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“Power in Numbers”: Marginalized Mothers Contesting Individualization through Grassroots Community Organizing

Gender and Practice: Insights from the Field

ISBN: 978-1-83867-384-0, eISBN: 978-1-83867-383-3

Publication date: 30 September 2019


This chapter documents how the process of grassroots community organizing through a family-focused model of local contestation liberates participants, mainly Black and immigrant Latina mothers in Chicago, from the constraints of individualization. While much philanthropic and academic interest focuses on the policy and quantitative “impacts” and “outcomes” of local social movements, the current study looks to local organizers to better understand their experiences and how they construct meaning through their participation. In-depth interviews and participant observations show how leaders gained collective purpose and voice through family-focused collective action. Community Organizing and Family Issues, a non-profit organizing institution, supported and propelled participants (leaders) to organize locally to create change in their communities, while it also facilitated conversions in self-perceptions. Leaders often discovered a sense of capacity, which contested gendered, raced, and classed oppression and self-doubt. Through the process of community organizing, leaders exercised power and dignity, facets that for the women in this study, were often ignored and devalued in society. These understudied social effects of collective action help us to better understand how marginalized women experience local social movements that cannot be quantified to fit narrow measures of movement “impacts” and “outcomes.”




I would like to immensely thank POWER-PAC leaders and COFI staff for sharing their stories and experiences with me. The world is better because of your daily fight for racial and economic justice. This research and chapter would not be possible without the support of Dr. Kelly Moore, Dr. Peter Rosenblatt, and Dr. Edward Flores, as well as funding from the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation and the Midwest Sociological Society. I also thank colleagues at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Urban Research and Learning and Johns Hopkins University’s Poverty and Inequality Research Lab for continuing to inspire me daily.


Cossyleon, J.E. (2019), "“Power in Numbers”: Marginalized Mothers Contesting Individualization through Grassroots Community Organizing", Demos, V., Segal, M.T. and Kelly, K. (Ed.) Gender and Practice: Insights from the Field (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 27), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 115-127.



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