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Neighborhood Politics

Unfinished History

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Mission Coalition Organization, outside of meeting 1970s

Photo: El Tecolote archive

"The largest urban popular mobilization in San Francisco's recent history took place between 1967 and 1973 in the predominantly Latino Mission District. The movement brought together a variety of social interests and ethnic groups into a multi-issue community organization, the Mission Coalition Organization (MCO), whose structure and tactics were largely inspired by the [Saul] Alinsky model of community action. At the peak of its power, in 1970-71, the MCO probably involved up to 12,000 people (in a neighborhood of 50,000), who participated in over 100 grassroots committees of various types. Although the organization disbanded in 1973, after a highly significant and self-destructive process, it brought to the neighborhood a series of improvements as well as a constellation of neighborhood organizations and social agencies that survived the crisis and transformed the Mission into a vital urban scene." --Manuell Castells, The City and the Grassroots:

Castells describes a process wherein the coalition split apart along different lines, with certain individuals and organizations being absorbed into the government's Model Cities Program as administrators, while others pursued a more nationalist, Latino-based strategy to get the resources being allocated by the government. Eventually, the Alinsky organizers came to dominate the Model Mission Neighborhood Corporation which controlled the multi-million dollar Model Cities money. They were committed to various mechanisms of community empowerment, focusing their efforts on creating a hiring hall and an educational program, and were to be tightly controlled by the larger MCO. When the Latino social agencies that predated the MCO saw someone else getting the money, they took over the MCO and fought with the Alinskyites on the MMNC over the dispensation of the Model Cities grants. Ultimately, the factionalism destroyed the MCO and the programs that were funded by Model Cities.

Nevertheless, dozens of social organizations still function in the Mission, many with roots in the highly charged 1968-73.

--Chris Carlsson

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Another Balmy Alley mural depicting the disappeared from Reagan's dirty wars in Central America in the 1980s.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

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Earth goddess in Balmy Alley, the starting point of populist muraling in the 1970s. Off 24th Street near Harrison

Photo: Chris Carlsson

Balmy Alley: a Modernist Approach



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