Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Community Organizing!

Posted by John Montgomery on September 6, 2008

Recently a colleague of mine pointed out that in the coverage of the Republican convention, how utterly homogeneous it appeared. Actually, one explanation is that all those Blacks, Latinos, Asians and youth are all there, it is just that perverse liberal media that keeps the cameras from revealing their presence. I did see two black men and one black woman. There was one Asian man but I really did not see anybody obviously Hispanic. I am sure they were there.

Not much else needs to be said. I will be glad when our two candidates actually debate each other. Maybe we can move beyond the cute side shows.

The most telling event of the evening was both Giuliani’s and Palin’s apparent ignorance about the time honored strategy of change and empowerment represented by community organizing.  I will say much more in a future post. Needless to say, community organizing is about all those people who were not present at the Republican convention tonight. So I hope everybody had a great laugh. It’s one reason; I can’t and won’t vote Republican. It is the reason that tonight I made another donation online for Obama’s campaign.

Perhaps, a little background will help here. In the late 80s, following my graduation from seminary, I was hired as the Executive Director of the Institute on the Church in Urban-Industrial Society (ICUIS) in Hyde Park. I hope to come back to this work soon and talk about some of my research, but I thought I would share a paper written by young Obama on the subject of community organizing. Maybe if Giuliani had read the paper, he wouldn’t have looked so elitist tonight.

During the four years I was director of ICUIS, we focused on documenting a new trend in the traditional community organizing strategies of persons like Saul Alinsky and the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). During that time, I was able to do research on the more than 100 ‘congregation-based community organizing efforts” across the country and publish several studies. In Chicago, one of the key groups facilitating such organizing was the Gamaliel Foundation that helped organize The Developing Communities Project and GREAT on Chicago’s Southside.

Obama was right in the middle of these efforts. And it is his instinct as an organizer that makes me so interested in his candidacy. I have paraphrased his comments more than once where he says, “What people don’t get is that it is not about me, but it is about we.”

That is a community organizer talking.

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