Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Haiti Journal

Haiti Journal #3

Dear Friends,

July 30, 2008

It is about 2 am here in Cap Hatien. We are lucky to email when we can. We are six days into our ten day humanitarian trip for Children's Hope. We have now delivered all the medical supplies, except those due to arrive by air tomorrow, which we will over-see. Things were going fairly smoothly, until yesterday afternoon when we got word that our usual companion, friend, and body guard in Cite Soliel was shot at several times.

Now, things have gotten worse. I got word yesterday afternoon that the Mayor in Port au Prince is trying to close Sopudep school again. That is the main school we support that teaches street children and restovek children (those sold into slavery). I was asked to get back to Port au Prince to meet with the Mayor and Sopudep lawyer on Friday, I will keep you posted if further international letter writing, etc. is needed.

Then tonight, as we were going home from Shada, we saw a rush of UN troops. They apparently were behind a number of armed returning Haitian army because after dinner, we saw the leader of the army on a press conference with the old army troops behind him here in Cap Hatien. This is not good news for us. There may be a response from the people tomorrow to their return. This army was disbanded by President Aristide before the coup. Now, this army has not been friendly to Aristide supporters. Since that is about everyone I know, we have some concern. This may explain why when we first landed in the north, the UN troopers would not lower their weapons, and why they insisted I stop taking their picture in return.

Again, there is nothing I ask you to do now...just know that I will keep you posted only when I can. We struggle getting access. Please just keep others informed, in case we ask for email, phone or letter support.

Do not worry. Things are quiet, the people are strong, and they are with us. There is great comfort knowing that we are serving the poor, and that they have not only strength, and unity, but they have generously accepted us to serve with them.

in peace and solidarity, leisa

The streets are quiet at this hour

Children's Hope
c/o Leisa Faulkner
3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682
“If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, your life will be safe, expedient and thin." Katharine Butler Hathaway

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Progressives for Obama: War Economy: Lessons for Obama, Too

Progressives for Obama: War Economy: Lessons for Obama, Too

Democratic Party Platform

Contribute to the Democratic Platform. This is a chance to talk politics.
Attend a platform development meeting. Sac State for Obama ( a part of the Progressive Alliance), will hold one of these meetings
7 PM.
Obama Headquarters. 1420 65th. Street/ Suite 102. Sacramento .
Wed. July 30, 2008. In the shopping center at the corner along with Strings, Starbucks etc. Park in the lot behind the stores.
This particular event will focus on platform issues on NAFTA and Fair Trade, Immigration, and one or two additional issues. Please inform yourself in advance on the Obama positions on this by going to
There will be several of these events in the Sacramento region. If you wish to focus on another issue, then you may wish to select a different platform meeting where your issue will be Highlighted. They will all be listed at
Note: if you register at, you will be asked to make a financial donation. This is voluntary. You do not need to donate to attend the Platform meeting.
For more information. Contact Duane Campbell, Electoral Chair , Progressive Alliance.
Volunteers needed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Greatest Threat America Has Ever Faced: the GOP?


July 23, 2008

The Greatest Threat America Has Ever Faced: the GOP?

The Mother of All Messes


Republicans are sending around the Internet a photo of a cute little boy whose T-shirt reads: “The mess in my pants is nothing compared to the mess Democrats will make of this country if they win Nov. 2nd.”

One can only wonder at the insouciance of this message. Are Republicans unaware of the amazing mess the Bush regime has made?

It is impossible to imagine a bigger mess. Republicans have us at war in two countries as a result of Republican lies and deceptions, and we might be in two more wars--Iran and Pakistan--by November. We have alienated the entire Muslim world and most of the rest.

The dollar has lost 60% of its value against the euro, and the once mighty dollar is losing its reserve currency role.

The Republicans’ policies have driven up the price of both oil and gold by 400%.

Inflation is in double digits. Employment is falling.

The Republican economy in the 21st century has been unable to create net new jobs for Americans except for low wage domestic services such as waitresses, bartenders, retail clerks and hospital orderlies.

Republican deregulation brought about fraud in mortgage lending and dangerous financial instruments which have collapsed the housing market, leaving a million or more homeowners facing foreclosure. The financial system is in disarray and might collapse from insolvency.

The trade and budget deficits have exploded. The US trade deficit is larger than the combined trade deficits of every deficit country in the world.

