Community Organizers

For those who are confused about what community organizers do, let me take some time to explain what the job involves:eme-lybarger-3

Despite popular misconception, community organizers do have actual responsibilities and are accountable to others. They include conservatives and liberals and all of the political and social commitments in between. First and foremost they are accountable to the communities they represent. They are also accountable to the organizations to which they belong and/or for whom they work. Finally, in large cities, community organizers are often also accountable to the city and/or state officials because they are called upon to represent their communities to the Mayor, State Review Boards, the Governor’s Office, etc. and those relationships help ensure that community organizing works. Often their ability to be transparent, consistent, and honest are key to their success; sadly, the same cannot be said for many politicians.

Community organizers also help ensure the equality, safety, and empowerment of their constituencies. They organize around issues as varied as safe parks and schools to voter registration and voter accuracy to heepokkimtried and true causes like Domestic and Sexual Violence and Fiscal accountability. They are the base of any movement, political or social, in every town, large or small and they have grown into some of our most influential and important national figures. When they fail to be accountable or engage in fiscal mismanagement they are often publicly rebuked and removed from their positions unlike politicians who often hide their behavior under bureaucratic red tape or talking points.

Community organizers are sometimes unpaid and more often underpaid for the work they do. Their hours are long as they have to accommodate constituents, emergencies, and changes in varelastrategies and venues. They develop some of the strongest coalition building skills of anyone involved in civic work because they have to work closely with ideologues, establishment, rich, poor, the hurt, the angry, the apathetic, and the uncaring to accomplish their goals. And in many places and many time periods they are the bravest among us because they have done nation and world changing work under threat. Thus they are often the most prepared for phone calls at 3 am because they are used to getting them.

fannielouhMore than that, many community organizers have been the first and strongest defense against the assault on the rights of marginalized people. They ensure that library facilities are built and maintained, rather than stripped of controversial books by civic leaders overstepping their bounds. They ensure teachers, police, and politicians are accountable to the communities they serve and that schools teach curriculum that helps students get into college and move into the real world successfully. They have ensured the building of shelters and passing of legislation to protect women and children from violence, instead of depending on a sympathetic politician to come along or worse having one veto the building of those shelters or compromise their work through personal agendas. They have protected workers rights against illegal work hours and payscales and death in 100+ degree weather so people can have a cheap glass of red wine after work. They were the first into battle against avila-smiththe spread of HIV and AIDS as well as homelessness amongst N. America’s youth. While some politicians were vetoing shelters for homeless and pregnant youth, community organizers were helping build semi-autonomous villages that complied with city ordinance or shelters or working on the entrenched systemic issues that led to homelessness in the first place. While some politicians were voting against increased spending for vet health care or covering up failures of care at the VA, both veteran and non-serving community organizers brought those failures to light and have fought for reforms time and again. In fact, community organizers who are maritza_silvaveterans have been some of the most vocal against wars like Vietnam and Iraq while politicians continue to promise unending war and have exposed sexism and racism in the military while politicians continue to fund private militaries implicated in both. Community organizers have drawn attention to the violation of state and national labor laws in the garment industry and the agricultural industry and the trafficking of workers in the poultry industry while politicians praise migrant workers in speeches and stir up anti-immigrant sentiment and back anti-immigrant laws in their voting record and other speeches. Community organizers have consistently fought at the local, state, and national level for compliance with the ADA. The list of important civic work they do is endless.harriet

Without community organizers many people in N. America would have no voice at the local or the national stage. Marginalized women – poor, rural, teen mothers, differently-abled women, elders, indigenous women, woc, adjudicated women and girls, etc. – have gained the most from the work community organizers do. While at the same time, their work has benefited every group making up this nation.

I’ve highlighted a lot of community organizers and activists on this blog throughout its existence. Just yesterday, I announced an event in Texas to honor three of them, one of whom is an amazing woman of faith. I’ve put several people in this post to help highlight the range of activism and point you to some cool work being done by community organizers as well as two women who have been ladukeleft out of the herstory of women’s political leadership in this country and another who was a significant female figure in the Democratic party, who all though she did not run made huge inroads for representation in the party. In the midst of all the election hype, take some time out to think
about who the community organizers are in your area and why their work has been so important.

(I’ve left the citations in large print so you can see, and thus follow, the links; all photos were unattributed except where indicated.)


16 thoughts on “Community Organizers

  1. mmmmHMMMMM. THANK YOU. I’m already tired of the outrage over how preposterous the remark is–when half the people showing the outrage consider community organizing to be some antiquated thing of the past that is no longer necessary or can’t even name but one or two feminist community organizers. I really think that that one line is exposing so much about much of the feminist community. hopefully it will lead to good things–although I’m not holding my breath.

  2. ##Jamie## – welcome to the blog. Sadly, yes. I wonder how many political organizers across the political spectrum she put off with that comment?##bfp## – antiquated? I see job announcements for community organizers every day. Many of the youth I mentor are community organizers as are many of the students I talk to across the country. The only ticket that does not have one time community organizers on it is the Republican one, so what does that tell you.

  3. Thank you so much and I am going to post a link to yours on my blog because you have said it much better than I. Moreover, that smug little . . . had better realize there are people in urban America that need community organizers because the people they help are often the forgotten ones.

  4. welcome to the blog Elena. Thanks for writing the piece on critiques of Palin for people who think that everyone came out of that speech “energized” and “excited.”

  5. I know that the internet reaches millions of people, but sadly, the people it needs to reach== the ones whose only access to “information” is the TV or radio or a neighbor with the same viewpoint, it does not reach. I wish that their could be, in this huge world of megainformation, a way to get to all those people. Then, when “leaders” like Geuliani and Palin and McCain and the others at the RNC, who stood before the entire NATION laughing at the accomplishments and hard work of this group of people, would not be tolerated. Those “organizers” got people to register to vote and in some ways got each and everyone of them elected! It is beyond belief that this is happening and that they are getting away with it.

  6. welcome to the blog Kay. I completely agree. And that is why those organizers are so important b/c they are on the ground talking to people in their communities in a way that the internet will not reach them. This is why I keep saying they are the “first and best defense for the marginalized.”

  7. Great post, though I find myself squinting to read the type – is it just me? lol… Anyway, is it not fascinating that although you state that community organizers can be both liberal and conservative, that most of the causes championed by community organizers are those that are almost diametrically opposed to the conservative viewpoint? Better wages, police accountability, worker’s rights, marginalized people’s representation, etc., almost all work AGAINST what conservatives – or more specifically, Republicans – value: law and order (to the point of fascism? my bias showing), free market correction, bootstrapping (as in pulling one up by one’s own). Scrooge – the real Scrooge as depicted by Dickens – was the perfect Republican. “Are there not poorhouses?” He believed that all the mechanisms of social justice were in place. Community organizers rail against the status quo in favor of more justice, more decency, more equality of opportunity and representation. Republicans, conservatives, would have you believe justice will be GRANTED, when community organizers know that it must be DEMANDED. That is why Republicans can insult the work of community organizers and mock the very idea of one. There is no hidden agenda in their words. Their agenda is clear as a bell. Sarah Palin and Rudy Giulian made it abundantly clear, if it wasn’t already. No amount of defining the work of a community organizer will win them over. The definition is exactly what they”Tell Your Story”

  8. welcome to the blog. I think you’ll find in rural areas or farm country tend to have lots of community organizers who are conservative and many church based community organizing is conservative on one or more levels as well. I just chose to highlight people whose politics is more like mine.

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