Community Organizing Is Not Compromise

by ICP Blogger posted 1/17/2012 5:51:29 PM
Community organizers have historically been associated with politically progressive attempts at lifting the power of marginalized groups. Those we know to have been organizers, from Christ to King to Alinsky, together with community, lifted collective values that placed the people with whom they worked in dynamic tension with those who oppressed them, recognizing that negotiating ideological conflict was essential to furthering aims of social justice. Good community organizers speak with community, not for it. Their power is derived from the energy that is borne through an organized community.not from their ability to make deals on behalf of community.

President Obama’s history as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago has been voiced as one of the reasons that he has been quick to set a full table for negotiation with those who oppose his agenda. Those of us who engage in community organizing are puzzled by this characterization of our work. , Community organizing in practice is active and powerful,rather than passive and submissive.

This characterization of community organizing is a tactic by the conservatives to build a narrative that discredits a field and defines political opponents as weak and powerless. The irony, of course, is that conservatives skillfully use community organizing as a political strategy while denigrating its use by others.

Within this context, the characterization of Obama as community organizer is cynical manipulation. If there are community organizers in the current national debate, it is not Obama per se, but those who work with, provide financial backing to and organize the conservative agenda. These are the folks who have taken on the United States government, including President Obama, and changed the narrative about the relationship between the American people and their government.

One can argue that as President, Barack Obama cannot assume the role of community organizer. His job is in fact to respond as best as he can to the demands of the total populace. In this case one side of the populace is more powerful, louder and seemingly better organized than the other. The failure of progressives in getting its agenda heard and in getting its narrative lifted is not because a history of community organizing leads President Obama to compromise, but because those on the left side of the political spectrum are not lifting a unified narrative or agenda that can stand in contrast to the organization of those on the right.
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