The US can no longer finance its wars or its own government and relies on foreign loans to function day to day. To pay for its consumption, the US sells its existing assets--companies, real estate, toll roads, whatever it can offer--to foreigners.

Republicans have run roughshod over the US Constitution, Congress, the courts and civil liberties. Republicans have made it perfectly clear that they believe that our civil liberties make us unsafe--precisely the opposite view of our Founding Fathers. Yet, Republicans regard themselves as the Patriotic Party.

The Republicans have violated the Nuremberg prohibitions against war crimes, and they have violated the Geneva Conventions against torture and abuse of prisoners. Republican disregard for human rights ranks with that of history’s great tyrants.

The Republicans have put in place the foundation for a police state.

I am confident that the Democrats, too, will make a mess. But can they beat this record?

We must get the Republicans totally out of power, or we will have no country left for the Democrats to mess up.

I say this as a person who has done as much for the Republican Party as anyone. I helped to devise and to get implemented an economic policy that cured stagflation and that brought Republicans back into political competition after Watergate. If I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen that under a free trade banner, Republicans would enable corporate executives to pay themselves millions of dollars in “performance pay” for deserting their American work forces and hiring foreigners in their place, thus destroying the aspirations and careers of millions of Americans, I never would have helped the Republicans. If a crystal ball had revealed that a neoconned Republican Party would launch wars of naked aggression against countries that posed no threat to the United States, I would have shouted my warnings even earlier.

The neoconned Republican Party is the greatest threat America has ever faced. Let me tell you why.

How many Republicans can you name who respect and honor the Constitution? There are Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and who? The ranks of Republican constitutional supporters quickly grow thin.

The reason is that Republicans view the Constitution as a coddling device for criminals and terrorists. Republicans think the Constitution can be set aside for evil-doers and kept in place for everyone else. But without the Constitution we only have the government’s word as to who is an evil-doer.

This would be the word of the same infallible government that told us that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that were on the verge of being used against America, the same infallible government that told us that Guantanamo prison held “770 of the most dangerous persons alive” and then, after stealing 5 years of their lives, quietly released 500 of them as mistaken identities.

Republicans think the United States is the salt of the earth and that American hegemony over the rest of the world is not only justified by our great virtue but necessary to our safety. People this full of hubris are incapable of judgment. People incapable of judgment should never be given power.

Republicans have no sympathy for anyone but their own kind. How many Republicans do you know who care a hoot about the plight of the poor, the jobless, the medically uninsured? The government programs that Republicans are always adamant to cut are the ones that help people who need help.

I have yet to hear any of my Republican friends express any concern whatsoever for the 1.2 million Iraqis who have died, and the 4 million who have been displaced, as a result of Bush’s gratuitous invasion. Many tell me that the five- and six-year long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are due to wimpy Americans “who don’t have the balls it takes” to win. Killing and displacing a quarter of the Iraqi population is just a wimpy result of a population that lacks testosterone. Real Americans would have killed them all by now.

Macho patriotic Republicans are perfectly content for US foreign policy to be controlled by Israel. Republican evangelical “christian” churches teach their congregations that America’s purpose in the world is to serve Israel. And these are the flag-wavers.

Those of us who think America is the Constitution, and that loyalty means loyalty to the Constitution, not to office holders or to a political party or to a foreign country, are regarded by Republicans as “anti-American.”

Neoconservatives, such as Billy Kristol, insist that loyalty to the country means loyalty to the government. Thus, criticizing the government for launching wars of aggression and for violating constitutionally protected civil liberties is, according to neoconservatives, a disloyal act.

In the neoconservative view, there is no place for the voices of citizens: the government makes the decisions, and loyal citizens support the government’s decisions.

In the neocon political system there is no liberty, no democracy, no debate. Dissenters are traitors.

The neoconservative magazine, Commentary, wants the New York Times indicted for telling Americans that the Bush regime was caught violating US law, specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by spying on Americans without obtaining warrants as required by law. Note that neoconservatives think it is a criminal act for a newspaper to tell its readers that their government is spying on them illegally.

Judging by their behavior, a number of Democrats go along with the neocon view. Thus, the Democrats don’t offer a greatly different profile. They went along with the views that corporate profits and the war on terror take precedence over everything else. They have not used the congressional power that the electorate gave them in the 2006 elections.

