Saturday, September 6, 2008
Ever since I heard Sarah Palin open her mouth and allow pure stupidity to emerge -- "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer - except that you have actual responsibilities" -- I've been quietly seething. I've gotten used to politicians saying some truly stupid stuff, but to have the Republican vice presidential candidate manage to simultaneously sound as snarky as a self-centered 16-year-old on a My Space page and as ignorant as . . . as. . . well, a self-centered 16-year-old on a My Space page blew my mind. I know the woman didn't write the speech herself -- a vegetarian hypocrite named Matthew Scully* was the professional wordsmith who put the words in her mouth -- but didn't she have some clue just how many people she was insulting with that line? Including herself?
After all, who are community organizers? They're the people who do the stuff politicians won't or can't do until someone pressures them to. Martin Luther King was a community organizer. So was Sarah Palin when she served as president of her local PTA. Community organizers build the organizations ordinary people need to solve problems, both big and small, that government is failing to address.
Maybe it's the local PTA raising funds to buy books for the school library (oops -- bad example to use where Palin's concerned given her attempts to reduce the number of books in the Wasilla Public Library instead of expanding it), maybe it's a neighborhood group trying to get streets repaired or traffic signals installed at a dangerous crossing, or maybe it's an organization that starts off small and grows into a national movement, but whatever the motivation behind the organization, as Bishop Roy Dixon is quoted as saying by Faith in Public Life, "We see the fruits of community organizing in safer streets, new parks, and new affordable housing. It’s the spirit of democracy for people to have a say and we need more of it.”
On the other hand, when the Republican Party seems to have devolved into a group of aging white guys who are totally clueless about anything that happens outside their gated communities, it shouldn't be a surprise that their VP choice would gleefully exhibit so much contempt and disdain for anything that doesn't have a corporate stamp of approval on it. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out -- I don't think the GOP had any idea how many of their own toes they were stepping on with that zinger. I think they forgot (or simply didn't care) how many religious organizations and churches are involved in community organizing. A Google search turned up a lot of sites selling tee shirts similar to the one pictured above, so there may be quite a few visual reminders walking around quite soon.
I do feel a little odd about the whole "Jesus was a community organizer" meme because even though I agree with the sentiment I'm not normally much of a fan of the faith-based community -- that big red A off to the side doesn't stand for Atlanta -- but this is one of those rare times when I'm in total agreement with Bishop Dixon and his colleagues, at least on the subject of community organizing.
Update: Go check out Stronger than Dirt for a great description of a VISTA volunteer's experiences in Montana.
[*He's a hard-core vegetarian who opposes all blood sports, but he's willing to help get a woman elected who thinks it's fun to shoot wolves from airplanes. If that's not hypocrisy, nothing is.]