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About This Issue
‘Science for the People’ Vol. 9, No. 2, March/April 1976, p. 4
In this issue we present two articles on the history of the struggle of an urban working-class community, the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston, against expansion by Harvard Medical School and related institutions. We feel the articles are important for several reasons. First, they deal with the effectiveness of neighborhood organizing as a strategy for social change and discuss the effectiveness of various organizing tactics, from physical disruption to court battles to compromise and negotiation. Second, they detail one way in which academic-scientific institutions affect the average working person’s life. Third, they show how it may be possible for people outside these institutions to force changes in the institutions’ policies.
Howard Waitzkin’s article chronicles the story of Mission Hill from 1969, when students joined residents to resist Harvard’s development plans, to around 1975, when it appeared that Harvard was on the defensive and that many important victories had been achieved. Waitzkin carefully analyzes the reasoning behind the use of a wide range of tactics at different stages in a changing situation. He feels the struggle has been successful not only in winning specific concrete demands, which are mostly unprecedented in this decade in this country, but also in politically demystifying the operations of elite institutions, raising the class consciousness of the people involved, and laying the groundwork for future progressive change. He feels this success has been achieved through community solidarity, persistence, and willingness to compromise to achieve specific goals.
John Grady responds to Waitzkin in an article which provides a different time perspective, and which assesses the community’s overall effectiveness against Harvard quite differently. His article, written over the last two months, reflects the feelings of many people that the victories achieved through the last eight years are less valuable and significant than they first seemed, that Harvard’s expansion has been only slightly slowed rather than stopped. Grady feels that the community made both tactical and political mistakes, including the decision to limit their demands in exchange for specific concessions from Harvard. He feels that the community’s force has been diverted in part because the original neighborhood leadership has itself become “professionlized”: community organizations have been turned into brokerage institutions for Harvard, becoming de-pendent on Harvard financially and in other ways. The result, he says, is not the first step in a movement for broader political change but the last step in the process of diffusing the community’s power and identity by integrating it into the process of institutional development.
Despite their differences, the two articles have several points in common. Both advocate a wide range of tactics in different situations and for different demands. Both agree that organizing of any kind requires long-term commitment and constant alertness to unexpected shifts in power relations. Both seem to agree with our feeling that neighborhood organizing is essential for fundamental social change but that its ultimate success depends on the success of struggles and change in many other areas, including the workplace, the military, the schools, the household, and ourselves.
We hope that these articles will stimulate effective organizing both within and outside of academic-scientific institutions, both by providing general analysis and by detailing one specific example of this struggle.
In contrast to Grady’s description of the co-optation of a progressive force from within its ranks, Linda Gordon describes the way in which outside professionals took over and diverted the progressive birth control movement early in this century. The second part of her two-part article on the history of the birth-control movement appears in this issue.