S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Defending Community Organizing

Hearing the Republicans' sneer at the noble cause of community organizing during the recent campaign has been personally hurtful to me as a retired social worker. I have done my share of anti poverty work in my time, and there is no area of activism that is more personally satisfying. My current activist writing focus is on the preservation of civil liberties. One of the references to whom I often turn is Tom Head who writes Civil Liberties at I quote from his recent post which makes my point, "Political Nililism:"

For activists, 2008 has been the Year of Shut Up. Numerous Republican talking heads--at the convention, on television, and on the blogosphere--dedicated considerable energy to mocking the Roman Catholic poverty relief coalition to which Obama dedicated three years of his life after law school. Hillary Clinton, during the Democratic primaries, argued that Lyndon B. Johnson be seen as the primary hero of the civil rights movement, not the community organizers who risked and in some cases gave their lives to make his reforms inevitable. Even Obama himself, by far the most activism-friendly of the major-party candidates, has boasted of "taking on the special interests" (a category that includes activist groups) and refusing to accept PAC money (which comes from activist groups)--but to his credit, that's about as far as he's taken it.

If we don't bother with community organizing, then we leave the issues important to us to the politicians--politicians who, if they ignore community organizers, can't possibly have our best interests at heart because they have no way of knowing what our best interests are.

Activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Al Gore has organized almost the entire world community. Peaceful people around the globe are working together to making a difference with climate change. Using both science and psychology, Gore is among the best. I am on his We Have a Choice (9/9/08) mailing list, which urges citizen involvement with Congress to do something on energy. To quote his call to action,

We face a stark choice: subsidize old, dirty energy or invest in new, clean energy. This should be easy, but the influence of the oil lobby is deep -- they've already spent more than $100 million in lobbying and advertising this year. Please call your members of Congress now and tell them to pass legislation that will Repower America. Click here to find out how to call.

Strong words and deeds are the stuff of community organizing. Those who do it well inspire in spiritual ways, or with passion. Their listeners and readers become galvanized to work towards change. I recommend this wordsmith's high quality piece of writing via Memeorandum in The New York Times, September 9, 2008: "The Rantings of a P.T.A. Mom," by Sandra Tsing Loh. I do not necessarily agree with her criticism, because I think it is over-simplified, however. But I loved her last paragraph about being an activist. Bio material first: "Sandra Tsing Loh, a writer and a performer, is the author most recently of “Mother on Fire,” a comic memoir of her struggle to find a school in Los Angeles for her child to attend." To quote from the author's piece:

As usual, Bruce Fuller and Lance Izumi , my fellow Education Watch contributors, make some fascinating points, none more startling to me than Lance’s casual throw-away that Barack Obama sends his children to private school. As a rabid public school Democrat, I crumpled in despair at the news.

Look, I am not in politics, I get no money from foundations, I do not get invited to lecture on third world eco-sustainability on luxury cruises. I have no highly placed blue-state friends and I will soon be a divorced woman because my die-hard Democratic husband will not brook any dissent, public or private, about our party.

Another mother spoke out so powerfully that her essays morphed into an opera. Fine art is often the stuff of activists. It inspires using the mind-spirit-body connection. This little blurb is from CQ Behind the Linesfrom which I quote (author's links):

Her experience as a mother living near Ground Zero became the guiding theme of Wickham Boyle’s late-2001 collection of essays, which she has turned into an opera opening next week, The New York Times’ Susan Dominus profiles.

And last, you can be sure that activists first had this idea. And they no doubt organized their community to make it happen. I am not sure what to make of it at all, because I do not know whether it is effective. It is a very big cause to take on. To succeed as civil liberties cause, it would need to highlight the need for preserving civil liberties while also fighting terrorists. This too is from my recent CQ Behind the Lines newsletter (author's links):

Debuting during the Democratic Convention, Denver’s Center for Empowered Living and Learning “is a high-tech, multimedia, Technicolor exhibit devoted to educating the American public about the realities —and root causes — of terrorism,” Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball spotlight.

Democrats need to fight back with a spirited defense of community organizing. One of the most important people to the field was Saul D. Alinsky, who got his start in Chicago and inspired both Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton. The Alinsky model eventually found its way to San Antonio. During my early years in community work that model guided me and some of my fellow activists here in North Texas. It is sort of a small world thing, I guess. But making the connection makes me remember once again that ours is a village.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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buckarooskidoo said...

Carol, I was appalled at the community organizer put-downs as well. I can only conclude that none of those delegates or speakers bothered to read Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father. He's very clear there on what a community organizer does, which is just as you outline in the post: he/she helps people in trouble find solutions to their problems, whether that be more school funding, job training, getting kids off the street, getting the attention of city/local government. i guess it goes back to the nature of this party, as showcased at this convention: white, privileged, oblivious/actively hostile to non-WASPs. They don't need any help and have only contempt for those who do.

Is there any doubt that the meanest, most selfish people in America belong to party?

Carol Gee said...

Hey Buckaroo -- Thanks for your comment. And I appreicate the passion, because that is what it will take to defeat these "white, privileged, oblivious/actively hostile" people.
Not all Republicans are like that, but the convention was an unfortunate showcase for some of the worst of them.
I have to be very careful that I don't become infected with their anger. So,I'll say Cheers,and Peace to you.