However, Democrats, or at least some of them, do care about the Constitution. If it were not for Democratic appointees to the federal courts and the ACLU (essentially a Democratic organization), the Bush regime would have completely destroyed our civil liberties.

Some Democrats are “bleeding hearts,” who actually care about suffering people they don’t know, and who think that we have obligations to others. Have you ever heard of a bleeding heart Republican?

Traditionally, Democrats objected whenever policies resulted in a handful of rich people capturing all of the income gains from the economy. There might still be a few such Democrats left.

Looking at the Republican mess, I doubt that Democrats, try as they may, can equal it.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Can Progressives Unite?

Can Progressives Unite, or Will It Be the Same Old Bit-Politics Story?

By Theda Skocpol - July 11, 2008, 6:41PM
Michael Kinsley has an incisive opinion piece at TIME/CNN called "Divided They Fall" -- and I urge everyone to read it. Kinsley points out that Republicans are setting aside their gripes about McCain and uniting to do battle, but progressives and Democrats are up to the same old internal sniping: single issue people bashing Obama for moving to the middle or voting a certain way on FISA, when his vote made no difference at all to the outcome; Clintonites using media sexism in the primary as an excuse to threaten to stay home or vote for McCain; fat cats who backed Clinton complaining to the New York Times, along with the blustering egotists like Carville; Jesse Jackson sniping about the common-sense notion that black people might have to be good parents as well as expect help from government.

This leaves one very sad. The social and redistributive stakes in this election are enormous. McCain can easily win if this summer is wasted, if Democrats do not unite and go on the offensive, if funders withold their efforts, if gripers undermine. But that seems to be what we are all doing.

I look back over an adult lifetime of this, of identity-oriented and single-issue groups undermining any chance for a convincing message relevant to all working middle class people. This lack of discipline and inability to sort out the fundamental from the partial is what has made it so hard for Democrats to win -- and has cost the country terribly in terms of the undermining of middle class wellbeing. Why are we doing it again? Why are we playing along with all the diversions and distractions the media wants to pursue, rather than speaking loudly with one voice for Obama and in drumbeat criticism of McCain? The summer weeks are precious, as we should have learned in 2004 -- mistakes now cannot be fixed later. At a moment when a core, long-term econmic advisor to McCain, Phil Gramm, has revealed the true heartlessness and stupidity behind conservative economic doctrines, we progressives are still talking about Jackson and FISA and Clinton's debts and overwrought claims of sexism. We are not hitting McCain/Gramm/Bush again and again in ways that would force some of the media, at least, to give the Gramm revelations -- they WERE revelations, not a "gaff" -- half the attention and staying power of the Wright ravings!

About ten days ago, I was finishing breakfast at my favorite diner, when I was joined by a well-known 60s-something feminist friend. I won't name her, but people would recognize and respect her if I did. We got to talking about the election, and she left me utterly depressed some 45 minutes later (during which I kept my patience and my cool while arguing, but felt devastated). She probably won't vote for Obama, she says, because she has to "punish" the Democratic party for its sexist treatment of Clinton. "We cannot wait" any longer for a woman president, she says, and she won't accept an "unqualified" man who "cannot win." She barely listened when I told her I could hardly believe what she was saying, that women above all suffer from the terrible economic policies that have been followed the past two decades. It makes a big difference for most working women, most families, who wins this fall -- because, as the research of Larry Bartels and others shows, Democrats follow very different social and tax policies. This is not just about abortion law. It is about the wellbeing of the middle and working strata in this country, and when they suffer, women and children suffer the most.

My friend was so tied up in her identity-politics bitterness she could not see the larger issues. Generations of women in American public life would be aghast at the navel-gazing nature of this sort of feminism, I realized. The women I wrote about in PROTECTING SOLDIERS AND MOTHERS, who always thought about the more vulnerable and families, would never understand an early-twenty-first-century kind of feminism that privileges bitterness and revenge about Hillary Clinton (who entered public life as a political spouse) over the wellbeing of the working nation's families. Jane Addams would not believe this.

