Opinion by Gregory Lobo Jost
In case you weren't watching last night, a political party repeatedly degraded the role of community organizers at their convention.
Former mayor Giuliani (laughing): "Maybe this is the first problem on [Obama's] resume... he worked as a community organizer!"
VP nominee Sarah Palin: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”
Regardless of whether you are an Obama, McCain, McKinney, or Barr supporter, these comments denegrate important contributions made by thousands of (mostly) young women and men during the past 70 years, in both urban AND rural America. To say the very least, if not for the work of community organizers, redlining would still be official bank policy and the Bronx would still be burning. And what about empowering low income and working class people to stand up and fight for their neighborhoods, take pride in their communities, and make REAL changes in our society? Is this a job without responsibilities? Indeed it is a job that is difficult to perform properly, requires long hard hours, is often thankless and pays very little! Certainly for the millions of Americans who have benefitted from the work done by community organizers (myself and the other 1.4 million Bronx residents) it is nothing to laugh at.
I may be over-reacting, but I take these insults very personally (and I don't even qualify as a pure organizer). Sure, these comments are made for calculated political gain during a campaign, and I expect no better from the former NYC mayor. But to hear it over and over again on national TV (PBS no less!) without any counterpoint just made my blood boil.
Has any other profession been repeatedly ridiculed like this at a political convention before? Could you imagine if this was said about YOUR LIFE'S WORK to millions of viewers with no rebuttal?
Update: David Gonzalez of the New York Times has posted a column, Bronx Organizers React to G.O.P. Punchlines, featuring the work of two past local community organizers still active in the neighborhoods.
2nd Update: A new site has sprung in response to these attacks on organizers, and the initial post (also available on the Indypendent) features west Bronx organizer Jackie del Valle of New Settlement Apartments/CASA!
Also, this entry on the Huffington Post features the Center for Community Change's official response to the remarks.
Community organizers across America, taken aback by a series of attacks from Republican leaders at the GOP convention in St. Paul, came together today to defend their work organizing Americans who have been left behind by unemployment, lack of health insurance and the national housing crisis. The organizers demanded an apology from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for her statement that community organizers have no “actual responsibilities” and launched a web site, http://organizersfightback.wordpress.com/, to defend themselves against Republican attacks.