Visible Community has remained a dedicated grassroots organization,
but our methods and strategies to affect change have evolved. In the
Summer of 2004, our group naturally came together in response to a crisis.
The City of Lewiston had announced a new plan called “The Heritage
Initiative,” which was going to (among other things) displace
850 residents by constructing a four-lane boulevard through the middle
of downtown’s residential neighborhood. When The Visible Community
first began community organizing, our central goal was clear: STOP THE
ROAD. In a year’s time, after knocking on doors, turning people
out to neighborhood meetings, and holding rallies, the road had been
This was a major victory for our organization and a testament to the
power of community organizing. The same neighborhood may be a ghost
town today if we had not stopped the road, but as far as improving the
condition of life in the downtown, stopping the road only appeared to
preserve the status quo. The next question for our group was: What now?
How do we organize empowered people to make positive changes in the
neighborhood rather than simply stop bad ideas from happening?
For The Visible Community, the solution was to lead the City by example.
We applied for a grant from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development
of People to create a master plan for Lewiston’s downtown neighborhood.
This plan would be based on the immediate needs and concerns of the
people who live in the neighborhood and whose lives would be most directly
affected by new development decisions. The People’s Downtown Master
Plan, as it was called, was a model for how we saw good community development
can be achieved. Since that time, the City of Lewiston has created its
own master plan for the neighborhood, incorporating many of the ideas
and strategies of the People’s Plan, as well as input from other
The People’s Plan has not only informed the work of the City,
but it is also a guide for The Visible Community to make sure our own
goals and campaigns are accountable to the concerns of the neighborhood.
Currently, we are working hard to implement two very specific visions
of the People’s Plan. One goal is to expand and improve the public
bus system to connect downtown people with jobs and services across
the Twin Cities. A second goal is to create a Neighborhood Housing League
that works more closely with downtown residents on a case-by-case basis
to improve housing quality and safety through education, advocacy, and
Looking back, our efforts to stop the road built a foundation for The
Visible Community’s work. On that foundation we helped see the
development of a new playground, the development of two new senior affordable
housing projects, a greater investment of Community Development Block
Grant money in downtown programs and social service agencies, and even
representation on City Council and other municipal committees. So, we’ve
learned that not only can you fight City Hall, but you can work with
City Hall, you can collaborate with City Hall, and in some ways you
can even become a part of City Hall.
Though our strategies have changed over time, our core strength comes
from our conviction that transparent consensus building and bottom-up
grassroots organizing is the best way to make policy decisions. This
applies to how we function internally as The Visible Community as well
as how we advocate that our City, State, and Federal Government must
function as well.