I have been kind of depressed ever since that morning at the diner, especially because the supposedly progressive blogs are full of similar kinds of diversions -- and Obama's campaign is clearly being hurt by the lack of unity and discipline, as well as by its own tentativeness. I am not so sure progressives are going to do what is necessary to win -- even in this year when all the stars should be aligned. Unity and practical realism are the order of the day, and the fire must be directed outward, not inward. Can we do It?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Beyond Mainstream Media

From Huffington Post

CHICAGO — Barack Obama has found something that eluded him during the primary season _ contrast. And, he's basking in it.
"He will not bring change," Obama always asserts, rightly or wrongly, of rival Republican John McCain. "I will."
In McCain, the likely Democratic nominee faces an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way _ an Iraq war backer who supports free-market economics, opposes abortion rights and is a Republican. Obama delights in pointing out the differences, and does so often.
To be sure, McCain returns the favor at his campaign events.
But vast disagreements with McCain _ on everything from economic philosophies to security proposals _ seem to have given Obama license to more aggressively and enthusiastically go after his foe. It's a turnabout from his more cautious approach in the Democratic primaries when he faced Hillary Rodham Clinton, a fellow Democrat with whom he differed little.
These days, Obama assails McCain's position on the issues every chance he gets. He levels his charges with a commonsense tone and lighthearted touch that couches the criticism while making his core argument: McCain and President Bush are the same.

"If you are satisfied with the way things are going now, then you should vote for John McCain," Obama says before rattling off a list of current concerns, including rising gas prices, home foreclosures and job losses as the country fights two wars. Then, Obama promises "fundamental change."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Media clap trap

Mainstream media outlets are full of items like this.

Obama Supporters on Far Left Cry Foul

PORTLAND, Ore. — In the breathless weeks before the Oregon presidential primary in May, Martha Shade did what thousands of other people here did: she registered as a Democrat so she could vote for Senator Barack Obama.

Now, however, after critics have accused Mr. Obama of shifting positions on issues like the war in Iraq, the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, gun control and the death penalty — all in what some view as a shameless play to a general election audience — Ms. Shade said she planned to switch back to the Green Party.

“I’m disgusted with him,” said Ms. Shade, an artist. “I can’t even listen to him anymore. He had such an opportunity, but all this ‘audacity of hope’ stuff, it’s blah, blah, blah. For all the independents he’s going to gain, he’s going to lose a lot of progressives.”

Of course, that depends on how you define progressives.

As Ms. Shade herself noted, while alarm may be spreading among some Obama supporters, whether left-wing bloggers or purists holding Mr. Obama’s feet to the fire on one issue or another, the reaction among others has been less than outrage.

For all the idealism and talk of transformation that Mr. Obama has brought to the Democratic Party — he managed to draw a crowd of more than 70,000 here in May — there is also a wide streak of pragmatism, even among many grass-roots activists, in a party long vexed by factionalism.

“We’re frustrated by it, but we understand,” said Mollie Ruskin, 22, who grew up in Baltimore and is spending the summer here as a fellow with Politicorps, a program run by the Bus Project, a local nonprofit that trains young people to campaign for progressive candidates. “He’s doing it so he can get into office and do the things he believes in.”

Nate Gulley, 23, who grew up in Cleveland and is also here as a Politicorps fellow, said too much was being made of Mr. Obama’s every move.

“It’s important not to get swept up in ‘Is Obama posturing?’ ” Mr. Gulley said. “It’s self-evident that he’s a different kind of candidate.”

Bob Fertik, president of, a progressive Web site, started asking his readers last month to pledge money to an escrow fund for Mr. Obama, as opposed to contributing to him outright. The idea was to make Mr. Obama rethink his decision to support the Bush administration’s wiretapping measure.

Mr. Obama initially said he would try to filibuster a vote, but on Wednesday he was among 69 senators who voted for the measure, which to many liberals represents a flagrant abuse of privacy rights. The legislation grants legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the wiretapping program.

So far, 675 people have pledged $101,375 to Mr. Fertik’s escrow fund, money that theoretically would be donated to Mr. Obama once he showed a firm commitment to progressive values, Mr. Fertik said.

But Mr. Fertik also said that while Mr. Obama’s change on the spying issue upset some supporters, it was not necessarily emblematic of a troubling shift to the center. He said he continued to support the senator, though he added, “We don’t see the need to close our eyes and hold our noses until November.”

Still, others warned that Mr. Obama risked being viewed as someone who parses positions without taking a principled stand."

