One of the more weirdly mean aspects of Palin’s speech Wednesday night was her sarcastic dismissal of Obama’s work as a community organizer. Obama responded to her and Guliani’s barbs with his usual poise, but I’d like to post a response from a friend of mine.
One of the most infuriating aspects of watching the Republican National Convention, and there were many, was hearing the dripping and sour disdain that Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani apparently have for Community Organizers. I am a community volunteer here in Atwater Village. I work almost full-time on my Neighborhood Council (making me an unpaid employee of the Los Angeles City Council), and was recently elected co-chair (I was already treasurer).
I ran for this body politic because I felt like it was time to put the actual time in – to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I did it because I believe that change begins at the grass roots level, and that it wasn’t enough for me to just rail and rant to my friends and family.
What we do on my council is work towards engaging our stakeholders (constituents or community members) in the political process, inform our city council on the concerns of our stakeholders, fund various community groups, work with gang outreach and crime reduction, we’ve created a newsletter for our stakeholders, and we host and co-sponsor many community events.
To hear Sarah Palin say that community organizers don’t have responsibilities was a slap in the face to every public servant in America, from the church volunteer who serves chili at the local homeless shelter, to the AmeriCorps worker serving in South Los Angeles, to the youth group rebuilding homes in New Orleans, to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars working towards the passage of the GI Bill (which McCain voted against, but that’s another story), to the school group selling chocolates to fund their school play or football team, and to people like me, and all the members of all the neighborhood councils in Los Angeles, who are just trying to do their small part to make their communities better.
I thought the most effective part of Obama’s acceptance speech was the section about how Republicans think “you’re on your own.” That really is the foundational difference between Conservatives and Liberals: Liberals think, “We’re all in this together” and Conservatives feel, “I got mine. You get yours.” And this difference in world view is clearly (if meanly) expressed every time someone says that community organizing, the occupational embodiment of “We’re all in this together”, is worthless, silly, and beneath the president.
Of course, attacking Obama as a community organizer is also more of that racialized “code” language Republicans love so much, but one need not even dig that deep to be offended and alarmed by their aggressive dismissal of volunteering.
Not to mention, Obama was a community organizer for his first three years out of college. So, we’re talking about a 22 year old. What was Bush doing at 22? Or Cheney? I’m sure someone wants to say that McCain’s first three years out of college were spent in a POW box. I don’t think that’s exactly true, but let’s take that argument at its best: McCain was holed up in a box, being tortured, and falling in love with America all over again. He was at his lowest, hoping for better days. Fine. He’s a hero. But what was that silly community organizer Barack up to? Obama was holed up on the south side of Chicago working with other people at their lowest helping them to realize better days.
McCain’s story is moving, inspiring, authentic, and all about John McCain. It has to be – he was the only one in the box.
Obama’s story is moving, inspiring, authentic, and all about other people. It has to be – we’re all in this together.