A Word About Community Organizers

I see Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin both ridiculed Barack Obama for once being a "community organizer" on Chicago's South Side. It's arguably the weakest part of his resume, since you know, law school professor, attorney, state senator, and US Senator are pretty prestigious jobs to have.

It was good for a laugh, and for a moment, I was worried because I had feared that Barack's lack of a desk job between college and law school could hurt his campaign.

But then I had a good night's sleep. And then I thought more about it. And now I can see right through their attack. It is not a weak link in Obama's resume, it is a small part of his resume that simply frightens Republicans.

The ridicule of Obama's time as a "community organizer" ties-into the Republican anti-urban, anti-intellectual platform / culture war. Most ordinary Americans do not recognize a community organizer as a regular 9-to-5 job. But look at what the Republicans are attacking.

A community organizer is a hybrid role. It is part consultant, and part lobbyist. He's a consultant in that he offers advice and ideas to people who have fallen on hard times, and helps them help themselves to get back up (Joe Biden's theme). And he's a lobbyist for the neighborhood, working to attract businesses to replace those that have left. Bridgeport lost factories, but eventually won two professional sports teams. Pittsburgh lost steel mills, but eventually gained banks and museums. That wasn't just the work of business leaders. It took some grass-roots initiative as well. Community organizers bring together neighborhoods, local politicians, and business leaders (investors, corporations, etc.) in an effort to improve people's quality of life.

Community organizers run non-profit, grass-roots organizations that offer job and interview training, tenants' rights campaigns, and act as agents between residents, government, and businesses.

And it's not all selfless and out of the goodness of their hearts. Barack Obama probably would not have become a politician if he hadn't been a community organizer early in his career. It may have helped him get into Harvard Law School. After all, his three-year stint as a community organizer was in-between his bachelor's degree and his entrance into Harvard Law School in 1988. He was a young man. He was 25 when he left a New York think tank and moved to Chicago to get involved in the lives of South Side residents.

But let's dig deeper. Why does the Right hate community organizers? The simple Wikipedia entry gives us many clues:

The American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movements, the Chicano movement, the feminist movement, and the gay rights movement all influenced and were influenced by ideas of neighborhood organizing. Experience with federal anti-poverty programs and the upheavals in the cities produced a thoughtful response among activists and theorists in the early 1970s that has informed activities, organizations, strategies and movements through the end of the century. Less dramatically, civic associations and neighborhood block clubs were formed all across the country to foster community spirit and civic duty, as well as provide a social outlet.

Many of the most notable leaders in community organizing today emerged from the National Welfare Rights Organization. John Calkins of DART, Ernesto Cortes of the Industrial Areas Foundation, Wade Rathke of ACORN, John Dodds of Philadelphia Unemployment Project and Mark Splain of the AFL-CIO, among others.

Other famous community organizers include: Jane Addams, César Chávez, Samuel Gompers, Martin Luther King, Jr., John L. Lewis, Ralph Nader, Barack Obama, Pat Robertson, and Paul Wellstone.

Ah ha! There are some pretty evil names in that list. Union leaders. Civil rights leaders. Religious leaders. And a dead, liberal Senator from Minnesota.

Add to that list - Susan B. Anthony. You remember her from the history books? She fought for the right of American women to vote. And also add some historical dude named Jesus Christ.

No wonder they hate community organizers. They help people get back up and fight for equality and justice.

Hey. I just thought of three other non-traditional jobs. But these are jobs that the Republicans don't ridicule. I'm sure there are more. But off the top of my head, I can think of -


Jack Abramoff was sentenced today, BTW.

Security consultants

The NYPD's resident spook, David Cohen, who has almost no recorded existence.

Defense contractors

You wont see the Right attacking or ridiculing those jobs.

And we know what great, productive, community-building job Sarah Palin held before becoming mayor of Wasilla, right?

(Sorry, no photos, video stills or videos available. They are all being erased from the Internets.)

In light of this, Keith Olbermann might be over-qualified to be President.