Reflections on Minkler’s Community organizing among the elderly poor in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district

While I am very enthusiastically in support of participatory action research as well as asset-based community development (ABCD) I am also in favor of combining methods to use, whatever is most effective.  In this case, neither of the above seemed to work for the Tenderloin Senior Outreach Project but a combination of methods utilizing adaptations of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and ABCD did accomplish the task.  Addressing a specific issue was not as effective as addressing the overall situation and engaging the community members in contributing solutions that included them in the process. Given what I have researched, it is infinitely more effective to engage the community (top and bottom) in a combined approach that brings about effective change.

What is telling in this situation, in San Francisco, in the United States, where the focus is usually on personal satisfaction and individual gain, the focus moved from one of consumeristic selfishness to one of collective action.  The TSOP began a change in focus, moving from advocating to organizing and facilitating programs that helped residents advocate for themselves.  The organization is sadly no longer in existence and I am wondering why that is the case unless they were never able to sustain funding for what they did next:  Help residents form their own advocacy committees and train them to effectively advocate for necessary change themselves.  As it turns out, its goals of community organizing and leadership training were not received with open arms by the foundation and corporate funding sources that had so generously given to TSOP in the past.   While it is good to sometimes rely on outside funding, it isn’t always ideal, and a better solution is one that I have been hearing lately from a few colleagues:  find a way to become financially stable without outside generosity unless those outside sources are completely aligned with what you are doing.

And though, I have little patience for ineffective bureaucracy, I see the need of groups and organizations to train and teach individuals to form collectives to effectively advocate for themselves as leaders.  I see this as a form of communitarian anarchism under some form of some form “benevolent bureaucracy,” though hoping the bureaucracy is some form of benevolent bureaucracy is dangerous at bare minimum unless checked with necessary balances.



Minkler, M. (2006). Community organizing among the elderly poor in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. In M. Minkler (Ed.), Community organizing and community building for health (2nd ed., pp. 272-287). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


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