Political Economy/Corporate Power

This workbook traces the rise of corporate power and the role of social movements in providing counterweights to corporate domination of the political economy. We look at how unfettered corporate power fosters inequality, distorts democracy and creates conditions for economic crises. We pay close attention to the role of racialization of work and finance in shaping a political economy that favors an elite few, and we point towards actions and reforms that can foster a new, people-centered and more democratically-managed economy.

Jan Breidenbach has produced what she calls "A morality power point on the role of housing in our lives, the history of U.S. housing, the financial crisis of capitalism…. And the possible politics of sustainability." Her starting point is the role that housing plays in creating community and determining the barriers and opportunities that families and neighborhoods encounter. Breidenbach goes from there to fundamental questions about the system that produces a continual crisis in housing.

Frank Ackerman provides a timely analysis of four fundamental flaws in the market system. His analysis points the way to the public interventions and regulations over the market that are necessary to move not only towards a more stable system, but also a more just one.


To examine more closely the ways in which corporate-conservatives have built and exercised power over the past 35 years, we have adapted Stephen Lukes’ three dimensions, or ‘faces’ of power.

We encourage social change groups to orient their work around a multi-dimensional analysis of power. As part of strategic practice, shared understandings of the multiple dimensions of power helps groups develop strategies for building power on a level that is commensurate with their long-term goals for social transformation.

We developed this one-page summary of the Three Faces of Power framework, with examples, as a hand-out for sessions about power analysis.

Racial Justice

Inspired by Iris Marion Young, we developed this summary of the five mechanisms of structural oppression in society. These mechanisms intersect with race, class and gender, creating both shared and varied experiences with oppressive conditions in society.

By focusing on examples of African American organizing efforts to gain economic and political power, this paper explores historic contests about the meanings of freedom and equality, and the role of government in creating conditions for equality. Our history tour highlights the role race has played in shaping our political economy.

As part of GPP’s project on race and the political economy, we have teamed up with colleagues at NPA and elsewhere to develop curriculum materials. This sample workbook brings together excerpts from five training modules, including guidelines for developing policies that address structural racism and its effects.

Strategy and Strategic Practice

Co-authored by Beth Zemsky and GPP staff member David Mann, this article first appeared in the Spring-Summer 2008 issue of Social Policy. Using examples from social movement history, Zemsky and Mann make the case that progressive organizations and networks can use these changing times to move beyond reactive politics toward more purposeful, transformational social change.

A movement needs a way of developing unity around broadly shared ideas and goals, and it needs different kinds of groups that have different kinds of strengths. A movement needs bottom-up leaders who can relate, as equals, with national leaders. Movements need networks and alliances that are flexible, in which various roles, divisions of labor, approaches, tactics and strategies are regularly negotiated. To maintain the ongoing connections and relationships that hold these networks together, movements need flexible infrastructure.

This is a short summary of the in-depth case study of our work with ISAIAH and what we’ve learned about strategic practice -- in particular, the processes of analysis, reflection and action that make a group more effective in advancing longer-term goals.

We take something that is familiar to groups –– strategic planning –– and suggest how to transform the process into something that is ongoing and integral to all aspects of an organization’s life. We emphasize shifting from periodic planning and reports that sit on shelves toward cultivating practices that impact organizing, issue development, communications, relationships with other social change organizations, and roles in building a larger, more powerful movement.

This in-depth case study sheds light on the combinations of ideas and practices that make a group more effective at linking short-term, day-to-day work to longer-term goals for social transformation. Through our side-by-side consulting with ISAIAH, a faith-based community organization in Minnesota we have worked with for 8 years, we have had an opportunity to observe, and help cultivate, their strategic practice. This has helped us further refine our concepts and ideas while clarifying how other kinds of groups can use them to develop strategic practice.


At a conference co-sponsored by the Haas Center for a Fair and Inclusive Society, Richard Healey presented this essay as part of a forum on developing a progressive, racial justice narrative.

Based on the research of Bill Gamsom, this short paper describes the ‘elements of collective action,’ or, the ways in which people move from isolation to agency, from individual resistance to collective action. Working with themes, values and beliefs as part of organizing and leadership development builds critical consciousness in members and leaders. This aspect of using and working with worldview enables groups to develop a core base of politically conscious and active members who see the benefit of collective action and sustained involvement.

As an elaboration of the third face of power, or the power of ideas, we explore how corporate-conservatives have consciously and consistently worked on the terrain of ideas for decades. This has been, and continues to be, crucial to their electoral and legislative successes. Progressives generally have reacted by focusing on values and framing. This is a step forward, but the use of values and frames is not sufficient to displace the corporate-conservative hold on the dominant worldview.

This essay encourages groups to develop and use their own narratives as tools for shifting the dominant worldview. Understanding the power of worldview, and the role of narrative in shifting worldview, gives us a more comprehensive framework for taking on corporate-conservative ideologies through a contest of ideas. We delve into how the worldview terrain in mapped, and how we can re-arrange the map, using insights from Antonio Gramsci and Stuart Hall.