Let me say it. I am on the left. I have worked with Democratic Socialists of America since its founding in the 1980's. You can find out about this at
These news stories are crap.
I am disgusted with these news stories and the people making these comments.

Persons making these statements, like the Greens, do not understand U.S. Politics. If you want to know more go to Bill Domhoff's Who Rules America website. here:

What in this story, and the others, identifies a left ? Left has a meaning.
You are not left is you are just a dissident. To be on the left you need to have an ideology.
To see more arguments on this see Progressives for Obama. Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, and others.
We will be bringing Bill Fletcher of Progressives for Obama to Sacramento in the Fall for our Progressive Forum on Oct. 9.
If you wish to influence politics you need to talk about specific positions. One place to do that is at the platform meetings. Go to
You can register for one of our Platform discussions on July 30.
Duane Campbell. Electoral Chair. Progressive Alliance.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Edwards Brings Anti-Poverty Campaign To Hartford

Edwards Brings Anti-Poverty Campaign To Hartford


Courant Staff Writer

2:45 PM EDT, July 10, 2008

There is no bus, no banners, no trailing press contingent. But John Edwards still is campaigning, five months after ending his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Edwards brought his new anti-poverty campaign today to a Hartford public housing project whose residents say they have struggled for resources and attention at the Capitol.

"I'm blessed to have been given this national voice because of my own presidential and vice presidential campaigns," Edwards said. "But what I want to do is be a megaphone for those who are not being heard."

Edwards said he intends to represent people families desperate to be heard.

"I'm going to make their stories heard all across this country and fight for what I think is fairness and justice in America," Edwards said.

He offered no megaphone for those stories, not today.

The press and public were excluded for space reasons from a round-table discussion at the Boys & Girls Club of northwest Hartford about poverty in city that Edwards conducted with Mayor Eddie A. Perez, legislators and some local residents and activists.

"What was so terrific about our meeting here today was we had a group of people, including political leaders and local leaders, who are completely committed to this cause," Edwards said.

His organization is "Half in Ten," named for its goal of cutting poverty by half in 10 years. The club was chosen because it sits on the edge of the Bowles Park housing project and was the setting for a visit by President Bush in April.

Edwards spoke to reporters outside the club after the round-table discussion, flanked by Perez, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan, D- Meriden, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, and others.

Asked about Gov. M. Jodi Rell's rationale for vetoing a minimum wage increase – that it would hurt business and eliminate jobs for the poor – Edwards replied, "She's wrong."

Edwards said studies show that the local economy improves when the minimum wage is raised above the national minimum. The Connecticut minimum wage already was well above the national minimum.

"It's common sense," Edwards said. "Number one, people are able to support themselves. Number two, they make more money, so they infuse the local economy with more money. And because of those things, the local economy grows and jobs are created."

Edwards, who has endorsed Barack Obama, downplayed a flap over the Rev. Jesse Jackson unknowingly being recorded by a television microphone criticizing Obama with vulgar language for what Jackson described as talking down to black people.

"I believe that Sen. Obama represents in so many ways the hopes and aspirations for many Americans," Edwards said. "It's not just African Americas, but including African Americans."

He noted that Jackson has apologized.

Edwards repeated his standard line about the possibility of becoming Obama's running mate, the same nomination he accepted four years ago from John Kerry.

"I'm not seeking the job," Edwards replied. "If anything that Sen. Obama asks me to do ... allows me to serve my country, I would seriously think about it."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Obama and Community Organizing

Barack Obama and the Tradition of Community Organizing

Saul Alinsky, a major architect of the community organizing concept. Phot from cover of Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky, His Life and Legacy by Sanford D. Horwitt.

The following article by Peter Drier from Dissent online discusses the history of community organizing and how Barack Obama fits into that tradition. It fleshes out Obama's community organizing background, how that has influenced his campaign and how it might inform his presidency.

Thorne Dreyer

Will Obama Inspire a New Generation of Organizers?
By Peter Dreier

Americans are used to voting for presidential candidates with backgrounds as lawyers, military officers, farmers, businessmen, and career politicians, but this is the first time we've been asked to vote for someone who has been a community organizer. Of course, Barack Obama has also been a lawyer, a law professor, and an elected official, but throughout this campaign he has frequently referred to the three years he spent as a community organizer in Chicago in the mid-1980s as “the best education I ever had.”

