Something from a MOJ ReaderI trained and worked with Alinsky-school community organizers and one thing I always admired about them was their selflessness and independence from partisan nonsense. They didn't care about what sort of credit they were getting from politicos or media outside the community. It almost was a tacit point of pride among them that the more "invisible" but effective they were, the greater their organizing chops. The more misunderstood by the media machines the better. They preferred to manipulate, and not be manipulated by, the media. They preferred to operate under the radar of conventional political strategists intent on chopping up and controling local political power according to party self-interest, not according to the real interests of real subsidiary communities like parishes and local congregations.
from Mirror of Justice by Michael Perry
A MOJ reader sent this to me. I thought some other MOJ readers might like to see it. (I had not known about the web site Catholic Democrats, here.)
Palin Attacks Catholic Community Organizing by Senator Obama; No Mention of Economic Distress Across America
Minneapolis, Minn. - Sept 4, 2008 - Catholic Democrats is expressing surprise and shock that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's acceptance speech tonight mocked work that her opponent had done in the 1980s for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. She belittled Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer in Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago, work he undertook instead of pursuing a lucrative career on Wall Street. In her acceptance speech, Ms. Palin said, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." Community organizing is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching to end poverty and promote social justice.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has operated the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, its domestic anti-poverty and social justice program, since 1969. In 1986, the Bishops issued Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the US Economy, which said, "Human dignity can be realized and protected only in community." Senator Obama worked in several Catholic parishes, supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, helping to address severe joblessness and housing needs in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of Chicago.
"It is shocking that a vice presidential candidate would disparage an essential component of the Catholic Social Tradition with her condescending attack on urban community organizing," said Dr. Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats. "Her divisive rhetoric, repeatedly pitting small towns against urban communities, demonstrates not only a lack of charity toward the needs of some of the least among us but a fundamental disrespect for those who dedicate their lives to overcoming poverty across our country. Her sarcastic tone is also emblematic of the contempt that she and Senator McCain have shown toward actually addressing the economic distress that is gripping America in these difficult times. Economic issues, including extreme poverty, are among the most important to Catholics and other people of faith in this election."
"Why do Governor Palin and the McCain Campaign sarcastically attack efforts to organize unemployed Catholics and Protestants? Senator Obama has spoken warmly about his experiences as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago," said Lisa Schare, chair of Catholic Democrats of Ohio. "His work in helping people who were experiencing the real trauma of losing their jobs and livelihoods demonstrates an authentic Christian spirit and the real essence of Catholic Social Teaching, something strikingly absent from Governor Palin's remarks tonight."
True organizers are political ninjas and would never stoop to this sort of demonstrative, affected, self-centered whining over how their "profession" got snubbed by national politicians on the stump. That Catholic Democrats are stirring up this typical victimization/identity-politics resentment shows either how little they understand traditional community organizing or how much community organizing has become mainstreamed and thus cheapened by our therapeutic politics.
Palin's speech cheapened our public discourse on plenty of matters, but she simply did not malign Catholic community organizers. She was making the point that if Democrats give so much credit to organizers named Obama, maybe they should give her some due for being a small town mayor, which does intrinsically carry an enhanced set of responsibilities. It was designed to belittle Obama's organizing experience, to be sure, but its effectiveness derived from Obamamania's unprovoked belittling of small town mayors. This is just how national parties play politics. To be "shocked" and wax indignant about the GOP's insufficient respect for community organizing just makes these Catholic Democrats look no less crass and bullying than Rudy.
Finally, community organizing is at the heart of the USCCB's Campaign for Human Development (CHD), not of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) per se. It's an important distinction. CST doesn't directly endorse without qualification specific social forms other than the family, the parish, and the diocese. The CHD is primarily a national philanthropic fund for local community organizing, not an organic community in itself. It is just as vulnerable to bureaucratic self-interest as any other NGO with trans-local scope. These Catholic Democrats are trying to squeeze as much anti-GOP and pro-Democrat juice out this and they're producing more bitter pulp than juice. Let's just remember that by their own self-identification, Catholic Democrats have a conflict of interest: party first, local communities somewhere after that. True organizers know that and should brush these political charlatans off their rolled-up sleeves.