Community Organizing Matters!

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Thu, 09/04/2008 - 13:58.

I try not to get to worked by politicians - hype and hysteria just come naturally to them -- but last night, I heard politicians criticize Barack Obama for his work as a community organizer and that hurt. You see, I did that too. When Governor Sarah Palin and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani disparaged community organizing efforts, they belittled my efforts and those of countless others too.

It's a pretty cheap politician that uses a national television audience to criticize neighborhood organizing and volunteers working to change neighborhoods and improve lives. Last night, I saw a neighborhood's hard work held up as a punch line to an insider politician's joke. Community organizers make a difference and politicians who criticize organizers and neighborhood volunteers don't deserve my vote.

Community organizers work to help neighborhoods identify important unaddressed needs -- priorities that are absent in a neighborhood -- and require help to get them done. It's a response to the inability of government that calls for people to do things themselves, cut through the roadblocks and red tape and make things work. In my case in the Broadway/Slavic Village neighborhoods on Cleveland's southeast side, neighbors were wrestling with poorly performing schools and very low levels of computer access and computer skills, despite the need for computers in virtually every job of the 21st century. We created a computer lab from from cast-off equipment and upgraded as often as we could. We taught classes to each other, we helped people get donated, refurbished computers for families in their home and assisted in after school programs for kids. When the after school program was evaluated by the Education Department experts at Cleveland State University, we found we boosted school attendance, grades and test scores.

The criticism of community organizing that I heard last night were cheap shots by career politicians. If government did its job, community organizing might not be necessary, but until then, neighborhoods benefit from community organizers and neighborhood volunteers. In many neighborhoods hit hard by crime, poorly performing schools, foreclosures and low levels of economic opportunities, community organizers are a positive and welcome force for neighborhood rejuvenation.

I am so glad you posted about this, Kevin

I too was highly disturbed by those rude and disparaging comments. These are very mean-spirited and socially disconnected public servants.


Disrupt IT


I would go as far as to say they're not public servants at all....


A friend at work today was singing Palin's praises and his party's line about the outrageous size of government. Seems to me that philosophy would support -- rather than criticize -- the public's attempts to self-satisfy its needs, if it refuses to provide them.


Kevin, are you still involved with this center?  Is this at the University Settlement? How's it going there?

University Settlement (4800 Broadway)

Yes, University Settlement ( in the Broadway area. As with other nonprofits, they are hurting for money given the economy, but they were one of the few groups that received increases from United Way. They have strong accounting and do a good job with their money, but times are tough for all nonprofits. I was there recently for their "Back to School" fair where they gave out hundreds of backpacks and school supply bags. With RET3, I was able to get the computer lab some computers to give out and that was a big hit.

indeed - the growth of the nonprofit sector

They're incorporating and acting as fast as they can - faster than ever before - nonprofit organizations.

These are the stop gap measures for the shrinking public service needed by the country and the world.Does disparaging community organizing mean that the McCain/Palin administration would do away with the need for grassroots activity and the nonprofit sector by providing more government support for the needs of the disadvantaged? Do they mean to begin to fund the arts and culture, libraries and education, so that PTAs and PTOs become obsolete? I sort of doubt it. I would suspect that those highdollar donors want to keep their tax shelters.

Katrina is a perfect example. Did the Bush administration jump in to rebuild New Orleans? Not exactly. They don't seem to have the same level of expertise that on the ground community organizers do. How many people would still be without homes were it not for nonprofit organizations rebuilding in that storm ravaged city?

Community Organizing

I think the disparaging remarks about community organizing shows that these politicians are very out of touch with the reality of the world. Community organizing and community engagement will be the future of government in our nation. Those leaders that understand the immense value of the knowledge that people on the ground and in the neighborhoods bring to what is needed and how to provide it will be key in our government moving into the 21st century. Although some would have you believe that people want hand outs and a free ride, the exact opposite is true. The vast majority want the chance, sometimes the second chance, to make it on their own. Unlike some who strive for wealth they instead know that health, education, and opportunity is what is important.

Instead of looking down their noses at community organizing, they should understand that the dismissing of the community by those offhand remarks will probably in the end be their undoing.

The Value Of Grass Root Community Organizing

If I am correct, this country got started by grass root community organizing.

I think that those, such as the British, who dismiss those activities as worthless do so at their own peril.

Those who only serve the rich and powerful, and ignore the will of the "common people" end up the learning the error of their ways.

History has a way of re-teaching this lesson to those who who forgot it.

Kevin: Heard the best

Kevin: Heard the best comeback on the Diane Rehm show this a.m. when a listenter e-mailed in that "Jesus Christ was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate was a Governor."

Enough said.

We should be clear about government and citizen roles

Giving all power and authority to the top down approach is what got us in this mess. Gov has become a millionaire's club. Chaos and confusion requires a commander and chief who knows how to inspire and move us citizens in a good direction. Calming nerves, troubled hearts and the anxiety burdened into citizens encouraged and empowered to work out problems where we live is lacking today.  And when we are encouraged and empowered, we organize to get things done for ourselves. Grassroots is a citizen's right, it leads to voting or revolting. I for one will not bow down to a "you need a king" (smaller government) mentality.