Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Short History of Community Organizing

David has very kindly alerted us to an excellent article in The Nation about community organizing, and its vital role in producing a free, populistic democracy:

Palin, Giuliani and Pataki denigrated not only the tens of thousands of community organizers who help everyday citizens to participate in shaping their society and the millions of Americans who volunteer as community activists but also a long American tradition of collective self-help that goes back to the Boston Tea Party.

Visiting the United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his Democracy in America, how impressed he was by the outpouring of local voluntary organizations that brought Americans together to solve problems, provide a sense of community and public purpose and tame the hyper-individualism that Tocqueville considered a threat to democracy. In the same speech in which Palin ridiculed Obama's organizing work, she touted her own experiences as a PTA volunteer and "hockey mom"--the very kinds of activities that Tocqueville praised and that community organizers support.

The Republicans' nasty attacks on grassroots organizing reflect another longstanding tradition in American politics--the conservative elite's fear of "the people." Some of the founding fathers worried that ordinary people--people without property, indentured servants, slaves, women and others--might challenge the economic and political status quo. In The Federalist Papers and other documents, they debated how to restrain the masses from gaining too much influence. To maintain their privilege, the elite denied them the vote, limited their ability to protest, censored their publications, threw them in jail and ridiculed their ideas to expand democracy.

But grassroots activists wouldn't give up. Every fight for social reform since colonial times--including battles to abolish slavery, promote workers' rights, fix up slum housing, strengthen civil rights, clean up the environment, expand women's rights and protect consumers--has reflected elements of that self-help tradition.

Pretty Lady thinks that it is little short of bizarre that a political party would, in one breath, espouse a populist, can-do rhetoric, while simultaneously denigrating the actual people who are doing something. Even stranger is their decrying of these people as 'the elite.' 'The elite,' as far as Pretty Lady understands their use of the term, ought to be the people who casually deride the poor, the struggling, the undereducated and underprivileged--the people who do not do any actual work, but march into their gubernatorial offices and summarily fire those whom 'they sort of feel don't support them.'

Pretty Lady can attest, from personal experience, that community organizing is one of the most difficult, thankless, exhausting tasks a person can undertake. She herself is utterly incapable of it. It involves learning how to communicate with people from vastly different backgrounds, engage their attention and support, motivate them to take on unpaid labor when they are already overworked, and convince them that these efforts will not be in vain, when all evidence points to the contrary. Salaries for community organizers range from a pittance to nothing at all.

As one Christian lady recently pointed out, "Jesus was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor."

Pretty Lady privately suspects that the root of this failure of reasoning on the part of the conservative elite is their unquestioning espousal of the myth of independence. They honestly believe that they obtained their own considerable privileges on their individual efforts alone, without assistance from forbears, friends, relatives, employers, churches, schools, investment banks, civil rights, rule of law, infrastructure, or technology--no, they just woke up in a cave one day, by themselves, invented the position of governor, and assumed it.


Anonymous said...

The country is broke. The Treasury is empty. The party is past over. It will make no difference which party goes into the White House. It is too late to yell, "wake up" America. The fire has consumed the first 5 floors in a 6 floor building. We are on the sixth floor. The looters struck. They are gone. The right wingers can cling to their guns and religion and the leftist can cling to their genitalia and slogans. It makes no difference. Kaboom!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm right. You are wrong!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I'm going to regret bringing up a subject (religion in general and Jesus in particular) of which I know nothing (I'm in no position to debate this stuff, so don't even bother challenging me), but I just read this somewhere and thought it was apropos:

Jesus was a community organizer.

Reminds me of a sign at the early anti-war demonstrations before the US invaded Afghanistan:

(Who Would Jesus Bomb?)


Pretty Lady said...

Maybe you read it in my post above, O. That part where I wrote, "Jesus was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor."

(Pontius Pilate was the governor who gave the order for Jesus to be crucified. In case your Biblical history is rusty.)

Anonymous said...

[Oops. I must confess I didn't read the whole post.] And my biblical history is not so much rusty as nonexistent.

Anonymous said...

Actually, anon is correct. We are beyond broke. the economy will eventually become sounda again, but not for several years. Raising taxes wil be necessary, a cross the board, a with no new spending. And the future is far less stable tahn the past.

And England did not beat the Nazis, Russia actually did far more of the fighting, and we both bankrolled and supplied them before we became involved, focused more on the Asia campaging building the fleets as well gradually built up in Europe.

Read history darlin.

Art collegia delenda est