Listen, Organize, Act! Organizing & Democratic Politics

S1.E6: Institutions: Why They're Vital for Democratic Politics

March 25, 2021 Martin Trimble, Patrick O'Connor Season 1 Episode 6
Listen, Organize, Act! Organizing & Democratic Politics
S1.E6: Institutions: Why They're Vital for Democratic Politics
Show Notes

Building on the previous episodes on power and leadership, in this episode I examine the place of institutions in organizing, discussing what is an institution, what makes for a healthy institution, how and why institutions are central to the kind of place-based, relationally driven democratic politics organizing undertakes, and why without them the individual is left naked before the power of the market and the state. Also reflected on is a key rule of organizing, which is that all organizing is in the first instance disorganizing.


Martin Trimble is Co-Director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).  He is directly responsible for the IAF’s organizing work east of the Mississippi River. He has organized for 25 years with IAF affiliates in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington D.C., Virginia, and North Carolina.  Prior to organizing with the IAF, Martin was the founding director of Opportunity Finance Network which supports and provides standards for financial institutions that invest in affordable housing and community development work nationwide.

Rev Patrick O’Connor grew up and received his theological education in the West Indies. He is currently the lead pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a multicultural congregation in the Presbytery of New York City. He has served this congregation since 1992. Under his leadership, First Presbyterian is involved in the development of the “Tree of Life” a $74 million dollar affordable “mixed income” housing development that includes a community space and a health care facility. His leadership extends beyond the congregation to the Presbytery of New York City and the General Assembly of his denomination.  And he is Co-Chair of the Metro IAF Leadership team, Chairman of Queens Power, a Director of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, and Chairman of First Jamaica Community and Urban Development Corporation and a member of the board of Trustee for the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Resources for Going Deeper

Michael Gecan, Effective Organizing for Congregational Renewal (Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications, 2008). Good introduction to organizing and how to use organizing as part of congregational development and institutional renewal;

Harry Boyte, Civic Agency and the Cult of the Expert (New York: Kettering Foundation, 2009). A clear-eyed reflection on how to re-imagine institutions that serve the needs of their members, build up the ability of people to act together to achieve public work, and the need to dethrone what Boyte calls “the cult of the expert.” Free to download:

Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (Marion Boyars Publishers, 2001);

Sheldon Wolin, “Contract and Birthright,” The Presence of the Past: Essays on the State and the Constitution.(Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989), Chapter 8;

Hugh Heclo, On Thinking Institutionally (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011);

Lee Staples, “‘Keeping it all together: Organizational Development and Maintenance,” Roots to Power: A Manual For Grassroots Organizing, 3rd edn (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016), 221-263.