In praise of community organizers (such a beautiful writing)
IN PRAISE OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS
By Vu-Duc Vuong
Watching the Republican National Convention last week was like time travel, back to the past.
The shots of “nearly-all-white” delegates brought back memory of Philadelphia. It was true that in 1776, the founding fathers –no mothers, please– were all white, that blacks were counted as 3/5, for purpose of Congressional districting only, that Natives were shunted and hunted, and that Latinos and Asians did not register in the 13 original colonies.
Today, according to the Census Bureau, we’re only 34 years away from another USA where the majority of the population will be non-white. It is an open question how the GOP will “deal” with the current demographics.
It was also a display of willful ignorance, of fear mongering and of disparaging one of the noblest endeavors on Earth.
Throughout human history, society does not change by edicts from authorities. Invariably, it is those “organizers” who see the injustice and decide to do something about it, who initiate the change. And only when it becomes a movement that people in power either co-opt it, or are forced to accept it.
It was the “organizers” in 1776 that gave birth to this republic. It was the organizers of the underground railroad that freed the slaves and ignited the emancipation movement. It was the suffragettes who gained the vote for women in this country. And it was the union organizers that brought us the 40-hour week, better pay, benefits, and dignity in the workplace.
On a December 1956 evening, Rosa Parks did not act on the spur of the moment to take that forbidden seat behind the bus driver; it was an organizing campaign by the NAACP that prepared her for that gambit. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not only give eloquent speeches; he and his team labored in organizing the civil right community that brought us the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1980, having lost her 13-year old daughter to a drunken hit-and-run driver, Candice Lightner organized MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) that changed our driving culture.
To that list, one can add the likes of Mother Jones, Jane Addams, Saul Alinsky, Ralph Nader, Rachel Carson, Cesar Chavez, the Peace Corps, NOW, MALDEF, or Teach for America, to name a few.
Abroad, Mahatma Gandhi brought down the British empire, not with guns or violence, but with his organizing the common people to stand up for their own rights. Nelson Mandela gained freedom for Black South Africans not with executive decisions but with the ANC’s organizing. Or, come to think of it, wasn’t that young man named Jesus also an organizer?
So, Governor Palin, John McCain, Karl Rove, Rudy Giuliani, and all the Republican strategists, don’t tell us that community organizing is a job without responsibility. Or without lasting consequences. It only shows your utter ignorance of how changes happen in life and it insults the memory of all those who have made this world a better place.
Vu-Duc Vuong is a teacher and writer in the Bay Area. He was a community organizer working with Southeast Asian refugees from 1975 to 1997.