringing people together. In Denver, there
have been few conditions reaching sufficient
depravation to move people to action. Thus, a mind-set
exists in Denver that deems charismatic leaders,
and organized movements as obstacles to peace and
harmony. Social justice, therefore, does not stand high
on the priority list of most Denverites.
Let the People Decide
From viewing the bleak situation in Greeley today
with its absence of community and labor organizations
to improve worker conditions, I can appreciate the
role of Saul Alinsky in bringing a better life to the
"Back of the Yards" workers. It would take such fiery,
passionate leaders to right the wrongs of the situation
created by Monfort. Robert Fisher, in Let the People
Decide, offers a short narrative of A1insky's actions
in building the "Back of the Yards" coalition:
The motives for this unity were clear to
Alinsky. "I'm going around organizing,
agitating, making trouble (in the Back of
the Yards neighborhood). At the end of
the three months, I had the Catholic Church,
the CIO and the Communist Party working
together...I even got the American Legion
involved, because they had nothing else to do.
They all had one thing in common: misery.
Just two days after the Alinsky initiated action
the "packinghouse industry," (facing a coalition
of "labor, community and church opposition), realized
they had lost." The opposition was too formidable.
They raised wages "from 39 cents to 55 cents an
hour, a 41 percent increase (p.60)." Alinsky's
passionate activities had earned him his first
Alinsky went on to form the IAF, (Industrial Areas
Foundation). Fisher tells how Fortune editor Charles
Silberman, in 1964, saw the IAF "organizer training
center as the answer to America's race problems:"
For Silberman, the IAF organizing project in
the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago, a
neighborhood just south of the University of
Chicago, of some 65,000 people, 86 percent
of whom were black, was the most important
...experiment affecting Negroes anywhere
in the United States (p.141).
According to Fisher, the praise given Alinsky over
The Woodland Organization, (TWO) was "not accidental."
While there were riots in black neighborhoods
throughout the U.S., "Woodlawn did not have a riot"
Fisher goes on to describe how TWO and other
Alinsky groups of that period eventually moved "from
confrontation to coexistence." According to Fisher,
by the late 1960's and early 1970's, "TWO was no longer
a confrontational pressure group advocating the needs
of low-income people in the Woodlawn area. Increasingly
it had become a community development corporation run
by the more middle-class segments of the neighborhood
who tended to promote projects that primarily aided
upwardly mobile blacks." Participation by
neighborhood people declined as TWO "became just
another business in the community."
Technical assistance became their primary goal:
In the face of powerful economic pressure TWO
was defenseless. In 1971 for example, Chicago
newspapers ran articles about how East
Woodlawn was being burned to the ground. In
1970 alone there were 1600 fires in a mile
square area. While the city did nothing
and TWO was unable to mount effective
opposition to these obvious acts of arson,
developers waited for the complete destruction
of this valuable piece of land (p.144).
Fisher concludes that Alinsky groups of that time
were rendered ineffective because of problems stemming
from the Alinsky method: "its localism and its lack of
a clear long-term program for changing power relations
at the city level and beyond." In essence, Alinsky
groups did not deal with problems beyond the
neighborhoods. They merely dealt with immediate
problems gaining benefits from "federal and local
programs" for those who were usually "better-off."
Fisher informs us of the fate of the IAF in
1978, "six years after Alinsky's death."
IAF's "Organizing for Family and Congregation
campaign reflected...(a)... new approach. It
focused on a "war of values" against a
materialistic ..world...IAF should organize
in...primarily religious congregations
Connaghan in her thesis, The Split in Methodology
of Alinsky Style Community Organizing expands on
Fisher's discussion of the present day IAF contrasted
to A1insky's original approach:
Alinsky never had a formula for church
involvement. He would ask the churches
to join because they were a powerful
organization in the community and because
money would be given from the churches
to the community group. But the church
was just one of the many organizations that
were approached at the beginning of an
organizing effort. The modern IAF has
formalized the method of a sponsoring
committee. The sponsoring committee is now
made up of church leaders, usually parish
priest, ministers from Protestant religions
and, sometimes, the Catholic Archbishop (p.49).
Connaghan continues the contrast between the old and
Along with this more formalized relationship
with the churches comes an added emphasis
upon the morals and values of family and
church within the process of organizing...
Alinsky however never claimed any particular
moral latitude. His relationship with the
churches was based on power, not morals
or values (p.50).
