Civil Society

Some of the earliest civic groups to form in this country were fraternal lodges and trade unions. Members wrote codes of conduct and addressed how they wished to support their members while advocating for greater support from the government.  Over the two hundred and fifty years of slavery and the lasting impacts of racial segregation, Americans formed both inclusive and exclusive associations.


 Mutual Benefit Societies used membership fees to offer home insurance, elder care and funerary services.

 The core members of civil society groups were initially white male merchants and professionals.   But over time women formed their own civic groups and many and children participated in leadership and education and social events.

Those who built their fraternal lodges in their own communities, held their ritual obligations about retail space that they rented out. 

Working people that joined had little experience in elected offices of membership associations. They also had little formal education in organizational management, leadership, problem solving or finance.  Without awareness of conflicts of interest, some resorted to internal squabbling, nepotism and embezzlement.


At the same time, people with countervailing interests formed their own civil society associations.  Some of the better known are the Supreme Order of Caucasians and the Ku Klux Klan. The purpose of these groups was to maintain White Supremacy and the entitlement they felt was part of their heritage.

Civil society provides a vital function in a sphere between government and business and representing the individual to the state. They provide the collective voice of their members to negotiate issues important to them.  Through educating their members, the general public and lobbying elected officials on their collective issues.

Some of the earliest civil society groups in this country were mutual benefit societies, trade groups and fraternal associations who provided training and support to their members.  They offered a social structure of conversation, family events and a shared identity. Their membership fees provided for house and life insurance, elder care, funerary services, as well as cooperative buying and selling.   Holding public events and renting out their buildings for family events and public gatherings establishes a lasting relationship with their community.

 In the 1830’s when Frenchman Alexis de Toqueville visited the United States he commented that there were many associations 

Robert Putnam, who wrote Bowling Alone has commented on the decline of social capitalism.

Their sense of identity and entitlement gave them an un-earned political voice in the community that influenced political leaders. They can be secretive and closed to outsiders.  

The core members of civil groups are average people who go to work and have families. They have no special training in organizational management, finance, leadership, problem solving. Because of this they often have resorted to internal squabbling, nepotism, embezzlement, and conflicts of interest. 

Though there are groups that nurture the wellbeing of families.  Special interest organizations have historically formed in response to perceived threats from disease, immigrants, 


The chance for Civil Society organizations to step up especially during this period of social arrest is opportune. Issues that impact the entire world such as climate change, Covid 19 pandemic, closing of businesses. rental evictions, economic disparity.  Social issues such as voter suppression, police abuse, demands that the people rise up and manage the crises.

Civil society groups exert great pressure on the government as well as the Congress to address a number of social issues.

Emerging groups have addressed issues such as climate change, police violence, racial hatred,


Project South visual timelines


Global successes

Peoples Movement Assemblies


Authentic Voices  (links to activists, young people, scholars)



American Civil Liberties Union ACLU

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP

Greta Thunberg    COP 2

Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS   March for Our Lives    


NPR Weekend Edition, Lulu Garcia-Navarro   March for Our Lives                            

Groups           (The people’s response)

Black Lives Matter               2013 Acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer.

Movement for Black Lives   2016 post-Ferguson Black liberation movement

March for Our Lives            2018  High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Friday’s For Future             2018  Greta Thunberg, Swedish high schooler strike for climate



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