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September 14, 2008

Community Organizing, Fear, and the American Public

I never thought I'd see the day when Saul Alinsky's name was used by a conservative politician on a national broadcast talk show. Nor am I surprised that Tom Brokaw was unable to refute the blatant lies spewed by Giuliani. Here's what the hypocritical former mayor of New York said on Meet the Press this morning:

This is--and also, the group that recruited him was a Saul Alinsky group that has all kinds of questions with regard to their outlook on the economy, their outlook on capitalism. I think it's at the core of Senator Obama's belief that the tax system should be used for a redistribution of wealth, rather than really for gaining revenues for the country. When, when Senator Obama was asked about his increase in capital gains tax and was told that if he does that, he would actually deprive the federal government of revenues, his answer was, "Well, it's only fair." Which gets you to a very core Saul Alinsky kind of almost socialist notion that it should be used for redistribution of wealth.
Instead of refuting this moronic characterization of the founder of community organizing, Brokaw pointed out that Warren Buffett is an Obama supporter and "I think it would be probably a pretty big reach to describe him as a Saul Alinsky kind of economist." Let's be clear, people: Alinsky was not a dogmatic socialist. In fact, he preached an extremely conservative approach to challenging the system. He was not a crusading Robin Hood, and I'm disgusted that the media can't even research history enough to understand that.

Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation, which was the organization that Obama worked for. IAF works on a simple founding principle: organize community leaders to pressure government to create incremental change that will help make the community a better place. Incremental change like job training programs and public-private housing developments and forcing trash conglomerates to stop dumping waste in empty lots. Church leaders, school principals, and other traditional community leaders who are organized by IAF are not exactly rushing to bring down the pillars of capitalism; rather, they're trying to make capitalism work for everyday Americans as much as it works for Wall Street investors.

I shouldn't be surprised that community organizing is so misunderstood by the MSM. After all, the only defense of organizing Brokaw offered was a button slogan - "Jesus Christ was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor." A fair and balanced media would explain the basis for community organizing, instead of tacitly accepting a false association with socialism. The basic principal of community organizing is teaching individuals to work together to create change through the political system. Why is it so difficult for the MSM to state this fact?

This election has become a battle between Cold War mentality: fear the Other, fear Socialism, fear Big Cities and Hope based on belief in American ingenuity and global cooperation.

There's a simple reason the Republican strategy works. US presidents are not chosen by popular vote. Rural America is the backbone of this country because its system of States Rights makes Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Minnesota battle ground states, whereas the vast majority of the population does not matter in this election because they live in big cities on the coasts. Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against people from small towns. It is parochialism, racist nationalism, and general Fear of Facts that disgusts me.

Don't believe me? Simply read the comments section of this polling site to realize that people think Obama is a closet Muslim, the anti-Christ, and other disparaging terms I refuse to type. It is far easier to characterize your opponent as the crazy other than it is to create a policy platform that will lead the country off the precipice of economic ruin. The vast majority of Americans make less today than they did 20 years ago; but no need to worry because we've got more lines of credit now than we ever did before. By focusing on creating Enemies out of political adversaries, Republicans are able to sway small town voters by creating an Us vs. Them mentality that leaves no room for educated debate. Indeed, George W. Bush proved that being dumb is an asset in this corrupt political system.

Patriotism and its sister Nationalism are used by petty political leaders to rally citizens around an Ideal of Country that makes Us look Strong and others look weak. It allows a political party to point to the Other and denounce their otherness. Though US corporations are the engine behind globalization, US citizens love to pretend they are the victims. It's those damn Chinese and Indians taking our high tech jobs and those Mexicans taking our low tech jobs. Nevermind that US "free trade" agreements have decimated Latin American economies, forcing people to migrate north for any hope of economic survival; or that US corporations get tax breaks to move high tech jobs overseas. It's easier to blame The Other than to learn about the real basis for the precariousness of your economic stability.

I don't focus my activist energy on elections because there is no room in a binary system for nuanced policy debate. But I'm grateful for community organizers and community leaders who work for incremental change regardless of the barriers thrown up by Republican hacks like Giuliani. I pray that the organizing principals Obama learned from the IAF will lead to a more effective Get Out The Vote effort than the fear-mongering of the corrupt Republican machine.

Posted by cj at September 14, 2008 12:03 PM


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