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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 20 2006. Interview U-0184. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Difficulties of community organizing

English describes the problems with community organizing. She argues that city bureaucracy prevents real change from occurring within the neighborhood. Consequently, she advocates for neighborhood control over its affairs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 20 2006. Interview U-0184. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
Are there any other organizations that are Belmont based that I'm leaving out that you have been involved with?
DIANE ENGLISH:
No, we have all kinds in the neighborhood. Basically, they pop up everyday. You hear about them one day and they're disappeared the next day. We do have Right Moves to Youth but that's nonfunctioning. The lady that was running it just fell through the cracks. It's a lot of things that we have that are available but they were given—. Different people took on those responsibilities so it just fell through the crack. When they got tired of it and they couldn't get a whole bunch of responses to it they just dropped it. Now the association is going back trying to pick up on some of these things so that it can distribute it out evenly throughout all the neighborhood so all the neighborhood will be aware of the different programs that we have.
SARAH THUESEN:
What's the biggest challenge in sustaining an organization and making it last?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Keeping people interested, on the go, motivated. Keeping your residents mainly informed is the biggest problem. Residents have to be involved in order for the association to function properly. We can function all day without the input of the neighborhood residents. It wouldn't be run as an association. It would be more like a group of people running a neighborhood. It should be residents running the neighborhood through the association. The association should be—is the resort to where you go to, to make sure that their wants, needs, and efforts are put forth to wherever, to make sure we are heard, and make sure we running the right direction. We do take a lot of training classes. The city offers a lot of training classes. We find out from other groups of people about training classes. We attend some of those. It's basically a learning situation all the time.
SARAH THUESEN:
What sorts of training classes have you taken?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Leadership. Management. I went through the Anger Management programs that they have. I went through their resource classes, partnership classes, financial assistance, how to get people interested in participating, organizational training, organizational skill training. It's been several. It's many of them.
SARAH THUESEN:
So this has really been a learning process.
DIANE ENGLISH:
For me, I've learned a lot in the last three years than I ever have in a lifetime. It's interesting because it's always something new.
SARAH THUESEN:
Thinking about all of your activism in the neighborhood, who would you say have been your most important allies?
DIANE ENGLISH:
The residents are my most important allies because I can go to them and talk. Without their support you really can't do anything. I think working as a group has more power than an individual's voice. Usually, I talk a lot to the residents and they talk and they talk. I try to put it together in my own words. Sometimes they have a tendency to tell you something but they mean something else. I have to constantly go back and say, "Did you really mean—can we talk about it again before I actually try to find someone—?" I'm good for picking up the phone. We have what they call a neighborhood list of all of your different neighborhoods and presidents and stuff of that nature. If I have a problem I pick up the phone and I just go through those and ask, "Have you ever had such and such thing happen to you? Where can I get some help? What kind of resources?" Usually they are pretty good at it.
SARAH THUESEN:
So if the residents have been your most important ally who do you see as your most significant opponents in some of the fights that you've tried to push?
DIANE ENGLISH:
The city. The city of Charlotte. They are so huge and they have so many different departments. I think where the break down comes with us is you talk to one person and it lingers. They have to go through a due process to get it to the right person. Then, it lays and that person is so busy doing other things. Right now, it's the city. We're working on them. We have a coordinator which is named Randy Harris. He's good. He's really good, but he's just so tied up and he's involved in so many other issues. It's sort of hard to catch up with him and to sit down and actually do some of the things that we really push to ask him about. But he's good.
SARAH THUESEN:
What do you see as the ideal role that the local government should be playing, or the state and federal government should be playing in helping people find affordable housing, sustainable neighborhoods?
DIANE ENGLISH:
In the past I've noticed that the state, the city, all these different people are involved in it but they seem to run over the top of each other. Nothing ever gets settled in the neighborhoods. To me, it would be—. I think I read a while back where they said the communities themselves should be able to operate on their own. There should be a way that they could train the neighborhood people to the point where they could go to the state and could pull funds or ask for things that that particular neighborhood needs and obtain those resources without the red tape of going through the city, the state, the gov—, blah, blah, blah and on and on and on. [interruption]...