The House Meeting

House meetings are about forming coalitions. Good organizers plan face-to-face meetings either one-on-one or with a group of people. A successful way of forming this coalition is by meeting with as many community leaders as possible, and having those community leaders form their own “coalition” by forming a town hall-type meeting with a community, or a smaller house meeting with a random list of people, other leaders, active members of the community, or people with eagerness to work for the same cause. Here is how the process beings.

An organizer schedules a meeting with a person one-on-one, and during that meeting after various types of small talk, getting to know the other person (yada yada), the organizer does what it is supposed to do by his or her boss: he or she makes an “ask” to the other person about holding a house meeting at that person’s own home (after, of course, discussing what happens at these house meetings and how they are beneficial).  The goal is to get a substantial amount of people that will generate conversation and furthermore, action.  A strong house meeting will end in some type of further action for the cause and will be organized, and if the house meeting is not planned out well, it could end in disarray and inaction. Author Mark Warren argues that in order to bring effective power to communities, local institutions will require the capability to operate at higher levels. Eventually, local efforts must find a way to combine to influence national, and eventually, global decision making in a way that rebounds to the benefit of local organizing. 

 Grassroots organizing for the past few decades has been influenced by a model, which was developed by Fred Ross, who was influential in organizing largely Latino agricultural workers in California. The migrant workers were not able to sustain ongoing organizations, so he organized them from scratch at new places through “house meetings” and from those house meetings, “leadership would emerge.” Those that help community members set up house meetings include a local sponsor such as a local service bureaucracy, an interest-group organization, or a group of residents themselves. Providing service while organizing a community to have a collective voice has expanded over the last few years.  Grassroots efforts, such as planning house meetings, usually stem from some come of an irritation, which brings together residents of a particular area. 

According to author Gillian Kaye, town meetings are an excellent way to reach out to the “organized” community, whereas for the “unorganized” community, less formal house meetings that are held in someone’s home or a local coffee shop are better. At these smaller meetings, it is more intimate. People feel safe — like they can speak up more easily (if they’re shy).  Kaye also suggest the 6 “R’s” of Participation and the house meetings formed with some sort of a neighborhood coalition will be successful if these are all met:







The final “R” (results) is important because if the house meeting does not deliver the goods, people will become disinterested and will not participate in further events. 

Let’s demonstrate an effective use of house meetings. For example, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was an organization that conducted various house meetings. The IAF focuses on leadership development and training, which is a large part of their mission. The IAF builds local organizations composed primarily of religious institutions, such as congregations. Those involved in the IAF are members of various parishes. Through the members’ participation in IAF organizations, community leaders are able to express their religiously derived commitment to the “needs of their immediate congregation and neighborhood on the broader public stage.” Their overall goal is to engage people to commit to community building and social justice as well as motivating people to participate in efforts that improve political life. They do this by bringing people together as they conduct house meetings, which are usually attended by 10-20 neighbors that talk about issues on peoples’ minds, on a regular basis. During these house meetings, people told stories of “past unsatisfactory experiences with training programs, particularly those in which no recognized certificate or diploma resulted,” or where jobs were not available after the training period.”

 House meetings are an effective way to work on these issues in a smaller and casual atmosphere before sending community members out to conferences and conventions to learn more. The IAF used any available space they could, such as holding meetings with the immigrants organized out of the churches. Really, one can hold a house meeting and make a call to action anywhere… so long as people attend. 

Below is a section of research that focuses on house meetings and each article discusses the importance, organization of, and the right place for, and when the right time is for house meetings. They also discuss some of the history behind house meetings and the types of people that are usually involved in them.    

Kaye, Gillian. (2001). “Grassroots Involvement.” American Journal of Community Psychology, 29 (2). Retrieved from on 3 October 2013

 In this article, Kaye discusses coalitions within grassroots community organizing. She emphasizes that each community has a coalition and it takes getting leaders together and branching off to parts of the community to form other coalitions for these coalitions to produce something constructive in working for a cause. She discusses the important aspects to building coalitions are meeting with community leaders, holding public meetings and house meetings, going door-to-door canvassing, street outreach, tabling, attending community meetings, and having community driven assessments. In order to retain participants in community organizing activities, they must feel recognized, respected, have a role, form relationships, be rewarded, and produce results.

Miller, S.M., Rein, Martin, and Levitt, Peggy. (1990) “Community Action in the United States.” Oxford Journal. Retreived from on 3 October 2013

 In this article, Miller, Rein, and Levitt discuss the evolution of community organizing over time. They note important shifts in the focus of times of community action and how that lead to forming house meetings and other means of organizing. Movements discussed are the ACORN movement, women’s movement, environmental movements, African American movement, etc. The authors also discussed how organizations begin to have diminished hope in their activities if their activities do not produce results. The main research question that the authors seek to determine is: What does organizing seek to achieve, particularly in the 1990s? The authors suspect that providing service while organizing to have a collective voice will expand, and determine that direct, sustainable organizing is more difficult.

Osterman, Paul. (2006) “Community Organizing and Employee Representation. “British Journal of Industrial Relations (44). pp. 629-649. Retrieved from on 3 October 2013

 In this article, Osterman discusses American unions and their strategies to succeed in representing the interest of employees in the labor market. Osterman discusses the role of community-based organizations and how these community-based organizations are put into neighborhoods where they can discuss initiatives to solve a certain problem and focus on day-to-day accomplishments. The article mentions various house meetings, and the importance of conducting these house meetings on a regular basis.

Warren , M. R. (2001). Dry bones rattling: Community building to revitalize american democracy . Princeton : Princeton University Press

In this book, Warren describes religious inventions in politics in terms of imposing a group’s moral teachings on society. He discusses many political movements, community and coalition building, the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) Network (mostly because it is an emerging phenomenon of democratic organizing). Warren emphasizes community building, and identifies the critical contributions to community building and democratic action made by the IAF. He also discusses the limitations and challenges to current organizing methods.

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