Civic Engagement:

Why People’s Organization for Progress Matters

Writer, Speaker, and Consultant on Racial Equality; Nonprofit Expert, Adjunct Professor

In any society, the beauty of citizenship rests in the right of citizens to organize in a collective structure to hold accountable the social contract between sovereign and citizens. It is through a process of active civic engagement that this work, fundamental to buttressing participatory citizenship, is forged. In a democracy, it is the lifeblood of civil society. Citizens may organize in structures formal and informal, porous and opaque, and temporary and permanent.

The People’s Organization for Progress (POP), based in Newark, New Jersey, is a manifestation of this work. Inspired by their days as high school activists of the 1960s and 70s, Lawrence Hamm, the current chair of POP, and several fellow high school students joined by fellow citizens came together in 1982 to realign and reaffirm their commitment to civic engagement grounded in a progressive agenda. In 1983, POP was officially established. This core group pioneered a community collective that has progressed and evolved over 37 years, buoyed by their youthful commitment to justice and a grounded understanding of the imperative of social transformation realized through community collaboration.

POP has a clear, ten-point vision with a core philosophy to uphold the human rights of all peoples, everywhere. It seeks the following:

  1. To educate the citizenry on contemporary social, economic, and political issues
  2. To activate and organize them on problemsolving of local issues
  3. To improve the material conditions of all
  4. To address racism and sexism
  5. To foster political engagement of the working and poor classes
  6. To advocate for more equitable economic conditions
  7. To be a strong advocate for civil rights
  8. To support the struggles of people everywhere
  9. To promote world peace
  10. To form deep bonds

These principles are born out of the long history of the struggle for self-determination that inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the foundational philosophers of the organization. In the words of Dr. King, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” POP has been relentless in organizing and fighting against economic, political, racial, and social injustice.

Longevity, consistency, and mission constitute the strengths of POP, an all-volunteer grassroots organization funded by membership fees and individual contributions. Over the years, it has ebbed and flowed with paid and affiliated members. The organization welcomes everyone into its fold, particularly those seriously committed to a progressive philosophy. Currently, POP has 175 voting members and over 2,000 standing members. The organization is made up of students; professors; clergy; former politicos; artists; writers; entrepreneurs; and corporate, government, and nonprofit workers and retirees. It is a cross-section of citizens that spans across ethnic/racial, gender, age, geographic, and
class categories.

POP is known globally for its grassroots organizing and protest. The organization’s sea of citizens in the yellow t-shirts and hoodies with the People’s Organization for Progress’ signature logo can be seen on the streets from Newark to New York City and beyond in support of the marginalized, disenfranchised, and dehumanized..

On any given Thursday night at 6pm in the community space of Abyssinian Baptist Church, 224 West Kinney Street in the heart of downtown in Newark, members of POP engage in serious discussion on local, national, and global human rights issues, and the collective action for change. Its grassroots paradigm is to be admired and revered in this age of social media, hightech savvy social justice movement.