Community Organizers Fight Back
Well, I'm a little late to it, but it doesn't mean I don't feel the community organizer rage that has been rippling across the country since last week's comments from Giuliani, Pataki, and Palin on community organizing. Their comments, if you haven't heard them, were fairly ignorant, and I mean that in the best possible way: particularly in Giuliani's case, they do not seem to actually know what a community organizer is. Giuliani says "What?!" and the crowd goes wild. I can't imagine I was the only one who felt a shiver as I watched that sea of white people on the RNC floor, cheering at Obama's expense as much as at the expense of organizers and marginalized people failed by the government across the U.S., a few of them waving their ten-gallon cowboy hats in the air as their jaws flew open in laughter.
It was a strange choice for George, Sarah and Rudy to make such cutting remarks. In the cities I come from, the political minorities and the marginalized citizens are in the majority. I come from Philadelphia, where there is not a lot of money to go around, especially if politicians want to invest it unwisely in community-debilitating schemes like casinos. And I come from Washington, DC, a state built off of the descendants of slaves, where endless bureaucracy and lack of statehood create a glass ceiling ridiculously low to the ground. In the places I come from, community organizers make the city run, whether they work on a large scale holding press conferences and meetings with the mayor, or if they work in a smaller neighborhood setting. To charge that organizers do not have responsibilities, or to laugh and say "organizing" makes a resume look bad, or to throw up ones hands and ask, "What in God's name is a community organizer? I don't even know if that's a job" tells all of the hundreds of thousands of citizens affected by organizers that you are ignorant.
Democracy Now! had a good interview a few days ago with John Raskin from Community Organizers of America, in which Amy Goodman brings up a quote from New York Governor David Paterson (don't deny this man is the bomb. I'm looking forward to the day he runs for President).
David Paterson ...said there are racial overtones in the Republican presidential ticket's criticism of Obama's work as a community organizer. Paterson said at an event here in New York City, "There are overtones of potential racial coding in the campaign ... The Republican party is too smart to call Barack Obama 'black' in a sense that it would be a negative. But you can take something about his life, which I noticed they did at the Republican convention."
Fair enough that all these politicians have bad feelings about organizers. Particularly in Palin's case, it organizers that have kept the politicos in line, that have often organized against them. The interesting point that Raskin raises is that earlier in the GOP campaign, they were using the term "street organizer," but eventually decided that was too overtly racially charged. Yet again, the GOP lets loose their thinly veiled racism...
The most I can say for the whole situation is that it has done a good job of rallying community organizers. And, as someone who worked for the past few years as an organizer in the form of an arts educator, I can say that we need more rallying. Or rather, ironically, more organizing. Organizers are overworked, and the majority are underpaid. Often they are working in the deep muck that makes it difficult to see out, to be hopeful, to make connections and build coalitions. It is exciting to see how these idiotic comments by a bunch of doofuses have clearly illustrated the marginalization of organizers themselves, and brought them closer to each other to fight for legitimate representation. Maybe this is the start of something beautiful.