El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Community Organizer

There was much to be ashamed of during the Republican National Convention, but I’m just going to pick one moment to tear apart.  I think one is enough, and after I gut it and lay its entrails open, y­ou’ll see just what I’m talking about, just what the Republicans are offering.

Although I don’t consider myself a community organizer, I do work with a lot of the same needs in my community as Barack Obama.  I consider it a privilege to mentor and share time with youthful offenders from, what Americans would consider, the "inner city," people who come from the projects. 

In Puerto Rico our "projects" are not segregated in specific areas of the city, congregated and sequestered far from the day to day life of "normal" folks.  Our projects are everywhere, and they have all the same problems you find on the south side of Chicago.  The projects are controlled by gangs.  The police are out-gunned, out-flanked, and out-manned.  The residents of the projects have no where else to go.  They could try to get out, but where would they go?  They live on public assistance, their children exposed daily to violence, fear, and a culture that offers them the way out – run this errand, sell these drugs, lookout for the police, and you will have the flashy car, the jewelry, the girl, and the respect.  It is the only way forward for these kids, and it is why I meet them in prison, why I talk to them, why I have compassion for them, and contempt for the system that foments this aberration.

Barack Obama saw the same things I see every day.   He saw a huge community of lost potential, wasted lives of violence, drugs, and guns.  He saw kids not nurtured and edified, wrapped in the warm embrace of love, but cold hard shafts of steel forged in heat, anger, and fear.

I don’t know for sure, but I can imagine Barack Obama had the same calling I did.  He decided that the war on terror begins at home, and it doesn’t begin with "shock and awe" but with service to the poor.  Barack Obama began his life’s work in the trenches doing what Christians would call the work of Jesus.  If you consider yourself a follower of the ways of Jesus, and you are not actively seeking to serve the most miserable and lost of our society, you are not living the message.  How come you are not engaging, putting your lives at risk in response to the great gift you have been given?

But Barack Obama did. 

He risked himself to go into communities held hostage by apathy and neglect and dealt with fatherless households, lawlessness, poor infrastructure and public schools, and a host of other problems that "white America" only sees on television.  "Oh my goodness, that’s so horrible," they say, "I’m glad I don’t live there."  Barack Obama didn’t say that.  He rolled up his sleeves and got involved.

So that’s why I was so insulted when I heard Rudy Guliani mock him in such a disrespectful manner (quote msnbc.com). 

"You have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer.”

He paused and then said, “What?” as if to express befuddlement at that job title.

Giuliani had eloquent body language — a dismissive half-shrug — as he said the words, “community organizer.”

Immediately the delegates on the convention floor burst into laughter and guffaws.

GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin also poked fun at Obama’s work as a community organizer, contrasting it with her own work as a mayor.

Don’t kid yourself.  It was not an off the cuff remark but conscious and deliberate.

If you consider yourself a Christian why would you ­laugh?  Jesus, was the son of a carpenter, a good Jewish boy with a bright future ahead of him as a respected tradesman.  He didn’t take that path though.  He threw it all away to spend time with the downtrodden, the cast out, the lost, and abandoned. He dedicated himself to a life of being a "community organizer."

And he got mocked too.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for your post.
    "He decided that the war on terror begins at home, and it doesn’t begin with "shock and awe" but with service to the poor."
    I think you offer an interesting Christian view of community organizi­ng. Palin herself can identify with that – she let us know she got started in politics after becoming active serving as a PTA member in her kids school district. I don’t think community organizing in Wasilla, as a PTA member, had the same challenges as community organizing in the south side of Chicago at a time when factory closings threatened welfare of so many, but good for her, serving others in her own way.
    It is just a shame when we tear eac­h other down for serving others and in the next breathe call to serve by fighting in defense of our nation. ­
    I take defense as seriously as the next person, but cannot help but feel that our nation would be better served if we enlisted more youth in community service and organizing, fostering understanding and building tolerance rather than taking our youth from the classroom to the front lines half way around the world.

  2. Amen, Laura. Amen

  3. In defense of community organizing and grassroots activism as an intrinsic part of American democracy, Peter Dreier & John Atlas wrote an editorial piece for The Nation… they would have never commented on the Christian angle (which is why I enjoy your post and consider it a rarity) but I did enjoy this quote:

    "Visiting the United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his Democracy in America, how impressed he was by the outpouring of local voluntary organizations that brought Americans together to solve problems, provide a sense of community and public purpose and tame the hyper-individualism that Tocqueville considered a threat to democracy."

  4. That is an awesome quote!

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