Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Organizers Strike Back

Note: thanks to Jaime Mulligan, whom I have never met, for the awesome picture.

"And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities." - Sarah Palin

Yeah, I'm still stuck on that one line. Because it pissed me off, friends and neighbors. Because it was a cheap shot at every organizer in the country. Everyone who's ever held a clipboard on a street corner, everyone who's ever knocked on the door of a stranger, everyone who's ever invited someone to a rally or a community event. Sarah Palin just spat in the faces of every single one of those people.

She attacked us.

And it wasn't just Palin who attacked us. Rudy Giuliani took a swing at community organizers. So did George Pataki.

Here's the truth, folks. Cesar Chavez was a community organizer. Ralph Nader was a community organizer. Martin Luther King Jr. was a community organizer. Mahatma Gandhi was a community organizer. Susan B. Anthony. Lech Walesa. Vaclav Havel. Aung San Suu Kyi.

But what about the other side? Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson were community organizers when they created the Christian Coalition. Focus on the Family's James Dobson, whether you like him or not, is doing community organizing. Hell, even Rush Limbaugh has a bit of community organizing to him. Change happens in this country and in this world because community organizers - on the left and on the right - are doing the hard, frustrating, thankless work they do. And Sarah Palin and her Republican buddies think we're all worthless.

Now, I could go on and on, but I'm not the only one who's offended by this. Some big names have joined the chorus of outrage against this cheap shot.

When Sarah Palin demeaned community organizing, she didn't attack another candidate. She attacked an American tradition --- one that has helped everyday Americans engage with the political process and make a difference in their lives and the lives of their neighbors.

All across the country, in every state and every community, there are community organizers helping people find shared solutions to the shared problems they face. The candidates for President and Vice President should be working to solve our shared problems, too, rather than attack others who are trying to do the same. - Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Center for Community Change

Contrary to Palin’s disparaging remarks, organizers have major responsibilities for creating policy changes. Feeding the hungry and housing the homeless are clearly responsibilities of people of faith. We do that by providing food and shelter and more importantly, by organizing to address the causes of injustice and inequity which lead to hunger and homelessness. - Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice and the co-author of “Organizing for Social Change"

Politicians should thank community organizers, not insult them. As a longtime organizer, I’ve seen time and time again the we are the ones who make government work for the poor, the powerless and the marginalized. Politicians’ policies and promises would amount to nothing without grassroots activists to hold them accountable. We are leaders of faith and stewards of democracy. In a time when the face of faith in politics is often ugly, community organizing is a valuable example faith’s positive role in public life.- Pastor Mark Diemer, senior pastor of Grace of God Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio and a DART community organizer.

These groups, and the millions of individuals they represent, are dismayed by the recent dismissal of their efforts in the form of political attacks. Community organizations have been at the heart of every major reform in modern history – from the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights movement for example, the quest for civil rights began when community organizers mobilized the disenfranchised. - USAction

ACORN members, leaders and staff are extremely disappointed that Republican leaders would make such condescending attacks on the great work community organizers accomplish in cities throughout this country. The fact that they marginalize our success in empowering low- and moderate-income people to improve their communities further illustrates their lack of touch with ordinary people. Every great movement in the history of the world has community organizing. - Maude Hurd, President, ACORN

(Note: I know I talk a lot of smack about ACORN, but they're doing good work and I've said that over and over again. And the fact that they underpay their community organizers doesn't change the fact that they're doing righteous work.)

This is just a sampling. More responses can be found here and here. And also, you must read this Kos diary.

Don't piss off community organizers. There are a hell of a lot of us, and we're proud. We work damn hard to make the change that happens in this world, and none of us are going to stand still while someone uses for a political punching bag.

Oh, and also this: community organizers don't just know how to use a rapid response network. We run the rapid response networks. We run the phone trees. We're activists. We're hellraisers. Don't pick a fight with people who fight for a living.


Beth said...

Great post. Thanks! I linked to it in my own blog, hope you don't mind. (

Sky Bluesky said...

Of course I don't mind! Thanks for sharing the love.

Anonymous said...

Great post!