The Citizens Handbook
Block-by-Block Organizing

Block-by-block organizing aims at creating a democratic community organization that includes everyone. This is grassroots organizing at its best and most powerful. The very idea strikes fear in the hearts of those in charge.

This is how a block-by-block organizing works. Resident organizers find block reps for every block in the area. A block can either be a block of houses on opposite sides of the same street, an apartment block, co-op, or condominium complex. Block reps get to know everyone on their block, then introduce everyone to one another. When neighbors first meet, they are often surprised and delighted to discover how many interesting people live on their own block.

Once residents know one another, they can elect a block rep. Block reps then elect neighborhood reps, who can form an area coordinating committee. Neighborhood reps can also elect area reps, who can form a city coordinating committee.

Area and city coordinating committees are ideal for addressing problems that extend beyond neighborhood boundaries such as transportation. They are also useful for determining city spending priorities. Area and city coordinating committees require modest resources, particularly some paid staff time, to do their work. So far, few Canadian or US cities have been willing to provide any resources. But this may change as more cities begin to recognize their greatest asset is their citizens.

Block-by-block organizing can easily link many people over a large area; it can also help to form a strong link between citizens and government. In addition to making connections between people, block reps can promote mutual aid. At the block level, mutual aid can range from dealing with a noisy neighbour, to finding someone to look after your cat while you are on vacation. The side effect of these small exchanges is a sense of community, once the reason for towns and cities, now in such short supply.

Here are some tips when organizing block-by-block.

~ First, make the task manageable by focusing on small neighborhoods. What some cities call neighborhoods are actually large areas that each contain many small neighbourhoods. Cities the size of Seattle or Vancouver contain well over a hundred real neighborhoods. The boundaries of real neighborhoods are defined by residents rather than government.

~ Secondly, encourage each block to act independently. Only when a problem is too large or difficult for a single block should people from other blocks become involved.

~ Thirdly, organize in twos, so each block has two block reps, and each neighborhood has two neighborhood reps. This provides friendly support, improves information exchange, and reduces workloads.

~ Finally, consider integrating with Block Watch or some other project that has a some block reps in place. Another great approach is to try to work with public institutions that would like to have better connections to large numbers of ordinary citizens, such as local health boards and municipal government.

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The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of The Handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots rot, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from bookstores, Amazon or New Society Publishers.