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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stop Hatin' on Community Organizers!

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!

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.

Also, this entry on the Huffington Post features the Center for Community Change's official response to the remarks.


  1. I completely agreed with you Gregory.

    Haile Rivera (currently in Florida working Obama's Campaign for Change)

  2. Amen to that brother! Couldn't have said it any better ourselves... we linked to ya.

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  4. Hey Greg,

    Hello from a Fordham grad and former Commy service groupie- found your article through Gothamist. Thanks for saying what we were all thinking: I work for an organization that primarily funds women commy organizers, and we know best that that's how it all gets done.

    Leslie MacKrell

  5. I agree. The Republicans were stating that up was down last night. I found the following [A Great Speech, For Both Bases] on the Five Thirty-Eight blog reporting on the speech.

    "Palin swung for the fences, mocking the very notion of community organizing. So did Giuliani. This was the day after “Service” was the theme, and Republicans fell all over themselves praising their party’s commitment to give back to the community. Jarring."

  6. Don't stop at an apology from Palin or Rudy.

    After Rudy said that Obama was a CO, there was a roar of laughter from the audience. Rudy had to wait for them to stop laughing before he could continue his speech. The entire delegation of the RNC Convention needs to apologize to ALL community organizers EVERYWHERE.

  7. Thanks for this great post. I do campus organizing in the Bronx and was deeply offended by Palin and Giuliani's comments. If such a poll were ever possible, I would love to see popularity/approval ratings for the GOP (or the Democrats, for that matter) vs. any given community's local activists. That might cut into their smugness a little.

    It was particularly disappointing (though certainly not surprising) to see Giuliani, who in many ways left this city in a disastrous state, trash on our work so thoroughly. Even he might think a little less of his record as mayor if he knew how much organizers did for New York during his term.

  8. NPR picked you guys up. Great Site! Hope you don't mind but I'm linking you onto newsvine.

    BTW, It didn't surprise me in the least to hear Giuliani undermine all that you do. He was a bully as Mayor of NYC and he's a bully now.

  9. As Mayor of seven thousand, Palin would have no idea of what a community organizer does. In fact, most community organizers have more than 7000 people in the area they work.

    While I was never a community organizer by title, I used to be the chairperson of Bronx community board seven, and as a volunteer it was part community organizing, part government, and that community board district had 116,000 people at the time.

    Not only that, in college I was in student government and the student population at Lehman was 17,000. So her prespective is off by many thousands.

    And when the government failed the people of the Jerome Park Reservoir area, along with my neighbors, we organized our community to stop Rudy Giuliani from making a wrong headed decision.

    Hmmm ... they must be afraid of us!


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