CBSN

Column: Community Organizers' Actions Worth More Than GOP Slander

This story was written by Wendy Carrillo, Daily Trojan

On the eve that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was supposed to make an historic speech by accepting the vice presidential nomination for the Republican ticket, she chose to take a route that ridiculed some of the hardest working people in our nation: community organizers.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki said at the Republican National Convention, "[Barack Obama] was a community organizer. What in God's name is a community organizer? I don't even know if that's a job."

Palin reiterated the message: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."

I was left dumbfounded. Actual responsibilities? You don't even know if it's an actual job? How could these supposed leaders of our nation (partisan ideals aside) laugh in the face of the people who work for the lowest wages to empower people to take ownership of their communities?

Community organizers educate people of their rights; help create bridges between communities in strife; stimulate discourse between residents, stake holders, business owners, local elected officials and those in power; and most importantly, they lead voter registration drives and encourage residents to reclaim their political power through voting.

The overly sarcastic, demeaning and elitist comments made by Republicans in an attempt to mock Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama's (Ill.) first job as a community organizer are foolish and insulting.

When Palin shamelessly compared herself to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), she forgot a key fact. Clinton spoke on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, which was also the 88th anniversary of women's suffrage. Gaining the right for women to vote was accomplished by a group of women - women who organized their communities, rallied, fought and were even ostracized for trying to obtain the right to vote.

Obama accepted the Democratic nomination to be president of the United States on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech. King embodied the reality that we are, in fact, judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. The reverend was assassinated for organizing and empowering communities throughout our nation to stand up against social and civic injustices.

Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. As a proud American with Latino heritage, I celebrate the life and accomplishments of Cesar Chavez, a community organizer who organized farm workers in an unprecedented national effort and gained the support of Robert Kennedy to hold farm owners accountable for violating basic labor laws.

Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Paine and Jesus are names of other pretty well-known community organizers.

Here in Los Angeles some years ago, a woman formed a little organization in South Los Angeles to combat the crack epidemic in her community. This organization is now known as the Community Coalition, and you can call the community organizer who started it all by her new title, California Assembly Speaker, Karen Bass.

Comparing Palin to Obama, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani said, much to the Republican National Convention attendees' delight, "You have a resum from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer. What?" The remark provoked laughter.

"I said, OK, OK, maybe this is the first problem on the resum," Guiliani continued.

I find these incendiary comments hugely offensive. In a time when Americans are losing their homes and jobs, and they can barely feed their families or put gasoline in their cars, the only people helpig these folks are community organizers. How dare Sarah Palin and her holier-than-thou Republicans mock the very people who are trying to help the individuals that the Republicans only pretend to serve.

As a woman, as an American and as a voter, I am ashamed that regardless of our political differences, Republicans will stoop to a level so low as to insult the good work of so many people. Shame on them.

Wendy Carrillo is a graduate student studying specialized journalism. She has worked as a community organizer for the Democratic Party in Los Angeles.