Returning to Fisher's contrast of the old and new
IAF, he maintains that the IAF also has severed itself
from the basic Alinsky philosophy of being a radical:
"IAF now almost makes a fetish of its commitments to
('moderates,') notes organizer trainer Mike Miller" (p.
In Let the People Decide. Fisher places himself
against the present organizing philosophies advocated
by the IAF. He holds a view that in many ways squares
with the basic elements of this thesis: conflict must
be ignited by an organizer/leader who conceptualizes
issues, and then builds strong coalitions that go
beyond the narrow neighborhood needs. Fisher sets
out a three pronged menu:
1) "Conflict develops more than individual
potential, it prevents a neighborhood
organization from becoming a static
formal organization" (p.213).
2) Organizers do need to provide
leadership...The best organizers are...
those that have a sense of both a larger
vision and what is possible and combine
this with the knowledge, ability and
skills of local people" (p.226).
3) "Neighborhood organizing movements need...
ongoing, national political organizations
that can provide continuity, direction and
motivation for local efforts, and that in
turn, can be guided and reinvigorated by
struggles in communities and workplaces
at the local level" (p.224).
Poor People's Movements
Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward in their
book, Poor People7s Movements insist that "it was not
formal organizations, but mass defiance that won what
was won in the 1950's and 1960's: industrial workers
for example, forced concessions from industry and
government as a result of large scale strikes"(p.xv).
The authors postulate that there is that critical
moment when poor people are stirred and ready for
action. But, in many cases the organizers are out
trying to form professional organizations, losing that
vital threshold moment:
During those brief periods in which people
are aroused to indignation, when they are
prepared to defy the authorities to whom
they ordinarily defer, during those brief
moments when lower-class groups exert some
force against the state, those who call
themselves leaders do not usually escalate
the momentum of the people's protest. They
do not because they are preoccupied with
trying to build and maintain formal
organizations in the sure conviction that
these organizations will enlarge and become
Piven and Cloward maintain that some of the best
accomplishments in gaining rights for workers came
when the unions were not that strong. They argue that
during the 1930's that unions as such did not produce
the results. It was the organizers that had the vision
to push for living wages and benefits:
Some of these organizers were insurgents from
the rank and file; others were radicals whose
vision of an alternative future helped to
account for their exemplary courage. Wherever
these organizers came from; their vision
helped goad workers into protest, and their
courage gave workers heart and determination
Piven and Cloward go on to say that "insurgency" does
not last very long, and that organizations only
"survive" by abandoning their oppositional politics"
(xxi). In other words, they sell-out to the "elites."
Piven and Cloward certainly argue convincingly
that "organizers" who "goad" people into insurgency
make the victories happen. But, their argument fails
when they maintain that organizations usually are
compromised. Their argument has a great deal of merit
when talking about organizations that do not have the
the charismatic, fiery organizer/leaders.
These are the passionate people who keep
organizations together by many means: sometimes
agitation; sometimes ingenious schemes; sometimes
outrageousness that most people cannot fathom, but
they also always carry unrelenting fervor with
them. They eat and sleep putting power networks
of people together. Contrary to the theory proposed
by Piven and Cloward, the super leader lives to
build power through organization. People of this ilk
would never think of being bought out by the enemy.
As we conclude Chapter 4, it has been a productive
journey in connecting our four reviewed books, The
Jungle, Meatpackers and BeefBarons. Let the People
Decide, and Poor People's Movements to my thesis.
This study asserts that in Chicago, severe problems
built around human degradation produced charismatic
leaders who give us today's cultural history of
organizing. This history serves as the push that
shapes organizing and coalition building in today's
Denver has no cultural history of organizing from
which to draw. This absence of tradition inhibits
organizers in their efforts to organize or build
movements for improving the lives of the poor and
In moving to Chapter 5, which analyses the
leadership issues, I will certainly stress Piven
and Cloward's focus on passion, anger and confrontation
as the necessary thrust toward effective community
organizing and coalition building.
ANALYZING THE LEADERSHIP ISSUE
Any organizer should be able to
go out in an alley and fight
or they should become a goddamn
Sunday school teacher.
