The CCC Story

In 2012, the Center for Community Change marked the 45th anniversary of its founding. Through four and a half decades, we’ve employed an impressive range of strategies to advance our work, but our overriding goal is constant: to empower low-income people, particularly in communities of color, to make change that improves their communities and the public policies that affect their lives. Through every strand of our work, past and present, runs the conviction that those most affected by economic and social injustice are the best equipped to identify what change is necessary, and to make it happen. We carry this strategy forward as we reflect on our rich history today.

1968

In the 1960s, almost every facet of American life was transforming amidst world-changing social movements for the rights of African-Americans, women and farmworkers, and widespread resistance to war in Vietnam. Throughout the decade, the United States had made significant new federal investments to combat inequality through the War on Poverty, but the constraints of institutionalized racism and lack of economic opportunity still made a meaningful transition out of poverty impossible for millions of Americans, particularly those in communities of color. Photo Credit: UPI/ Corbis-Betman

In April 1968, the United States lost its most respected and visionary leader for people of color and the poor with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a tragedy that underscored entrenched resistance toward equality for African-American communities. Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was killed after winning the California primary for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the country lost another of its highest-profile voices for the poor. The Center for Community Change was created as the first project of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, intended by his friends and colleagues to carry on his vision and values.

In early years, CCC provided six community groups in California, Illinois, Mississippi and New Jersey with technical assistance, organizational development, planning and fundraising, and hands-on help with community organizing campaigns in their neighborhoods; within five years, that number expanded to 21 groups. More than four decades later, we’ve worked with hundreds of grassroots groups and networks of low-income people that represent the diversity of life – and poverty – in the United States: urban, suburban and rural geographies that are home to low-income AfricanAmerican, Latino, Asian, Native American, and white communities, as well as immigrants from around the world. Photo Credit: Mary Ann Dolcemascolo

Among CCC’s first issues was one of poverty’s most harrowing: hunger. Within our first year, CCC published Hunger USA, a report on the extensive hunger and malnutrition that many were shocked to find within the United States. With momentum from press attention to the report, we sponsored the National Council on Hunger and Malnutrition, which is credited with leading to the creation of the food stamps program – which today helps almost 50 million Americans. Photo Credit: Mary Ann Dolcemascolo

1970

In the 1970s, the previous decade’s investments against poverty were decimated by program cuts and a shift to give local governments more control in how to allocate federal funds – which almost always means less investment in issues that matter to poor communities and communities of color. CCC created the National Citizens Monitoring Project to teach grassroots leaders how to monitor local spending and challenge government officials in order to get the funding and investments their communities needed. Photo Credit: Earl Dotter

While the Citizens Monitoring Project kept an eye on government spending, CCC helped partners use the new Community Reinvestment Act to ensure that private institutions were making loans and credit available to low-income communities. CCC created the Neighborhood Revitalization Project to challenge banks that were discriminating against communities of color, give partners the training and strategy they needed to increase private investment into their neighborhoods, and win regulatory changes that made it easier to examine the lending records of financial institutions.

When neither government investment nor private funds were making enough of a difference, low-income organizations turned to the practice of community development, a strategy that CCC helped launch and spread throughout the country. A community development corporation (CDC) creates its own economic enterprises – like building affordable housing or commercial developments – that provide jobs, services, and new revenue and activity in communities. Although CCC no longer does community development work, today several thousand CDCs across the country generate millions of dollars in investments for critical jobs, affordable housing and commercial development that low-income communities can control and shape themselves.

1980

At the start of the 1980s, the largest tax cuts in U.S. history cost the country hundreds of billions in revenue, and social programs took vicious hits. CCC launched and supported many national coalitions to address the human suffering related to federal budget fallout, and prevented billions of dollars in attempted budget cuts to social programs. Photo Credit: Earl Dotter

Drastic cuts to affordable housing programs created an acute homelessness crisis in the 1980s. The Center helped public housing residents organize to save their homes, work that would continue for decades and create a national network of housing residents that won national policy changes that mandated resident inclusion in housing boards. And CCC pioneered Housing Trust Fund campaigns, which secure ongoing sources of public funding for affordable housing in state and municipal budgets through real estate taxes or other revenue sources. Today this program generates almost a billion dollars for affordable housing each year, making it the most successful affordable housing strategy in the United States.

