Monday, September 8, 2008

So THAT'S What A "Community Organizer" Is.

Finally, an enlightening piece on the subject, by Byron York at National Review.

This has got to be the most prescient quote, said of Obama when he was only an organizer, but aptly applies to him today, revealing how some can get past his obvious dearth of experience:

“He didn’t have experience,” Augustine-Herron said. “But he had a sensitivity that allowed us to believe that he could do the job.”

An interesting thing about "organizing" is that the "organizer's" goal is to get the members of the community to do the action themselves. The leader simply starts the agitation, then sets up a meeting or event with a city official or other political leader, coaches the people on what to say, and hopes the results will be a win for them.

York also points out that while Obama was happy to organize and agitate people to fight for something like removing asbestos from public housing, he never once seemed to question the whole premise of how or why these people were in this situation to begin with. And this with 4 welfare generations living under one roof. He tried to improve some parts of their life, but not change the way they thought of their own lives and situation.

Also revealing is the fact that Obama only started going to a 'christian' church after he realized he couldn't get the critical support of black pastors, necessary for his organizing, until he did attended one of their churches.

More Salient Quotes:

Perhaps the simplest way to describe community organizing is to say it is the practice of identifying a specific aggrieved population, say unemployed steelworkers, or itinerant fruit-pickers, or residents of a particularly bad neighborhood, and agitating them until they become so upset about their condition that they take collective action to put pressure on local, state, or federal officials to fix the problem, often by giving the affected group money.

In his classic book, Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote that a successful organizer should be “an abrasive agent to rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; to fan latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expressions.”

Obama, in his memoir, put it more simply when he said he went to Chicago to “organize black folks.”

“Well, they (former steel workers) had no transferable skills. I remember interviewing one man who ran a steel-straightening machine. It straightened steel bars or something. I said, well, what did you do? And he told me he pushed a button, and the rods came in, and he pushed a button and it straightened them, and he pushed a button and it sent them somewhere else. That’s all he did. And he made big bucks doing it.”

But if you ask Obama’s fellow organizers what his most significant accomplishments were, they point to two ventures: the expansion of a city summer-job program for South Side teenagers and the removal of asbestos from one of the area’s oldest housing projects. Those, they say, were his biggest victories.

“He didn’t see organizing making any significant changes in things,” Jerry Kellman recalled.

“He was constantly thinking about his path to significance and power,” Mike Kruglik told me. “He said, ‘I need to go there [Harvard Law School] to find out more about power. How do powerful people think? What kind of networks do they have? How do they connect to each other?’”

He had been an organizer for three years. When he returned to Chicago after law school, he did some voter-registration work and then joined a civil-rights practice. In 1996, he ran for the state senate. Eight years later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and within a year after that he was exploring a run for president.

But Obama’s time in Chicago also revealed the conventionality of his approach to the underlying problems of the South Side. Is the area crippled by a culture of dysfunction? Demand summer jobs. Push for an after-school program. Convince the city to spend more on this or that. It was the same old stuff; Obama could think outside the box on ways to organize people, but not on what he was organizing them for.

...when a real attempt to break through that culture of dysfunction — the landmark 1996 welfare-reform bill, now widely accepted as one of the most successful domestic-policy initiatives in a generation — came up, Obama vowed to use all the resources at his disposal to undo it. “I made sure our new welfare system didn’t punish people by kicking them off the rolls,” he said in 1999. Two years earlier, he had declared: “We want to make sure that there is health care, child care, job training, and transportation vouchers — everything that is needed to ensure that those who need it will have support.” Obama applied his considerable organizational skills to perpetuating the old, failed way of doing things.

Has any of that brought about the change Obama spoke of back in 1985? Not in any large sense. But if Obama doesn’t have much to show for his years as an organizer, it’s fair to say that many of the people he touched revere him deeply. Remember what Loretta Augustine-Herron said: Obama had such a powerful presence that he made her believe he could do the job, even though there was little in his résumé to suggest he could.

More Obama coverage at The Pantheon Journal.

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