Friday, September 5, 2008

Why Hate on Community Organizers?

I learned a lot watching the National Republican Convention. I learned we are a great nation and John McCain is the maverick to protect us from evil terrorists hanging out in Iraq. There was no message beyond that but according to the loud chants of “U S A, U S A,” we don’t need to know anymore. Hell with joblessness, bad education, poverty, discrimination, inequality…I just need to know we are safe from terrorists. I also learned that “community organizer” is a bad word. If you see one, you should run away. They are to be mocked and laughed at. Lowlifes I imagine. Thank you Republicans.

As a party that touts less government, it’s again ironic that they would pick on a group of people that serve the people when the governments let them down. Non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGO) and the people that work for them help us: register to vote; feed our children and get them off the streets; inform you of your rights; get you clothes, shelter, and a job; fill out citizenship papers for you; teach you English, strategize on how to unionize,…

All through my adult life I’ve been a community organizer. I worked to find summer jobs for poor kids of color in what I term, “the ghetto”. We found nice employment for them in places like museums, libraries, BART,…The employer got them as interns and we paid the youth. They were good kids that otherwise would have been on the streets and jobless all summer. I also ran an after school youth program for Vietnamese American elementary school kids, Gần Đèn thì Sáng for the Hướng Việt agency.

Gần Đèn thì Sáng kids! I'm in the back with the monkey face. Yes, very mature.

An elderly Vietnamese American woman founded Hướng Việt and the board consisted of young Vietnamese American teachers, lawyers, students, and activists. The youth program I designed offered a window into opportunities that their immigrant parents that worked three jobs to take care of the family could not offer. We spent time with the kids and taught them about gender and race inequality. We discussed hard topics like domestic violence and racism in their community and they shared their experiences and stories with us. They enjoyed going to libraries, museums, and parks. They participated in writing and art projects. We talked about the importance of higher education. Seeing these kids as adults and doing well, I am proud of the work this agency did.

In my crazy (non-republican) world, a community organizer is a well-respected person. The understanding is that they are there because they care and want to make the world a better place by servicing those who most need assistance. In my wacky world, living for things other than oneself is a matter of course. Don’t get me wrong, NGOs and Non-profits have their faults and some organizers are down right strange, self-serving, corrupt and sometimes even out of touch. I don’t want to paint a perfect world with saintly individuals. That’s not it at all. It is however, predominantly about people with passion that sees the need for bettering the lives of those around them. It’s grassroots because it comes from the people who live in unacceptable conditions and they themselves make the changes for the people in their communities. Thousands of these movements across our nation make this country a better place. That is real.

If you believe grassroots movements and community organizing is a positive step for change, please contribute to Obama’s run for the presidency. He is someone who clearly understands and values community work. He was a proud community organizer in Chicago from 1985 to 1988. As the director of the Developing Communities Project for three years, its staff grew from 1 to 13 and its annual budget grew from $70,000 to $400,000. Their programs included job training, college preparatory tutoring, and tenants' rights. That’s community organizing!

1 comment:

mika said...

yay community organizer! your picture w/the vietnamese kiddies looks so 1990s, when did you take this?

also, you would be proud to learn that i've started a blog about my four months here: http://iheartlondon.tumblr.com/
tumblr doesn't use comments, so if you have anything to say, just let me know on fb!

i saw this article and wanted to know your thoughts on it: http://www.newsweek.com/id/156372
the picture in the actual magazine was raunchier.