Thursday, September 4, 2008

Zen and the Art of Asbestos Removal; or, A Study in Community Organizing

One major question seems finally to be on everyone's mind, following Sarah Palin's brilliant speech last night: so what the heck is a community organizer, anyway?

While I wish the country had asked the question some time ago, I'm amazed to see as I visit blogs and websites that many people still think "community organizer" means "fresh-faced college student doing glorified community service, of the paint houses/clean up trash/hold neighborhood watch meetings variety."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A community organizer is a paid political agitator. Linked to Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation, community organizers believe in power, especially liberal Democrat power. Consider this, from the IAF website:
The leaders and organizers of the Industrial Areas Foundation build organizations whose primary purpose is power - the ability to act - and whose chief product is social change. They continue to practice what the Founding Fathers preached: the ongoing attempt to make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness everyday realities for more and more Americans. [...]

The IAF develops organizations that use power - organized people and organized money - in effective ways. The secret to the IAF's success lies in its commitment to identify, recruit, train, and develop leaders in every corner of every community where IAF works. The IAF is indeed a radical organization in this specific sense: it has a radical belief in the potential of the vast majority of people to grow and develop as leaders, to be full members of the body politic, to speak and act with others on their own behalf. And IAF does indeed use a radical tactic: the face-to-face, one-to-one individual meeting whose purpose is to initiate a public relationship and to re-knit the frayed social fabric.
One of the partners of "community organizers" and the organizations they work for, IAF and other similar organizations, is the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which lists its 2007 grant disbursals here (scroll down; the file is a PDF file). As I wrote about back in July, CCHD was one of the grant organizations helping fund Obama's work back in the early days in Chicago; writer Stephanie Block also notes a connection between CCHD and ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the organization Obama was associated with. About these types of organizations, Block writes:

The community organizing embraced by Senator Obama is an inheritance from Saul Alinsky who founded the Industrial Areas Foundation and wrote about his organizing principles in two books, Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals. Today’s major organizing networks - ACORN, PICO, DART, Gamaliel and, of course, Alinsky’s own Industrial Areas Foundation - owe their structures and their methodologies to Alinsky. The old time organizers who founded these networks were either trained through the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) or by IAF organizers.

Alinsky’s principles are deeply unethical, however. He teaches, for example, that in politics, the ends justify the means. Specifically, he teaches organizers to seek political power by any means that accomplishes that end. Local agendas are used to serve a larger, organizational agenda that is sometimes diametrically opposed to the values of its membership. Faith-based institutions are evangelized into liberationist theory through a variety of mechanisms. These are serious problems for the religious bodies who have become institutional members of the Alinskyian networks.

Some people, especially on the political left, take a more positive view of community organizing than this; however, in this positive article about Obama and his community organizing experience, the following anecdote is rather revealing:

Perhaps his most confrontational effort was to pressure city authorities to remove asbestos from the apartments in 1986. When the on-site manager didn't take action, Obama nudged the residents into confronting city housing officials in two angry public meetings downtown. These generated "a victory of sorts," Obama said later, as workers soon began sealing the asbestos in the buildings. But the project gradually ran out of steam and money. In fact, some tenants still have asbestos in their homes, according to current resident Linda Randle, 53, who worked with Obama in the '86 anti-asbestos campaign.

So a campaign led by Obama some twenty-two years ago during his "community organizing" days shows two things: one, that being a community organizer is a bit like the playground game of "Let's you and him fight," and two, that success is apparently defined by getting the community to go to meetings, not necessarily accomplishing the objective (in this case, asbestos removal).


And they say our vice presidential candidate lacks experience.


Anonymous said...

Funny you mention that. I have gone to a few meetings (including church-related organizations)in the past that seem to place high value and prestige on being there, but apparently very little value on actually accomplishing anything in the next century or so.

So many of these groups are good at "consciousness raising" and hand-wringing, but they don't actually *do* anything that has helped the people or issues that they seem so concerned about. This practice is particularly loathsome when it supposedly involves helping the poor or disadvantaged.

When I consider joining a group or cause, one of the first things I look for is whether or not the group is working on specific short-term projects with easily definable goals. I realize that some groups do more theoretical work, some more hands-on, but it's pretty easy to pick out the folks that want to get together and cause trouble just because they're too afraid to cause trouble on their own.

Margaret H.

Red Cardigan said...

"I realize that some groups do more theoretical work, some more hands-on, but it's pretty easy to pick out the folks that want to get together and cause trouble just because they're too afraid to cause trouble on their own."

Very well said, Margaret H.!

Anonymous said...

And this is why I quit donating to the Campaign for Human Development years ago. I also had a student who did a business report (for a business writing class of mine) on a local political group that got money from CHD. The grant was not to be applied to legal fees, but the group had few other expenses. Consequently, the leaders of the group used some creative accounting to launder the money for their legal fees.

Red Cardigan said...

Very interesting, Ladyhobbit! I hope that more Catholics will become aware of the CHD's activities and demand accountability from our shepherds; there is so much good that can be done for the poor and disadvantage that gets wasted on these ultra-political efforts, IMO.


It is time for all Catholic bloggers to begin a movement to shut down CCHD as it currently stands.

It needs a major overhaul.

Will you join me?

Will you spread the word?