Formed in 1996, The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) is a broad-based organization of 38 Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith institutions, public and private schools, and other institutions in Southwest Chicago. SWOP is known for its efforts to end predatory lending and foreclosures, reduce violence, win rights and protect the civil liberties of immigrants, and improve achievement in public schools through parent, student and school staff engagement.
Once known for the race riots that erupted when Martin Luther King, Jr. marched here in 1966 for open housing, Chicago’s Southwest Side neighborhoods are now very diverse. No longer white-ethnic and predominantly Catholic, there has been a dramatic increase in the Latino and African American populations in these neighborhoods since the 1990’s. These large and rapid demographic shifts resulted in the breakdown of institutional and neighborhood cohesion, as long-term residents moved out and new residents moved in. Families no longer knew one another – the old networks were gone and new ones needed to be created.
SWOP was formed to address this change and ensure old and new residents had a voice in decisions that impacted their neighborhoods. Originally, a group of local Catholic parishes formed an organization, the Southwest Catholic Cluster Project, which was designed to encourage a multi-racial and multi-cultural response to the increasing racial, cultural, and economic diversity on Chicago’s southwest side. As these leaders engaged in their work, they increasingly saw need to create a broad based, multi-faith, community organization that could genuinely represent the diversity of interests and common ground among southwest side families. They became the organizing committee that led to the formation of SWOP.
In time, other faith institutions, local schools and other non-profits joined SWOP to make it the organization it is today. SWOP’s member institutions are located in the Chicago community areas of Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, West Lawn, West Elsdon and Ashburn and represent more than 35,000 residents.
SWOP is the Chicago Lawn lead agency for the Chicago Local Initiative Support Corporation’s (LISC) New Communities Program. The organization is leading the second Quality-of-Life planning process for Southwest Chicago. You can find the first plan here.
SWOP was the 2013 winner of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. This is the non-profit equivalent to the MacArthur Foundations’ Genius Award for individuals. SWOP won the Creative and Effective Institutions award for its anti-foreclosure work and for the quality of the community organizing carried about by the organization.