UPDATE: Kevin @ Slant Truth has links galore.
I have never been an organizer, but in my field of community development, I’ve worked for years with them, and my research now focuses on organizing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Being an organizer – like social work – is a job I am not cut out for but one for which I have tremendous respect and some feelings of envy/inadequacy. It’s one of those jobs I wish I wanted, because it’s powerful and intense and transformative at a microscale and often at mezo- and macro-levels.
Community organizing can not only elevate issues into public debate and force decisions by elected officials and others who should be held accountable to communities (e.g., developers) – decisions both good and bad, remember, as the threat/impact/force of an organized community can win victories for neighborhoods as much as devastate them in the powers-that-be’s efforts to silence and defuse them.
Community organizing also offers an individual and collective benefit of empowering people to realize their own potential, their own power, and to instill a sense of purpose in people and groups. I think I appreciate this in particular because I was raised by a Capricorn nurse turned mental health administrator, who believed in the essential power of activity and work to raise people’s spirits and direct their energies. I’ve witnessed her talk people out of frustrated anger and direct their efforts towards productive endeavors, whether it be protest activities, writing, organizing others around them experiencing the same problem, or volunteer efforts meant to fill gaps in the mental health system. Etc. Not always a likable trait when you’re a kid wishing you could watch tv inside all day, but tremendously inspiring when you’re facing down seemingly insurmountable obstacles like a devastating hurricane and flood and the potential permanent displacement of 100,000 low-income New Orleanians.
It was instructive to me to see the GOP shame and mock Obama’s organizing roots. I personally never invested much stock in them as others in my line of work given his long career in politics (incl. law school, teaching, etc.), if only because it seemed to me he was trying organizing on during those soul searching years many college graduates with choices have. To me, Obama obviously experienced the perils and promises of organizing first hand, but he never made a career out of it, it was merely an experience he’d be able to draw on in the future. (Me, I worked in pharmaceutical advertising for two years out of college, which gave me useful experience in – in no particular order – meeting planning, new product launches, public-private partnerships, working with “opinion leaders” and sales people, dealing with big egos, corporate accounts and lifestyles, and questionable business practices, whistleblowing and corporate warfare. If I’m ever on a public stage, I’d be shocked if I was overly classified as a former Big Pharma lackey, but it certainly influenced my future professional endeavors, including getting into community economic development out of graduate school.)
The insult for me came at the expense of the entire profession of organizing, which is one of the lesser understood and more opaque careers out there. As others around the blogosphere have pointed out, many citizens, residents and individuals organize their communities – geographic or otherwise – in unacknowledged ways all the time. What the hell is the lefy political blogosphere, if not a media-based attempt at agitation and organizing of voice, power and influence?
Watching Palin and Guiliani sneer about “community organizing” was pretty disgusting, from the man who more or less barricaded himself in City Hall and from a woman who is turning out to be one of those all-too-familiar-and-worrisome leaders who’s hands off and intolerant of dissent. Wow, that’s a shocker that they disdain community organizing, never mind the racial and class connotations involved.
Just don’t be surprised if they suddenly decide not to take your calls, once you realize that their development plans which were so great for the area overall suddenly threaten your private right-of-way; or their promises to protect children from murky, undefined harm muck up your kids’ college prep reading lists; or their actions to defend our borders from terrorists lead to multiple deployments of your children and a depletion of local reserves such that fires, floods and other local disasters aren’t abated in time; or their steady, unequal tax cuts lead to shuttering of local firehouses, libraries, and crumbling roads and infrastructure. An organized community voice to hold politicians accountable? Who needs that???