Social Movement Case Study with Assignments: The ISAIAH Trash Referendum

Published: Jan 8, 2021
Contributor: Peter Levine
License: CC BY NC SA 4.0 license – Allows revisions and additions but forbids commercial use.

Should a faith-based organization take on an issue not of its choosing? Can relational organizing help its leadership support a new mayor while also engaging their base and holding their coalition together?

This is a case study about an organization in Minnesota called ISAIAH, a faith-based organization that works to expand the power and influence of people who have often been overlooked, especially poor people and people of color.

This case examines what happened when, to support a new mayor with whom the organization wanted to work, ISAIAH became involved in a divisive issue—not of its own choosing—that revolved around garbage. ISAIAH faced at least three choices: 1) stay out of the fight over garbage; 2) use mobilizing techniques to help the mayor win the garbage issue; or 3) use relational organizing to enter into a power relationship with the mayor in the garbage fight—even though most of the people in ISAIAH’s networks didn’t care much about the issue.

By the end of this case study, you should be able to:

Understand several approaches to organizing, including the relational and faith-based approach of ISAIAH.
Begin to learn about some of the practical tools of community organizers.
Analyze and discuss the strategic choices that confronted ISAIAH and apply your insights to other situations.

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