Hint: no.

In the beginning…

Back in 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson helped push forward the Economic Opportunity Act which authorized the formation of local community action agencies as part of the War on Poverty.

Sound familiar? Are you using history to introduce today’s imperative?

After much research, we’ve found that the community action phrase (as it relates to poverty) has lost luster, relevance, and awareness. Generations have passed, federal funding has shifted, and new players have emerged on the scene with innovative solutions that champion self-sufficiency.

Let’s unpack.

Proper nouns convey strength, uniqueness, ownership, and recognition. As we understand it, 1000+ organizations carry the community action agency designation, yet only a fraction carry the phrase “community action” agency in their name. Why the departure from a national unit?

We have a few ideas:

1. Organic origins
Due to the inherent nature of the legislation, the cause was chartered to gain an intimate understanding of the people and forces at play on the local level. Through “maximum feasible participation,” citizens were meant to democratize the brand by customizing to effectively reduce poverty and champion independence in their community. This was not designed to be a cookie-cutter approach, but rather a movement shaped by the geopolitical and demographic factors of a community.

2. The “government directed” to “mission driven” pivot
When the Office of Equal Opportunity was disbanded and replaced by the CSBG, most community action agencies shifted from government directed to mission driven as they organized themselves into 501(c)(3) nonprofit entities. This move further diluted the 1964 legislation namesake to a mere government designation through which organization became eligible to receive CSBG funds.

3. Community action abounds
Since its introduction, the general notion of community action as a grassroots movement has spread across sectors and issues, rendering the phrase a common noun. With a trademark attorney hat on, this would fall under generic trademarks: “A generic term is not capable of serving the essential trademark function of distinguishing the products or services of a business from the products or services of other businesses, and therefore cannot be afforded any legal protection.”

Our passion for the cause and our view of the potential impact on human dignity and self-sufficiency is driving us to take the conversation nationwide to all community action agency designees.

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