---Shel Trapp (Interview)
Shel Trapp is the consummate provoker; always out
in front of the day-by-day process of community
organizing and coalition building. It is Trapp who
provides what Piven and Cloward call the organizer who
"goads" people "into protest." Trapp describes his
role in developing what he calls "mean-ass" leaders,
the people from the communities and neighborhoods:
that doesn't mean I'm going to be in their
face all the time. But, if in my perception
I have to get in their face to toughen them
upand they take the choice to walk out
the doorI'm going to hold the door open
for them (Live Interview).
But, Trapp believes that the organizer must eventually
be able to build the people's organization and
to ultimately build coalitions:
to live in a real world means going an inch
in front of my leadership, step by step until
hopefully I get the leadership to by-pass me.
And hopefully to train a group of people within
our local organizations and within our office
For Trapp, organizing is "50 percent anger and 50
percent common sense." The organizers provide the
strategies and motivation, but it is up to the people
and their leaders to make it happen. As presented
earlier in the study, Trapp maintains:
(we) need a good organizer some body who is
willing to cajole, titillate, kick-ass....
(But)...It's gotta be people in the street. If
people aren't willing to shake fists, I am sure
as hell not shaking my fist...None of my
staff will ever negotiate for a community...
We do not talk to the press, that is the
leader's job...we will get them (media) there,
(then) I disappear, the leader has to talk to
the press. (Live Interview).
Trapp pleads that an organization must always take
pro-active actions, go to the enemies, even if it "is
necessary to take over a building."
In May 1996, NPA groups from around the country
shut down the Marriott Hotel's International
corporate offices in Washington, D.C., with massive
demonstrations; The Washington Post reported:
NPA bussed about 700 of its members to
Marriott's corporate office in Bethesda
last week. Hundreds of demonstrators,
seeking a meeting with Marriott executives,
marched past corporate security guards to the
sixth floor of the building which houses the
offices of high-ranking executives (May 1996).
There have been negotiations at both national and local
levels. It worked: "Last week, we got 400 people jobs
from Marriott," says Trapp.
So, it is Trapp, the organizer who keeps it all
together. He is the aggressive choreographer who
instills passion and anger in both his organizers and
leaders long before the meetings begin.
Trapp provides vision and direction for his
leaders, qualifying him as a leader in addition
to being an organizer. This squares with Fisher's
analysis that surfaces throughout this study:
The best organizers are...those that have a
sense of both a larger vision, and what
is possible and combine this with the
knowledge, ability and skills of the local
people (Let The People Decide p.226).
But Trapp is very careful to stress that it is
ultimately the people from the neighborhood who
negotiate and chair the meetings with input from the
While Trapp is the organizer who manifests
leadership in developing his staff organizers and
indigenous leaders, it is Gale Cincotta who provides
the ultimate leadership role for NTIC and NPA on the
major issues. She is a hard-nosed negotiator, meets
with public officials and is constantly in the press
celebrating victories, like a $2 billion deal she
negotiated with a local bank to provide loans for
"under-served communities" (NTIC Reports-Winter,
Returning to Trapp's role in orchestrating
coalition building, he is fond of saying that there is
no power without a lot of people, but when necessary,
he is not bashful about improvising to build power
without people. Trapp also believes in running
coalitions "very loose." According to him: "I am not
going to have a set of rules to govern that coalition:
I remember once in a local organization, many
years ago, we formed what we called the
"Spanish Job Coalition." We had 98 groups...
we would have demonstrations of 150 folks.
Our organization would produce 130 to 140 of
those folks, and the other organizations
couldn't produce shit. But, we dummied up a
letter head that had all these organizations
listed and it terrified the city, because
they thought the whole damn city, all the
hispanic groups in the city had gotten
together (Live Interview).
We "ended up winning 3500 jobs from Illinois Bell,
for Hispanics," boasts Shel Trapp.
Trapp's ingenuity and imagination provide the
successful elements of the charismatic leader. There
is little that escapes the creative strategies of
Trapp, the choreographer:
We had a guy who was the director of
neighborhoods (Chicago)...and he was a friend
of mine...We said to him, when you come out
to the public meeting, we are going to beat
the shit out of youand you reluctantly
give us the things you were going to give us.
We had 500 folks at the meeting. It worked.
