Building Community Power by Building Grassroots Leaders: Sacramento Valley Organizing Community (SVOC)

Abstract

The Sacramento Valley Organizing Community (SVOC) builds public power through public action. Since 1994, a base of grassroots leaders in three racially and ethnically diverse counties of Northern California have secured funding to build hundreds of affordable homes and enabled thousands of immigrants to become U.S. citizens and created a welfare to work center that places people in living-wage jobs. The group is currently expanding throughout the region. While it successfully wins on issues, its primary passion is leadership development. Its approach includes the following:

  • Strategically Engage, Train and Activate New Leaders: SVOC identifies and develops new community leaders who can act on their own behalf, based on their self-interest. Staff and organizational leaders find emerging leaders by going door-to-door and also by meeting with people one-on-one. They look for "cold anger" that is strategic, not unstructured. They identify people who "have a following and can deliver it." The group provides intensive training as well as opportunities for action, such as running large meetings with key decision makers. It operates on the rule "never do for others what they can do for themselves." According to Reverend Tyrone Hicks, "Getting people who are not the ones who normally talk to bureaucrats to step up to the plate and become leaders. That's always a win."
  • Build Relationships: "The whole focus of our organizing is to build relationships," says Larry Ferlazzo, SVOC organizer. SVOC lays the groundwork for relationship building among diverse constituencies by first developing honest relationships within its own leadership. In its interactions with public officials, SVOC does not burn bridges, believing that there are no permanent allies and no permanent enemies.
  • Seize Opportunity: While SVOC intentionally seeks new opportunities for community action, it is also ready to jump on opportunities that arise along the way.

In this leadership story, SVOC staff and organizational leaders describe how they build community power in Northern California.

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