Last night as I watched the Republican National Convention, I was expecting the Republicans to blast Obama. The Democrats were certainly not easy on McCain. Attacking the opponent is what the campaigns of both the Democrats and the Republicans do, after all.
I assumed they would say that Obama's experience as a community organizer was not preparation to be president. Personally, I disagree. Obama directed an organization that helped community members set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization. Insuring that the citizens of the country receive education, work skills, and affordable decent housing are core responsibilities of our national leadership. However, I can understand how and why the Republicans could arrive at a different opinion.
I was stunned, however, to hear the speakers mock the entire concept of community organizing. Rudy Giuliani spluttered out to a wildly cheering crowd: "He [Obama] worked as a community organizer. What? He worked — I said — I said, OK, OK, maybe this is the first problem on the resume."
Do the Republicans not know what community organizing means?
Community activism is absolutely at the core of participatory democracy. Its goal is to have all members of the community become empowered leaders able to address whatever issues the community faces--massive layoffs and unemployment, lack of public transportation in the face of the high price of gas and cars, foreclosures on homes, the existence of hunger and malnutrition in the face the rising costs of food, high rates of teen pregnancy, rising school drop-out rates and students not being able to afford college, lack of health care, the presence of fear and violence, poverty.
The goal of an organizer is to help the community learn how to respond to its own needs rather than have the government have to shoulder the responsibility. (You'd think the Republicans would support community organizing in greater numbers than Democrats would, wouldn't you?)
Did you know that Obama's community activism took place within the context of a faith-based organization? Wasn't it the Republicans who pushed for faith-based initiatives to restore all the services the government was no longer providing?
I can think of nothing better for the start of one's resume--for a Democratic or a Republican--than spending three years as a community organizer, learning about the real issues real people face. It seems far, far more relevant than being a soldier, no matter how much bravery or responsibility being a soldier might show.
Community organizers learn every day the power of community members to become their own leaders. Rather than political executives doing that job for them, real people act for themselves and learn to change the world. Sometimes community organizers have to give up their own veto in order to do what the entire community thinks is right. Organizers know that their role is to inspire, facilitate, and guide the regular citizens of this country to take the reigns of power and lead America to a better place.
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Um...McCain just canceled his own scheduled community service for today...
Also: check out this marvelous post about community organizers.