Thursday, September 04, 2008

Denigrating Community Organizing

One of the most bizarre (and actually most disgusting) themes from the Republican Convention last night was the Party’s palpable pity and disdain for the soulless men and women involved in community organizing. Apparently, at some point, becoming involved in your community and helping less-fortunate citizens find jobs and health care became ridiculous and pathetic – just a hilarious punch-line in polarizing speech after polarizing speech. So instead of legitimately questioning Barack Obama’s experience, they mocked him. It was juvenile and yes, it was disgusting. It was nothing but fodder for the Republican base and America deserves better.

Obama offered his response this afternoon:

"They haven't talked about the fact that I was a civil rights lawyer; they haven't talked about the fact that I taught constitutional law; they haven't talked about my work in the state legislature, in the United States Senate. They're talking about the three years of work that I did right out of college as if... I'm making the leap from two or three years out of college into the presidency."

Obama acknowledged that his campaign had focused attention on his experience as a community organizer. But he said, "I would argue that doing work in the communithy to try and create jobs, to bring people together, to rejuvenate communities that have fallen on hard times, to set up job-training programs in areas that have been hard hit when the steel plants closed, that that's relevant only in understanding where I'm coming from, who I believe in, who I'm fighting for and why I'm in this race.

"And the question I have for them is? Why would that kind of work be ridiculous? Who are they fighting for? Who are they advocating for?

"Maybe that's the problem. Maybe that's part of why they are out of touch and don't get it because they haven't spent much time working for those kind of folks."
Jim Moss, a Presbyterian minister from South Carolina, offers his thoughts:

My jaw nearly hit the floor. I was watching Rudy Giuliani speak Wednesday night at the RNC, and he was laying it on Obama thick and heavy, as would be expected. But he ruthlessly attacked Obama’s record in a way that I never anticipated. He ridiculed the field of community organizing.

It was a bizarre moment. He was talking about McCain’s POW experience, and then he compared it to the time Obama spent working as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago. When the words “community organizer” left Giuliani’s lips, he laughed awkwardly. Then, he paused for a few seconds to allow the audience to laugh. He then repeated the words “community organizer” and laughed again, as if it were the most ridiculous and most unpatriotic thing a young man could choose to do with his life. Giuliani even insinuated that the experience helped Obama make ties with organized crime.

I was floored again during Sarah Palin’s speech as she repeated the slam on the field of community organizing. I wonder if the Republicans even know what community organizing is. Here’s a good definition:

-- Community organizing is a long-term approach where the people affected by an issue are supported in identifying problems and taking action to achieve solutions. The organizer challenges those he or she works with to change the way things are—it is a means of achieving social change through collective action by changing the balance of power. The tactics and strategies employed by the organizer are similar to the processes of leadership including timing the issue, deliberate planning, getting the attention of the populace, framing the issue in terms of the desired solution, and shaping the terms of the decision-making process. --

Hmmm … Community organizing seems to be a process through which people are empowered to take action to solve their own problems. It’s about developing leadership, planning, and making decisions. The Republicans have tried to frame Obama as a “tax-and-spend” liberal who wants to run around giving government handouts to people. But it looks as if community organizing is about giving people a hand-up, not a hand-out. It’s about giving people the opportunities to make their own success.

It sounds quite Republican, doesn’t it? In fact, the central narrative of change that the Republicans have been trying to project at their convention is basically community organizing done on a national scale. Perhaps the GOP should do its homework before it attacks an entire field of people who are dedicating their lives to doing the kind of work that the Republicans claim that they are for. What a bunch of hypocrites!

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