Thursday, December 6, 2012
I was looking up previous occupations for U.S. Presidents, don't remember why, and I found that our present occupant of the White House shows on his resumé college professor and community organizer. I then realized I didn't know exactly what a community organizer was. I knew what a union organizer was. Turns out community organizer is much the same thing.
Community organizing is laudable in many circumstances, just as union organizing is laudable in a few circumstances; when the community citizens (or rank and file workers) are getting the shaft from management. "Management" in the case of communities is City Hall.
There is strength in numbers. That's the premise. Wrongs can be righted. It's a beautiful thing.
In my opinion, from my recent reading on the subject, there are two things that need to be analyzed. First, who is behind the community uprising and does that person or group have ulterior personal motivations beyond the obvious problem being addressed; and, second, are the underlying demands reasonable and legitimate and not simply bullying to get some personal agenda made into law so everyone is forced, by law, to do things YOUR way.
I think these things need to be scrutinized before one automatically jumps on the bandwagon and makes the broad statement, "Community organizing is a good thing." Sometimes it isn't. In my humble opinion. Let's take some theoretical examples.
Let's say a lot of poor people are living in a neglected tenement building in a large inner city neighborhood. Let's say their complaints about living conditions have long been ignored by the slumlord. What to do?
Or, let's say a lot of poor people have minimum-wage jobs in a sweatshop clothing (or microchip) factory. They have no union and their employer is large enough to pull strings to stop union troublemakers that work there. Maybe the company is Walmart, and maybe they are in the habit of making the employees work "off the clock" without pay, even locking the doors so they can't go home. (If you think this sort of thing only happens in Bangladesh and never happens in America, you are more than simply naive.)
In both of these examples, you might quickly say the answer is to organize the community (of tenants or workers) and force the business or slumlord to stop exploiting these people. Nothing is black and white, though. There are always outside influences to take into consideration. For example, what if the slumlord is the Federal Government? Or, what if the slave driver is Intel or Walmart?
A lot of people automatically take the side of the "downtrodden" - and not just Democrats or "bleeding-heart liberals" or commies. For example, I myself am not exactly a political Progressive, but I don't like to see children going hungry or living in rat-infested tenements (or, worse, on the street) or not able to get a decent education. And a lot more.
Sometimes the "community organizing" is much larger than a local community or neighborhood, and the issue in contention becomes a political issue. Nationwide even. Like gays and lesbians having the right to get married. Or legalization of drugs. Or putting forth a political candidate for office. And many more.
It is obvious that the "community organizing" in many cases is not exactly "grass roots" as claimed. Often there are powerful outside forces at work - forces who have a personal agenda to advance.
To me, a grass roots organization is one which simply arises, like grass, when the abused and neglected people in the neighborhood or tenement or factory have had enough. Leaders from the ranks emerge. Plans are laid.
Often, though, (perhaps MOST often) someone from outside the actual community comes in (usually with an already established organization) and tells the people, "I feel your pain. I am here to help. This is what we need to do." I am speaking generally here, and I hope you don't think I am picturing Barack Obama and his ACORN folks in my mind, or Romney with his vested interest SuperPACs, as I write this. Unless the shoe fits.
There is potential for both good and bad in community organizing: good when evils are addressed and solved; bad when people in the community are simply being used by outsiders.
Almost always there are two sides to every story, shades of gray wherein the actual truth is often found.
What would I personally do if I were one of those poor people living in that rat-infested drug-terrorized tenement?
Same as you, probably: I wouldn't have been there in the first place. I would live in a proper dwelling which is safe. Why? Because I have enough money to do that. Why? Because I chose to educate myself, and, when that wasn't enough, chose to work my ass off at more than one low-paying job. That's why.
But others don't do that. They accept what life "throws at them." They believe poverty is their lot in life, and they believe government is both the villain and the answer. Government and people with money. They tell themselves education is not available to them because the cards are stacked against them or their skin is the wrong color to make it in America. I know that is a lie. You know that is a lie. Maybe you grew up in a really poor family as I did, and you know poor people can rise in America. But if people BELIEVE they are oppressed and can't do anything about it, then it doesn't matter if it is a lie, does it? Then, one of the things they do is look for a messiah.
So, some people find themselves in a cold tenement building with rats running around, both furry rats and drug rats. I would want to help those people. Truly. However, I am not one to pass out food forever; I am one who would teach how to hunt and fish. So, is it right for the community organizers to concentrate on using the poor peoples' collective political votes to force the government to send them a paycheck of some kind each month? Is it? Is that the proper use of community organizing?
Look at America today. Look at the recent election. What were the differences between the two candidates? One promised to continue giving stuff and not make cuts to "programs," and one said he was going to work to cut government spending. Which one won? If nothing else, that tells you what the majority of Americans want - what they want out of their government. Most want direct financial help from the government, and they want the government to take money and property from other people in order to get their dole. Is that too harsh of an assessment? Is that oversimplification?
Romney got into trouble - maybe even lost the election - by saying 47% of the American population were slackers who were receiving a government check. Unfortunately for him, it turned out to be more like 51%. Ok, that's a cheap shot. The truth is that most Americans (at least 51%) believe in the philosophy that big government is the real answer to the problems of the poor (and everyone else) and that "Social Justice" (take money from me and give it to you) is a legitimate goal and a proper use of power.
I believe the needy should be helped. Jesus admonished us to attend to "the least of these." I get that. I believe that. But what happens when despots (or people who refuse to face reality) have turned us all into equal citizens in poverty? What happens when we are ALL the least of these?
I do believe in community organizing as a tool to confront evil, lest that fact got lost in the above rant. I simply believe it is being misused and manipulated.
Posted by Relax Max at 1:58 PM