Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Obama's Neighborhood

"In the name of fairness to minorities, community organizers occupy private offices, chant inside bank lobbies, and confront executives at their homes, forcing financial institutions to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in mortgages to low-credit customers. In other words, community organizers help to undermine America's economy by pushing the banking system into a sink-hole of bad loans."

Stanley Kurtz, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, quoting himself at the Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal's roundtable, "Mr Obama's Neighborhood," October 1, 2006

And to think that Kurtz specializes in ethics and public policy. Reading the transcipt of this session, one feels Kurtz's hunger to confront ACORN, IAF, and Gamaliel, the "enemy" that personalizes enemies on behalf of poor people. Instead, in an ironic twist of Alinsky jujitsu, Bill Schambra of the Bradley Center invites veteran community developer Jim Capraro of Chicago and civic-participation sage Harry Boyte from Minneapolis,who both talk sensitively about listening, the "self," and citizenship. Byron York of the National Review still seems in a bit of a cloud from his real experience visting real neighborhoods and talking to rough-and-tumble organizers. Kurtz hungered for red meat and didn't get it.

What didn't come out clearly during this roundtable was the simple idea, for me, that most forms of community organizing seek to address the lack of "power" of many communities to have a modest amount of control over the resources and future of their families, neighborhoods, and jobs. This lack of power includes the general inattention of political representatives and the political process.

Community organizing brings the power and voice of lots of people together to make concrete changes. Lots of other good things happen during this process -- listening, leadership, community building, and citizenship -- and they may be the real long-term contributions of community organzing. But community organizing is also about making things better in real terms in the here and now. It's not primarily about ideological progress.

I wish the roundtable would have debated the question of power. And what should communities do when faced by disinvestment, predatory lending, redevelopment, poor schools, or crime?

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