Benny's World

Sunday, September 07, 2008

GOP Attacks the Thousand Points of Light: Community Organizations

On Wednesday night, George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin claimed they didn't understand community organizers. All they communicated was that community organizers weren't authoritarian the signers of state and municipal budgets.

Peter Dreier & John Atlas
penned a cogent piece at Common Dreams yesterday about how the GOP Convention speakers spent a great deal of time attacking community organizers--the same ones who often lead movements for economic and social justice. A good point by the authors:

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.
Giuliani must have had amnesia on Wednesday night when he mocked Barack Obama about his first job out of college as a community organizer. During his term as major, Giuliani was confronted by the East Brooklyn Congregation (EBC) to provide more city owned land so that its non-profit Nehermiah could provide an expansion of affordable public housing--more effectively than the city could develop and run such an enterprise. Guiliani agreed after much pressure, and at the groundbreaking ceremony, Drier and Atlas noted that he praised the EBC as "they do not pay homage to political figures.... They require you to answer their questions. They remind you that you are a public servant."

Here are some famous civil servants and community organizers during their times (courtesy of Paul Rosenberg, Open Left):

Pontius Pilate

Community Organizer:
Jesus Christ

George Wallace

Community Organizer:
Martin Luther King

Sarah Palin

Community Organizer:
Barack Obama

Now, the idea is not to buy into the GOP meme that the Democrats are running Obama vs Palin since Obama is running against McCain. But my point, along with Drier, Atlas, Rosenberg, and even Jim Wallis, who has demanded that Palin issue an apology, is about the importance of community organizers for all kinds of civic engagement. Why? Because many of these organizers are also part of faith based organizations--part of the "Thousand Points of Light" that President HW Bush spoke of in 1989 in his inaugural address. President HW Bush wouldn't likely put down Barack Obama for working for the Developing Communities Project, "a coalition of churches on the city's South Side. His job was to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing, and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to improve their communities." (Drier & Atlas)

The National Organizers Alliance says there are 20,000 paid organizers. Their jobs are to work with all kinds of community groups, and to identify people with leadership potential, recruit and train them and help them build grassroots organizations that can win victories that improve their communities and workplaces. It's no wonder NOA is also appalled at the GOP's attack on community organizers.

There is one other activist that was (in Bill Maher's words) airbrushed from the Dem Convention whose work is being attacked too: John Edwards. John tirelessly talked about poverty and went about for 2 years to seek solutions to the problems of it. He spoke many times on behalf of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in raising the minimum wage in 6 states in 2006 ballot initiatives. He founded Half inTen, a coalition of many grassroots organizations to pressure Congress and the White House to work towards cutting the poverty rate in half in the next ten years. HIT's goal made the Democratic National Committee's platform.

And least we forget, John (and Elizabeth Edwards) started One Corps, probably the best legacy of One America Committee/John Edwards for President. One Corps got involved in all kinds of projects, especially for Earth Day and also collecting goods for the needy.

In 1992, President HW Bush was considered out of touch with America and was voted out. He must be feeling pretty awful about what his party did on Wednesday night in attacking something he believed in: a thousand points of light. Now his whole party is out of touch with the mainstream identity of community.

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