In Defense Of Community Organizers

IN DEFENSE OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS.... There was plenty to be offended by at last night's Republican convention, but the snide, condescending shots directed at community organizers, most notably from Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin, seemed unusually cheap, even by GOP standards.

I noticed this afternoon that McCain had scheduled a photo-op with Habitat for Humanity (it was later cancelled), and quickly realized that all of those folks who help build homes for families in need are, in fact, community organizers. I wondered how many of them took comfort in the derision they received by leading Republicans last night, as if their work somehow lacked value.

David Plouffe emailed supporters Obama campaign supporters this morning to explain, "Community organizing is how ordinary people respond to out-of-touch politicians and their failed policies.... Community organizing is the foundation of the civil rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, labor rights, and the 40-hour workweek. And it's happening today in church basements and community centers and living rooms across America."

Working with communities in a bottom-up model may seem worthless to the modern Republican Party, but community organizers deserve more a lot respect, especially from the GOP. Martin Luther King was a community organizer. Susan B. Anthony was a community organizer. Cesar Chavez was a community organizer. If Giuliani and Palin want to casually disregard the work that they and others like them have done, let them make their case, but the truth is, the more Republicans are in positions of power, the more Americans need community organizers to help families deal with the consequences of Republicans' bankrupt governing philosophy.

The Nation's Chris Hayes had a gem on the subject:

[T]his kind of hits me where I live, since my dad is a community organizer, so lemme spell this out: the difference between a community organizer and a politician is that a community organizer can't tell anyone what to do. They have to listen. So they can't order books banned from a library to indulge their own religious sensibilities. They can't fire someone because they didn't follow orders to fire an estranged family member. They can't ram through a $15 million dollar sports complex that leaves their local town groaning underneath the debt. Unlike politicians, they don't have any power other than the power of people who want to see something changed. Decades ago, before the ADA and a raft of other legislation, schools had essentially no requirements to provide decent education for special needs children. Then a movement of parents, engaging in -- gasp -- community organizing changed that. And they continue to fight day in and day out for educational equity for children like Sarah Palin's.

Too bad Sarah Palin just spit in their faces.


Video blogger Jay Smooth was also spot-on: "This recurring theme of turning the phrase 'community organizer' into some sort of epithet like 'communist' or 'homo' or something, that's really despicable. The difference between a community organizer and a politician is that community organizers are the ones who take the responsibility upon themselves to help their fellow citizens without the benefit of a government budget behind them. And go out there every day doing the hard thankless work to make this country livable which is what allows you politicians to be able to go on TV and brag about how this is the greatest country in the world. And for you to go on that TV show and spit in those people's faces for the sake of a rhetorical flourish is disgusting."

For more on this, check out Adam Serwer, A.L., Christy Hardin Smith, and from last night's coverage, CNN's Roland Martin.

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