This experience has influenced his presidential campaign. It may also tell us something about how, if elected, he'll govern. But, perhaps most important, there has not been a candidate since Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy who has inspired so many young people to become involved in public service and grassroots activism.

Through his constant references to his own organizing experience, and his persistent praise for organizers at every campaign stop, Obama is helping recruit a new wave of idealistic young Americans who want to bring about change. According to surveys and exit polls, interest in politics and voter turnout among the millennial generation (18-29) has increased dramatically this year. But Obama isn’t just catalyzing young people to vote or volunteer for his campaign. Professors report that a growing number of college students are taking courses in community organizing and social activism. According to community organizing groups, unions and environmental groups, the number of young people seeking jobs as organizers has spiked in the past year in the wake of Obama's candidacy.

Whether or not he wins the race for the White House, Obama, through his own example, has already dramatically increased the visibility of grassroots organizing as a career path, as well as a way to give ordinary people a sense of their own collective power to improve their lives and bring about social change.

Obama's Organizing Experience

In 1985, at age 23, Obama was hired by the Developing Communities Project, a coalition of churches on Chicago's South Side, to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing, and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores, and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms, and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to change things.

As an organizer, Obama learned the skills of motivating and mobilizing people who had little faith in their ability to make politicians, corporations, and other powerful institutions accountable. Obama taught low-income people how to analyze power relations, gain confidence in their own leadership abilities, and work together.

For example, he organized tenants in the troubled Altgelt Gardens public housing project to push the city to remove dangerous asbestos in their apartments, a campaign that he acknowledges resulted in only a partial victory. After Obama helped organize a large mass meeting of angry tenants, the city government started to test and seal asbestos in some apartments, but ran out of money to complete the task.

Obama often refers to the valuable lessons he learned working "in the streets" of Chicago. "I've won some good fights and I've also lost some fights," he said in a speech during the primary season, "because good intentions are not enough, when not fortified with political will and political power." (Recently, right wing publications, radio talk shows, and bloggers, such as the National Review and the American Thinker, have sought to discredit Obama as a “radical” by linking him to ACORN and other community organizing groups.)

The American Organizing Tradition

The roots of community organizing go back to the nation's founding, starting with the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party. Visiting the U.S. in the 1830s, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, was impressed by the outpouring of local voluntary organizations that brought Americans together to solve problems, provide a sense of community and public purpose, and tame the hyper-individualism that Tocqueville considered a threat to democracy. Every fight for social reform since then—from the abolition movement to the labor movement's fight against sweatshops in the early 1900s to the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the environment and feminist movements of the past 40 years—has reflected elements of the self-help spirit that Tocqueville observed.

Historians trace modern community organizing to Jane Addams, who founded Hull House in Chicago in the late 1800s and inspired the settlement house movement. These activists—upper-class philanthropists, middle-class reformers, and working-class radicals—organized immigrants to clean up sweatshops and tenement slums, improve sanitation and public health, and battle against child labor and crime.

In the 1930s, another Chicagoan, Saul Alinsky, took community organizing to the next level. He sought to create community-based "people's organizations" to organize residents the way unions organized workers. He drew on existing groups—particularly churches, block clubs, sports leagues, and unions—to form the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council in an effort to get the city to improve services to a working-class neighborhood adjacent to meatpacking factories. Alinsky's books, Reveille for Radicals (1945) and Rules for Radicals (1971), became the bible for several generations of activists. including the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and many other reformers.

There are currently at least 20,000 paid organizers in the United States,according to Walter Davis, executive director of the National Organizers Alliance. (Nobody knows for sure, since "organizer" is not an occupation listed by the Census Bureau). They work for unions, community groups, environmental organizations, women's and civil rights groups, tenants organizations, and school reform efforts. Unlike traditional social workers, organizers' orientation is not to "service" people as if they were clients, but to encourage people to develop their own abilities to mobilize others. They identify people with leadership potential, recruit and train them, and help them build grassroots organizations that can win victories that improve their communities and workplaces. According to organizer Ernesto Cortes, they help people turn their "hot" anger into "cold" anger—that is, disciplined and strategic action.

