Going Regional: The Evolution of an Organizing Strategy in Detroit


Lara Rusch, PhD, University of Michigan-Dearborn, 2154 Social Sciences Building, 4901 Evergreen, Dearborn, MI 48128; lrusch@umd.umich.edu


In contexts of entrenched metropolitan inequality and limited local resources, organizers and community activists often feel a sense of urgency to target higher levels of government. This paper offers one such case from Detroit, of local organizing projects that “scaled up” in the mid-1990s to pursue a regional equity agenda. Drawing on participant observation, archival data, and interviews, the paper examines the process of unification and identifies key shifts in purpose, relational base, approach to leadership, and strategy for empowerment. While scaling up enabled members to engage in more sophisticated actions and influence higher levels of policy making, it also challenged the organization to maintain its member base. This research suggests that the process of scaling up poses tradeoffs for grassroots organizations, between responsiveness to existing members and building a regionally representative organization, capable of transcending divisions of the political environment.