What Palin Could Have Said…

The pushback from around the country is bracing.

No sooner did NHI president John Atlas post on Rooflines, setting the record straight on community organizing, we started to hear from incensed readers from around the country.

It looks like the Republicans picked a fight with the wrong group when they sought to demonize community organizers at the GOP convention last night.

After reading John Atlas’s post, Walter Davis, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Organizers Alliance sent the following to Rooflines:

“Thank you, Susan B. Anthony and suffragette organizers for your victory 90 years ago. Your work allowed me to stand here today.” What a historic comment that would have been!

Instead, Gov. Sarah Palin chose to make a gratuitous insult against community organizers in her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention. She implied they have no role in American society.

Community organizing is as old as the Republic if not humanity itself. If one embraces the first clause of the Bill of Rights with its freedom of religion and freedom of the press, read on. It is a defining document of American organizing. Freedom of speech and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” was there from the beginning.

It is unfortunate that Palin would choose to ridicule organizers who work for little pay and benefits.Yet, they bring people into civic affairs and discussions of public policy. Community organizing is not a partisan “issue.” It develops local leadership and involves grass-roots people in solutions. It is often about looking at problems that seem insurmountable and then deciding together how to overcome them; ordinary people participating in change from below — the very thing Palin espouses.

In her speech, Palin says later, “Sudden and relentless reform never sits well with entrenched interests and power brokers. That’s why true reform is so hard to achieve.” Exactly. Community organizing enables everyday people to face the entrenched interests, build community power and negotiate change. It takes time. It takes strategy.

Palin herself benefits from the work of organizing. Women did not enjoy the basic rights of citizenship a century ago. It took organizing that faced “entrenched interests” and even violence. Palin’s husband benefits from workplace organizing by the United Auto Workers. It took organizing to bring about support for children with special needs. And it is taking organizing to assure that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan get the medical care they need.

Most of our lives have been touched in some way by the results of community and labor organizing. When organizers do a good job, their names are not as well known as the local leaders they nurture and support. It is not about parties. I am proud to be identified with a profession that works for real change and the growth of community leadership.

Alice Chasan served as editor and associate publisher of Shelterforce from 2007 to 2008.


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