1990

Welfare reform in the 1990s drastically cut benefits to poor families – a major attack on the social programs that had served as insurance for Americans since the Great Depression. The Center launched the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support to challenge the impression that these reforms had been effective in reducing suffering, and to counter the invisibility of poverty in a prosperous time. The campaign represented a shift toward bringing local groups with varied interests and issues into one coordinated coalition to make change on national policy issues – a strategy that set the stage for CCC’s broad range of national policy work today.

Welfare reform set stringent work requirements for benefit recipients – but many people couldn’t even take for granted the means to get to and from a job. Low-income people are disproportionately likely to rely on public transit, but the municipal boards with the power to shut down a bus route almost never had representatives of the communities that relied on these services. CCC founded the Transportation Equity Network to push local decision-makers to make public transit actually serve public needs. The network won local victories that expanded or saved transit for poor communities and helped change federal transportation regulations to require disclosure and consultation with affected communities before local authorities made transit decisions.

2000

In the new millennium, CCC made a major shift to empower grassroots partners to be effective not just in their communities, but also through efforts to inform and shape national policy debates. In 2003, the Center established the Campaign for Community Change, (now Center for Community Change Action), a 501(c)4 sister organization that can do more targeted advocacy and organizing around critical policy issues affecting low-income people. CCCAction helps grassroots leaders and organizations do even more assertive work in Washington, D.C. and around the country to push for the changes their communities need.

We created the Community Voting Project in 2004 to help community organizing groups integrate voter outreach, registration, education and mobilization into their work – both to address the disproportionately low civic participation rates among people of color, and to connect potential voters to community organizations that are fighting for their interests 365 days a year, not just on Election Day. At the time, it was a new strategy for the community organizing field; today, the majority of community organizing groups are doing civic engagement outreach and we see the electoral impact of more engaged and mobilized communities of color with each election cycle.

CCC was one of the first national non-immigrant organizations to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority almost 15 years ago. In 2004, we founded what is now the nation’s largest grassroots immigration coalition, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). We’ve mobilized and empowered immigrants to speak out about their place in this country and coordinated with national ally organizations to set the stage for immigrants to take to the streets and to the ballot box to demand change. Today, after more than a decade of organizing and the brave advocacy of immigrants, we and our allies continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. Photo Credit: Jonathan Laurence/www.jonathanlaurence.com

We built on the work of our National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support with a push to improve working conditions and create meaningful job opportunity for low-income workers – a challenge that became only more urgent and challenging after the housing and economic crises deepened economic suffering across the country. Even as the economy recovers, opportunity for many workers remains scarce for a variety of reasons including their prior experience and training, education level, age, primary language, or where they live. Creating the opportunity for sustained and quality work for these constituencies remains a major focus of our economic justice organizing.

CCC was already engaged with partner groups to push for a change to the health care system that left 40 million Americans without insurance for years before it became the flashpoint issue of President Obama’s first term. Amidst riotous debate, CCC and partners mobilized uninsured people across the country to center the health care debate around the moral injustice of a system that routinely delivered death, disability and financial ruin to those without insurance –thus shaping opinion in favor of reform that eventually constituted the biggest expansion of public benefits since CCC was founded. Since then, we’ve worked with partners to defend the funding for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and make improvements that will better serve aging Americans and others who rely on these programs for their health and economic security. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Health Care for America Now

What's Next

The Center for Community Change is humbled to reflect on the results of more than four decades of work with our partner groups – the organizing strategies we pioneered, the grassroots organizations we built, the vibrant coalitions we created, the policies that have changed for the better as a result of our work, and – perhaps most important – the many thousands of low-income people who became social change leaders because of our training and support, and have since changed their communities and our country. We know that our strategies are effective – and we need them now as much as ever. Poverty and its consequences in the United States are as dire today as in the tumultuous year of our founding, and the disproportionate rates of poverty among women and people of color constitute a moral crisis our nation must address. That’s why we commemorated our 45th anniversary by launching a major new national initiative to combat poverty in this country – and we hope you will join us.