The past several decades has seen an explosion of community organizing in every American city. There are now thousands of local groups that mobilize people around a wide variety of problems. With the help of trained organizers, neighbors have come together to pressure local governments to install stop signs at dangerous intersections, force slumlords to fix up their properties, challenge banks to end mortgage discrimination (redlining) and predatory lending, improve conditions in local parks and playgrounds, increase funding for public schools, clean up toxic sites, stop police harassment, and open community health clinics. A key tenet of community organizing is developing face to face contact so people forge commitments to work together around shared values. (The Internet has become a useful tool to connect people in cyberspace and then bring them together in person).

For years, critics viewed community organizing as too fragmented and isolated, unable to translate local victories into a wider movement for social justice. During the past decade, however, community organizing groups forged links with labor unions, environmental organizations, immigrant rights groups, women's groups, and others to build a stronger multi-issue progressive movement. For example, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) has created a powerful coalition of unions, environmental groups, community organizers, clergy, and immigrant rights groups to change business and development practices in the nation's second-largest city. At the national level, the Apollo Alliance – a coalition of unions, community groups, and environmental groups like the Sierra Club – is pushing for a major federal investment in "green" jobs and energy-efficient technologies.

Although most community organizing groups are rooted in local neighborhoods, often drawing on religious congregations and block clubs, there are now several national organizing networks with local affiliates, enabling groups to address problems at the local, state, and national level, sometimes even simultaneously. These groups include ACORN, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), People in Communities Organized (PICO), the Center for Community Change, National People's Action, Direct Action Research and Training (DART), and the Gamaliel Foundation (the network affiliated with the Developing Communities Project that hired Obama). These networks as well as a growing number of training centers for community organizers—such as the Midwest Academy in Chicago, the Highlander Center in Tennessee, and a few dozen universities that offer courses in community and labor organizing—have helped recruit and train thousands of people into the organizing world and strengthened the community organizing movement's political power.

The "living wage" movement is an example of both coalition-building and linking local and national organizing campaigns. In 1994, BUILD—a partnership of a community organization and a local union—got Baltimore to enact the first local law, requiring companies that have municipal contracts and subsidies to pay its employees a "living wage" (a few dollars above the federal minimum wage). Since then, more than 200 cities have adopted similar laws, helping lift many working families out of poverty. Most of their victories grew out of coalitions between community organizing groups, labor unions, and faith-based groups. These coalitions have gotten more than 20 states to raise their minimum wages above the federal level. These efforts helped build political momentum for Congress' vote last year to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade.

Organizing and the Obama Campaign

Although he didn't make community organizing a lifetime career—he left Chicago to attend Harvard Law School—Obama often says that his organizing experience has shaped his approach to politics. After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice and teach law. But in the mid-1990s, he also began contemplating running for office. In 1995, he told a Chicago newspaper, "What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer—as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?" Since embarking on a political career, Obama hasn't forgotten the lessons that he learned on the streets of Chicago.

This is reflected in his campaign for president. Community organizers distinguish themselves from traditional political campaign operatives who approach voters as customers through direct mail, telemarketing, and canvassing. Most political campaigns immediately put volunteers to work on the "grunt" work of the campaign—making phone calls, handing out leaflets, or walking door to door. According to Temo Figueroa -- Obama’s national field director and a long-time union organizer—the Obama campaign has been different. “When I came on board what attracted me was his history as an organizer,” says Figueroa, who was working as AFSCME's assistant political director. “At the time I wasn’t sure I was joining the winning team. Most of us thought we were jumping on the little engine that could. We were believers. We wanted something bigger than ourselves. A movement.”

Obama enlisted Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who is one of the country's leading organizing theorists and practitioners, to help train organizers and volunteers as a key component of his presidential campaign. Ganz was instrumental in shaping the volunteer training experience.

Many Obama campaign volunteers went through several days of intense training sessions called "Camp Obama." The sessions were led by Ganz and other experienced organizers, including Mike Kruglik, one of Obama's organizing mentors in Chicago. Potential field organizers were given an overview of the history of grassroots organizing techniques and the key lessons of campaigns that have succeeded and failed.

