Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Community Organizers

I sat in amazement, watching Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin poke fun at community organizers at the Republican National Convention last September. It was bizarre, watching them belittle the people who labor voluntarily to do work that few want to do because it is so challenging without much (or any) financial compensation. As it turned out, their ridiculing efforts backfired. I remember reading an article which I can't find now, about a woman from southern, rural Ohio (a swing state), herself a community organizer at her church, who listened to the derision by Giuliani and Palin and decided that that was it - she wasn't sitting on the sidelines anymore. The next day, she got up and went to work for the Obama campaign. That story is just a snapshot of what happened all around the country after the RNC chose to be so condescending of community organization. In fact, here's a link to an article that outlines the details of the firestorm that the comments set off. Why would Republicans choose to mock community organizers like that? Really, really bad idea.

At the time, I wrote this op-ed piece (never published), specifically about the comments at the RNC. Here's the last part of it:

When the Republicans mock Barack Obama’s roots as a community organizer, they mock his origins, hard work, and ability to transform people’s energy and enthusiasm into action. They mock his staff that works around the clock. They mock me – and thousands like me – who are out pounding the pavement of the sidewalks of this country, reaching out to fellow Americans.

They mock the people who are putting an Obama sign in their yard as a way to start a dialogue with their Republican neighbors, even though it is a bolder step for them to take than they ever have taken before. They mock the woman who stood in her doorway listening to how I could return with policy papers if she needed them, who finally said, with awe in her voice, “I have never had anyone come to my door and offer such things,” and who then started to imagine what information I could bring her.


And they mock the many McCain supporters who waved me off when I told them who I was campaigning for, but then – as I smiled and turned to go knock on the next door – stopped me and thanked me for what I was doing. “You are the democratic process at work,” they said.


That is who John McCain allows to be mocked when he lets his supporters mock Obama’s work as community organizer. Why would they go out of their way to deride the very nature of the democratic process?

About a week after the RNC, McCain spoke highly of community organizers - and of Obama's own work - at a 9/11 symposium. Good for him. I knew he knew their value.

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