Thursday, September 4, 2008

Commentary: GOP shouldn’t Knock Community Organizers

Editor's Note: Roland S. Martin, a nationally syndicated columnist and Chicago-based radio host, is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America.

Roland Martin says the Republican statements downplaying role of community organizers are a mistake.

The Republicans have made it clear where their focus is this week with their convention slogan, "Country First."

With the abundance of flags, chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A." and tributes to those in the military, they have been laying it on thick.

Sen. John McCain has often talked about the need for Americans to dedicate themselves to service, namely military, and he is on the money.

But a line of attack that was used consistently last night by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and later by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, tried to call into question whether community organizers put their country first.

Palin focused on the issue, mainly to criticize the Obama campaign for offering up his community organizing work opposite her experience as mayor.

But when you examine Giuliani's dismissive tone -- and the subsequent laughter by the Republicans in the XCel Energy Center -- regarding the community organizer jabs, the Democrats could have an opening.

After praising Palin's speech, I said as much, and that they can expect the Obama-Biden camp to seize on that point. This morning, I read an e-mail from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who incorporated the community organizer argument into a fundraising appeal.

Republican operatives I talked to said the lines were brilliant and that community organizers don't play to the GOP's strength.

I disagree. And so do the many folks who have sent me angry e-mails. They include white Republicans, black Democrats, people from Small Town, U.S.A., and Big City, America.

At a time when Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, folks are trying to get by after layoffs, people are struggling with lack of healthcare, and we're facing pressing environmental issues, it's ludicrous to slam the little man and woman who isn't asking the government for handouts, but is doing what they can to make their neighborhood and city better.

I think of my parents. As a child growing up in the Clinton Park neighborhood in Houston, Texas, my parents were just regular folks trying to raise their five children (sounds like Gov. Sarah Palin). They were always present at our local elementary school (sounds like Gov. Sarah Palin) and were heavily involved in our church.

But our neighborhood was dying. Drugs were ravaging it. Older homeowners were dying and their children didn't want to live there, so they began renting to people who really didn't care. We saw abandoned homes, weeded lots, no sidewalks, a park falling into disrepair, and a senior citizen center shuttered.

So they joined several others neighbors and decided to form a civic club. Others called them crazy for trying to advance their ideas, but they didn't give up.

They enlisted their children in passing out flyers and putting up signs, notifying folks of the monthly meetings. A few folks showed up, but they kept going.

And going. And going. And going.

After months, and then years, we began to see progress: Stepped up police patrols and crack houses raided by the Houston police, DEA and FBI. Abandoned houses torn down. Weeded lots cut. More heavy trash pickup days. New streetlights. New sidewalks. New sewer pipes. A refurbished park.

Bottom line, these average, low- to middle-income people didn't have political power. They focused on people power. They organized a community to take action.

So when Rudy Giuliani and Palin mock community organizers, they don't just toss a barb at Sen. Barack Obama, they demean Reginald and Emelda Martin. They degrade the women who fought for their rights. They disrespect the labor activists and immigrant worker activists like Cesar Chavez.

They dismiss those in the civil rights movement -- folks from small town America who were sick and tired of being sick and tired. They thumb their noses at the Nelson Mandelas of the world who want a better life for their children.

It would have been perfectly fine for Giuliani and Palin to say that Obama's community organizing days didn't amount to enough experience to be president.

But when you openly laugh and mock those hard-working Americans who are in the trenches every day, then you really don't care about "Country First" or service.

Will this be a major deal or a ripple? Likely the latter. But the one thing I know about community organizers is that they know how to organize communities. And if the McCain-Palin ticket wants to win, they best not slap those folks they need for voter registration drives and systems to get folks to the polls.

Community organizers are always told they can't do something or are dismissed as meaningless.

Yet they often have the last laugh.

Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin and John McCain might want to remember that.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

Source: CNN

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