“Organizing combines the language of the heart as well as the head,” Ganz says, reflecting on his experiences as an organizer with SNCC in the civil rights movement and as a key architect of the United Farmworkers’ early successes. Not surprisingly, compared with other political operations, Obama's campaign has embodied many of the characteristics of a social movement—a redemptive calling for a better society, coupling individual and social transformation. This is due not only to Obama's rhetorical style but also to his campaign’s enlistment of hundreds of seasoned organizers from unions, community groups, churches, peace, and environmental groups. They, in turn, have mobilized thousands of volunteers—many of them neophytes in electoral politics—into tightly knit, highly motivated and efficient teams. This summer, the campaign created an “Obama Organizing Fellows” program to recruit college students to become campaign staffers.

This organizing effort has mobilized many first-time voters, including an unprecedented number of young people and African Americans during the primary season. Now that Obama is the presumed Democratic nominee, he faces pressure to resort to more traditional electoral strategies, but so far Obama and top campaign officials have continued to emphasize grassroots organizing. It is evident in Obama's speeches, his continued use of the UFW slogan, "Yes, we can/Si se puede," his emphasis on "hope" and "change," and the growing number of experienced organizers drawn into the campaign.

Obama's stump speeches typically include references to America's organizing tradition. "Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope," Obama explained. "That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That's how women won the right to vote. That's how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom's cause." Change comes about, Obama said, by "imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before."

In town forums and living-room meetings, Obama says that "real change" only comes about from the "bottom up," but that as president, he can give voice to those organizing in their workplaces, communities, and congregations around a positive vision for change. "That's leadership," he says.


If elected president, will Obama's organizing background shape his approach to governing?

Obama can certainly learn valuable lessons from President Franklin Roosevelt, who recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protestors and organizers. He once told a group of activists who sought his support for legislation, "You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it."

As depression conditions worsened, and as grassroots worker and community protests escalated throughout the country, Roosevelt became more vocal, using his bully pulpit—in speeches and radio addresses—to promote New Deal ideas. Labor and community organizers felt confident in proclaiming, "FDR wants you to join the union." With Roosevelt setting the tone, and with allies in Congress like Senator Robert Wagner, grassroots activists won legislation guaranteeing workers' right to organize, the minimum wage, family assistance for mothers, and the 40-hour week.

After his election in 1960, President John Kennedy encouraged baby boomers to ask what they could do for their country. At the time, JFK meant joining the Peace Corps and the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program. He could not have anticipated the wave of protest and activism—around civil rights, Vietnam, and later feminism and the environment—that animated the sixties and seventies.

President Lyndon Johnson was initially no ally of the civil rights movement. However, the willingness of activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses, along with their efforts to register voters against overwhelming opposition, pricked Americans' conscience. LBJ recognized that the nation's mood was changing. The civil rights activism transformed Johnson from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally. LBJ's "Great Society" program—although criticized as too tame by United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther and other progressives—provided some community organizing positions with anti-poverty agencies, job training groups, and legal services organizations in urban and rural areas. Many of today's veteran activists got their first taste of grassroots organizing in the anti-poverty, civil rights, and farmworker movements.

Now comes Obama, a one-time organizer, who consistently reminds Americans of the importance of grassroots organizing. If he's elected president, he knows that he will have to find a balance between working inside the Beltway and encouraging Americans to organize and mobilize. He understands that his ability to reform health care, tackle global warming, and restore job security and decent wages will depend, in large measure, on whether he can use his bully pulpit to mobilize public opinion and encourage Americans to battle powerful corporate interests and members of Congress who resist change.

For example, talking about the need to forge a new energy policy, Obama explained, "I know how hard it will be to bring about change. Exxon Mobil made $11 billion this past quarter. They don't want to give up their profits easily." Another major test will be whether he can help push the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)—a significant reform of America's outdated and business-oriented labor laws—through Congress against almost unified business opposition. If passed, EFCA will help trigger a new wave of organizing that will require enlisting thousands of young organizers into the labor movement.

If Obama wins the White House, progressives within his inner circle will look for opportunities to encourage his organizing instincts to shape how he governs the nation, whom he appoints to key positions, and which policies to prioritize. Meanwhile, a new generation of volunteer activists and paid organizers will be looking to join President Obama's progressive crusade to change America. But if it appears that is veering too far to the political center, they will—inspired in part by Obama's own example, and perhaps with his covert support—mobilize to push him (and Congress) to live up to his progressive promise.

[Peter Dreier is professor of politics and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program at Occidental College, where he teaches a course on community organizing. He is coauthor of The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City, Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century, and several other books.]

Source. / Dissent