Friday, September 5, 2008

On an organizer for our American community:

The other night, instead of telling us what their candidate plans to do in office, Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin chose to mock the significant life experience of Barack Obama.

They seem to have contempt for community organizing. What is it they find so contemptible? The people of our national community? The fact that, with the skilled guidance of organizers, those people are more powerful than any politician or any one party will ever be?

I spend my days (and sometimes my nights) working to raise funds and friends for an amazing group of skilled professional organizers and about 75 teenage organizers who work for the Hyde Square Task Force in the Roxbury and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods of Boston. I work so hard to support them because the work they do is unique and essential in our community. Last fall, our youth used sophisticated organizing tactics like identifying targets, power analysis, utilizing the media and negotiation to persuade the mayor and school superintendent of Boston that they should add a dynamic civics class to the city’s high schools. This summer, the youth labored with 2 curriculum writers and the head of history and wrought the curriculum they believe will make all students of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) as thoughtful and active as they are.

As a former BPS teacher myself, I can tell you that these “kids” have accomplished more meaningful reform in one year than BPS, and indeed, the federal government has in more than ten.

As someone who has seen first hand the results of community organizing on an inner city neighborhood, I can say that organizing is, in fact, the perfect preparation to be president at a time when reform is so sorely needed. Unlike lifetime bureaucrats, who tend to become part of the problem, community organizers come from the outside, analyze the problems, determine what the community needs—what the people need—and then set about strategic action and negotiation to help the people get those demands met. Good organizers are able to get people fired up; a leader who makes moving speeches about hope and the need for change is exactly what helps mobilize the power of the people to make that change.

No, organizers don’t have responsibilities-- to lobbyists or special interests or even to themselves. In fact, their greatest responsibility is to the people with whom they work. It’s not the positions they’ve held that prove their worth—it’s the skills. They understand how to navigate complicated political terrain—how to bring opposing parties to the table. I believe these are exactly the qualities we need in a leader today.

Yes, the Republicans show a great deal of contempt for great Americans like Barack Obama who do tough, selfless, essential work for little compensation, but I’m not sure that’s what they really feel. It's possible that contempt masks a fear that a President Obama might help bring about changes to a status quo that’s pretty good for the fat cats who run the Grande Olde Party.

How happy are you with how things are today? With the help of a few good organizers, some good people, and a great president we might just be able to change them.

1 comment:

Lydia said...

Hear, hear! I saw red when I heard all those digs at community organizing. Can these people even hear themselves? You'd think people that try to win elections by being folksy and faux-populist would at least pretend not to be totally disparaging of grassroots reform. I was so angry I actually gave Barack 20 bucks which is a small fortune for me. :-P I only hope his campaign responds to all these ridiculous attacks.

For some levity, I don't know if you're a Daily Show watcher, but Jon Stewart's commentary on the RNC, including the community organizer jabs (towards the end of the clip) was absolutely priceless.