Those 500 folks, except for the 7 leaders
in the group did not realize that they
(witnessed) a fixed fight. But, we wanted
to do that, so we could build the organization
So, those 500 people thought they won all of
this, and it started a hell of an organization
On the issue of equality in coalition building,
Trapp declares that there is no need to bring equal
numbers to the table: Min every coalition I've worked
in, they're some folks who brought very little to the
table, but we were not going to cut them out because
of that:" Trapp illustrates:
(There are) no set of conditions that can
produce equal numbers of peopleand sometimes
at NPA, we put somebody up in a leadership role
because they represent "Timbuktu," Wyoming.
It gives us the illusion, we have got people
from all the states, including Wyoming. They
might be the only person (from Wyoming) at the
meeting, but, we will put them up there to
create that illusion (Live Interview).
Despite Trapp's powerful and creative direction, he
makes it clear that his ultimate boss is the people:
When I go into a leadership meeting, I will let
let them chew on what we are talking about
for a long time, and then...if they're not
headed where I think they should be headed, I
will say to themI don't think this is going in
the right directionif even after that, they
decide they want to go in a different direction,
then it's my job as an organizer to go in that
direction (Live Interview).
Trapp tells the story about a prostitution issue
that emerged in his first organization. Trapp
proposed that since the prostitutes were black and
the clients were white, that people organize to take
down the license plates of the customers and give
them to the Secretary of state to gather them
for owner's name:
then write letters to Mrs. Jones, you're
husband was seen at the corner of Cicero
and Washington, etc...Leadership would not
buy that idea...they wanted to picket the
prostitutes. So then, I organized like hell...
the most stupid action, I ever organized
in my life (Live Interview).
At this point in Chapter 5, the core lesson
learned about Shel Trapp, the organizer/leader
revolves around the Piven and Cloward position
on insurgency, and the continuing thesis in this study
passion, anger and confrontation bring results when
poor people fight for social justice.
Some classical Trappisms have appeared: 1) "if
in my perception, I have to get in their face to
toughen them upand they take the choice to walk
out the doorI'm going to hold the door open;"
2) (we) "need a good organizer somebody who is
willing to cajole, titillate, kick-ass;" 3) "if
it is necessary to take over a building," do it.
But, Trapp the choreographer also is the
pragmatist, he will do what ever it takes to win, from
a "dummied" letterhead to "a fixed fight."
The fundamental instigator and insurgent in
Trapp pushes his organizers and indigenous leaders to
action: he is always on the scene as the trainer, the
teacher, the provoker, but, he is not on the scene when
it is the job of the leader to negotiate, talk to the
press, etc. All of these Trapp talents make him the
fiery, charismatic leader that keeps the organizing
clock ticking at NTIC and NPA.
As the ultimate negotiator, media person, for the
major issues is Gale Cincotta, the unrelenting leader.
The package of Trapp and Cincotta has survived for
twenty five years in creating rights for the poor and
low income people.
Denver-Chicaao Contrast: Leadership
We tap into people's anger. If
you don't have anger, there's
no passion, and there is no
issue. (In a) church based
organization there is a certain
level of civility involved, it's
not like the old Alinsky days where
they'd go literally just storm
into a city council meeting and take
---John Gaudette (Interview)
John Gaudette, probably heads the most successful
community organizing group in Denver, MOP. How would
Trapp characterize a Guadette "church-based" approach
to using power? Trapp says:
To me, the only reason you become an organizer
is to develop powerto create changeand
church based organizing develops a lot of
power, they can produce a lot of people.
(The) difficulty with church based organizing
is they're not willing to go for the nuts.
You can deliver a 1000 people to a meeting
and you call all hold hands saying we can
overcome and then go home, and everything
is going to be the same (Live Interview).
Gaudette would obviously find serious objection to
the Trapp analysis. Gaudette touts the power of MOP:
A good strong organization can move a city...
we do it all the time... we can as an
organization leverage a majority of that
city council to make something happen. We very
rarely are put in a situation where someone
comes before us and says (no).
Despite the kind of perceived power by Gaudette in
sizing up his group, he views coaltions in a much more
limited sense: he would use a small amount of people from
his group that won't affect local work:
If there is a commonality...there might be a
sense, where we can pull 5 key leaders from
each of those organizations and bring them
together...a small enough chunk where it won't
affect local work...So out of the 300 leaders we
have here, you can pull 5 out and it won't hurt
us (Live Interview).
In a specific sense, Leslie Moody, the former
organizer for Jobs with Justice, and the newly elected
president of the Denver Area Labor Federation talks
about the possibility of building coalitions with MOP:
I don't think they ever will be. They
don't tend to work in coalitions, strictly
religious based. They're afraid to break
out. I don't know how you can win anything
in this town (since) no one has a base
big enough (Live Interview).
