A ‘Community Organizer’ Frame of Mind

The denigration of ‘community organizing’ by Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani at the Republican Convention could become a setback for their party if the American public came to understand the real lessons of community organizing about how to deal with recent world events.

For example, community organizers intrinsically know that successful reconstruction and reconciliation in Iraq and elsewhere require local community participation and control, and do not need years of billions of dollars wasted on foreign contractors and millions of lives made to suffer and so many die before it is finally implemented to some degree.

Community organizers would know that to rebuild after large scale humanitarian disasters like Hurricane Katrina, community meetings are needed to plan reconstruction (with displaced people, this requires innovative strategies) and that top-down management will stifle empowerment, ownership, and opportunities.

Community organizers observe the impact of global events and trends on local communities and people, and therefore understand that an essential part of free trade agreements is new and significant support to address economically dislocated families (particularly in rural areas), diversify local economies, and training.

Community organizers would identify that the Palestinian people need a more self-reliant economy (which would also in the process build sovereignty) and not an economy that is excessively dependent on Israel’s to a point of debilitating Palestinian underdevelopment (e.g., on average 90 percent of total Palestinian imports and exports go to and from Israel).

Community organizers help to create solutions that satisfy multiple needs, and therefore would likely reform the White House faith-based initiative in the direction of Senator Barack Obama’s proposals for the program: broaden access to an increase in funds for community initiatives while reducing potential areas of government-religion impropriety.

Community organizers, who regularly hear people express diverse and heartfelt interests and beliefs, would be sympathetic to the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden’s view of abortion: that it is a personal decision to a religious degree (including when a person believes life begins) and government should not make the decision for women.

Regarding Joe Biden and Iraq, community organizers would likely agree that a high degree of federalism – which Biden proposes and involves autonomy of provinces and regions to manage their own development and affairs and the central government playing a supportive role – is necessary for the country to remain whole and stable.

Community organizers, who help people work through the struggle to reach common ground and purpose, then sincerely appreciate that the unified feeling in the world after 911 was a unique moment that afforded the chance for a new course and make a leap in a critical area of human life. Instead, the opportunity of a lifetime was squandered to fulfill a naive obsession with Iraq.

Community organizers know that public trust is generated in reaction to the empowerment people feel when their ideas for projects are implemented and the benefits are tangible; this may inform, at least in part, the approaches of community organizers to public diplomacy, the ‘war of ideas’, and addressing root causes of terrorism.

Community organizers would herald the incredible contributions of the Peace Corps to nations of the world, especially to its own country, which has benefitted in untold ways by the more than 190,000 Americans who community organized in 139 nations since the Peace Corps began almost five decades ago by President John Kennedy.

Community organizers know that their social purpose is 1) as inseparable to the United States as federalism, which is fused into its structure, 2) an historic mission carried forward in the 1800s by the Republican Party and later by projects inspired by the philosophers Alexis de Tocqueville and John Dewey, and 3) made contemporary in the 1960s because of urgent needs and fifty years later being implemented all over the world, by people in all disciplines, walks of life, and backgrounds due to the global explosion of civil society.

Suggestions that community organizing is subversive Marxism and that it seeks a socialist revolution are preposterous and can be intended to rouse a cultural divide. Community organizing is cross-ideological, including religions and political philosophies. Conservatism supports community organizing because of the more adapting economic environment it creates and people taking responsibility; liberalism supports it because it advances democracy and justice.

Community organizing is inclusive in its approach and often results into cross-sectoral partnerships that include government. It seeks to reform society through an evolutionary process of improving social relationships, advancing socio-economic development, and a healthier natural environment.

While trying to suggest that community organizing is separate from the American ideal, Sarah Palin and Rudolph Guiliani may have distanced themselves and their party from the ‘holy grail’ repeatedly found in the fantastic story of the United States. This was done by radicalizing and speaking down to a profession that makes real the quintessential American value of individual and community fulfillment within a democratic framework and a united and sovereign country.