In a general sense, Dan Lopp of CRC, paints a cynical
picture of future coalition building in Denver:
If you are going to have the political
clout you want, or the ability to move
agendas, then a lot of the groups at the
grassroots level are going to have to
learn how to work together...In the
past, we have not had or seen the self-
interest to come together (Live Interview).
While Gaudette seems reluctant to become involved in
coalitions, MOP does produce victories. Gaudette reports
on his groups's accomplishments which seem to be
focused solely on neighborhood improvements.
(We got) the City to focus energies on closing
a number of drug houses in the neighborhood. We
have started a work force training initiative
where we pulled in resources to re-train some
people to get jobs. We are in the middle of
developing a business co-operative in one
of our churches...We have gotten community
based policing into the neighborhoods
While MOP has certainly produced at the neighborhood
level, Trapp would argue that organizers should strive
for a "bigger self-interest...I'm going to win for
my organization, but, I'm going to win for the whole
city, or five communities (live interview)." Trapp
reflects a sense of passion that never seems
to have limits. It propels him toward building more
and more coalitions. In contrast, as shown earlier in
this study, Gaudette believes that the passion must
come from the neighborhood: "it is not my issue,
therefore, I don't have the resources or the passion,
or the desire to do it."
While Gaudette says that it helps for major
groups to pull together, there seems not to be that
charismatic pull of Trapp/Cincotta to make it happen.
He says, it would take an organization like the
"Campaign for Human Development" to do such a thing,
because, "they have the leverage to put it together,
because they have the money."
But, some might counter, NPA also has no
money. The local groups pay for their own way for
their trip to Washington to raise havoc, and bring
about major results. True, NTIC (with a sizeable
budget) does the research for NPA, but, it is difficult
to imagine that PICO, (THE Pacific Institute for
Community Organizing and the National Base for MOP),
could not provide similar research to what NTIC
provides for NPA, if Gaudette wanted to take on bigger
Gaudette seems to lack the fiery drive to make a
major coalition come together that would produce
results beyond neighborhoods. For example, welfare
reform could become an explosive issue when a
great many people are thrown into the work place with
no job skills, and in some cases no social skills.
If MOP is so powerful, why are they not involved in a
coalition to seek solutions to the welfare transition?
In responding to the appeal of coalition building
in Denver, sometimes it seems as if Gaudette is
searching elsewhere for the powerful, charismatic
leader to make coalitions happen in Denver:
The credential of that person is what is going
to give it meaning...It would have to be
someone, I have a relationship with, someone I
respect... Something like that would be
interesting, definitely (Live Interview).
There seems to be one other major factor standing
in the way of Denver coalition building. Gaudette
states it clearly: "for us to develop what we need
here, we have to become a power organization, that's
why two organizations can't work in the same
neighborhood, because you lose your power."
Shel Trapp addresses this power conflict factor
that seems to stymie coalition building in Denver,
but does not hamper NTIC efforts in Chicago:
At least NTIC is not going to fuck you...
We (NTIC) are seen as a neuter that
can get folks togethergive them some
ideasgive them some direction...that is
what is needed in a coalition...Because,
I think when groups try to form a coalition
by themselves, (they worry about) who is going
to stab me in the back (Live Interview).
One of the key aspects of Trapp's analysis is the
delineation of the role of NTIC in bringing coalitional
activities to fruition. In a sense, NTIC serves as the
non-threatening convener that does not create the fear
that it will take away or dilute the power of the other
groups in the coalition.
Given these factors, it appears that Denver may
require a non-threatening convener such as CRC or
the Colorado Center for Community Development, if
coalitions are ever going to build power in the
I can now frame a key summary point for Chapter 5:
successful organizing/leadership requires the power
figure, the choreographer who "goads" people into protest
prior to the actual organization building. As local or
indigenous leadership is developed, Trapp the passionate,
fiery and creative organizer permits the organization to
build its power through local leaders.
Trapp as the organizer and Cincotta as the major
leader have provided the charismatic elements that bring
about major coalition successes not only in Chicago, but
at the national level.
In Denver, John Gaudette, as director of MOP,
probably the strongest community organizing group in
the city is reluctant to make that real commitment
to the building of power through coalitions. MOP's