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Obama: A Community Organizer

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posted on Sep, 8 2008 @ 11:41 AM
This piece on community organizers was written in 1990 by Barack Obama about his role in the community.

Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City

A public school administrative aide said to him:

"I just cannot understand why a bright young man like you would go to college, get that degree and become a community organizer."

"Why's that?"

" 'Cause the pay is low, the hours is long, and don't nobody appreciate you." She shook her head in puzzlement as she wandered back to attend to her duties.

I've thought back on that conversation more than once during the time I've organized with the Developing Communities Project, based in Chicago's far south side. Unfortunately, the answers that come to mind haven't been as simple as her question. Probably the shortest one is this: It needs to be done, and not enough folks are doing it.

And it tells what he learned from his time as a community organizer:

In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for others, but for themselves.

In 1985, when Obama was 24, instead of taking a high-paid job, he decided his purpose in life was to help people in need. So, he went in search of a place where he could serve. He went to a community. For $10,000 a year.

This 8-minute video shows his start, a little of what he did, how he thought and what his motivations were. Some of his

"He always stayed in the background and he's always tell us, 'This is your community'" - Yvonne Lloyd
"He taught us to speak for ourselves. He gave us the strength that a lot of people never gained... To this day, I am an empowered person" - Loretta Herrin

The whole program CNN: Obama Revelaed) is really good, but this is just one section. If you wish to see it all, just start with Part 1.

I think his drive to become president is his way of getting in a position where he'll have the influence and forum to be able to help the larger community in the same way that he helped the people on the south side of Chicago 20-some years ago.

I think this kind of "grassroots" movement is going to be the only way that we can take back this country again. From the bottom up.


posted on Sep, 8 2008 @ 12:31 PM
reply to post by Benevolent Heretic

A lot of people from the rust belt would understand this. The steel mills were the life bread of the communities. The mills started closing one by one with little or no warning other than a sign on a locked gate telling workers they were closed. People who had high wage manufacturing now did not have any way to pay the mortgage on the house, or to pay for their kids college. I know of many families who went through this, and saw many of my fellow students try to scrape by.
To give up a big law career to help the downtrodden speaks volumes of character. To hear the Republicans dismiss this was terrible. That could hurt them in the fall when trying to win over the blue collar vote.

posted on Sep, 8 2008 @ 03:29 PM
One thing that caught my attention was in the big hoopla event where Ms. Herrin was involved and Obama was one or possibly 'the' organizer, he was standing in the background, and Ms. Herrin was front and center.

IMO, far too many 'leaders' are in it for self-aggrandizement, and my impression of Obama so far at least is that it is less so for him. He loves the attention, no doubt...
but I don't get the sense that he needs it the way so many seem to. I'll continue to watch him and see if I change my mind on this.

Doing this kind of work, and getting results with no formal legal authority, just being "a guy" I think speaks well of his leadership and communication skills... in that kind of position, one needs to really lead, in the pure sense of the word, since one cannot dictate.

posted on Sep, 9 2008 @ 12:11 PM
reply to post by Open_Minded Skeptic

That does remind me of many of my bosses, who would push the person who actually did the work and took credit for the ideas or work.
Community work like that is for the people to get involved. After the organizer goes on to another project, the people who live there will have to run things. That is one of the reasons the locals are front and center.

posted on Sep, 14 2008 @ 02:05 AM
"The New Republic's" September 10 issue has several interesting articles on Obama. One of them, by John B. Judis, focuses on his experiences as a community organizer and how they brought him to question some aspects of his work:

In late October 1987, Barack Obama and Jerry Kellman took a weekend off from their jobs as community organizers in Chicago and traveled to a conference on social justice and the black church at Harvard. During an evening break in the schedule, they strolled around campus in their shirtsleeves, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Two-and-a-half years earlier, Kellman had hired obama to organize residents of Chicago's south side. Now, Obama had something to tell his friend and mentor.

Judis goes on to desribe Obama's relationship with his father and his father's decline after he abandoned his two-year-old son and returned to Kenya. After challenging the corrupt regime there, his father lost his job and basically lived hand to mouth afterward:

Obama told Kellman that he feared ending up destitute and unhappy like his dad. "He wanted to marry and have children, and to have a stable income," Kellman recalls.

But Obama was also worried about something else. He told Kellman he feared community organizing would never allow him "to make major changes in poverty or discrimination." To do that, he said, "you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials." In other words, Obama believed that his chosen profession was getting him nowhere, or at least not far enough. Personally, he might end up like his father; poltically, he would fail to improve the lot of those he was trying to help.

And so, Obama told Kellman, he had decided to leave community organizing and go to law school. Kellman, who was already thinking of leaving organizing himself, found no reason to argue with him. "Organizing," Kellman tells me, as we sit in a Chicago restaurant down the street from the Catholic church where he now works as a lay minister, "is always a lost cause." Obama, circa late 1987, might or might not have put it quite that strongly. But he had clearly developed serious doubts about the career he was pursuing.

Although the article challenges some popular ideas about Obama's beginnings (it's called "Obama's Creation Myth") it's a nuanced, interesting and well researched account of Obama's journey, his successes and sometimes discouragement, his gradually coming to question some of the foundational premises on which his mentors had developed the whole philosophy of community organzing.

Far from disparaging Obama, it gives me new insight and appreciation of the man he has become.

In "Barack Obama: In His Own Words" (New York: Carrol & Graf, 2007) he has this to say about service:

I wasn't one of these folks who at the age of five said to myself, "I'm going to be a U.S. senator." The motivation for my work has been more rooted in the need to live up to certain values that my mother instilled in me, and to figure out how you reconcile those values with a world that is broken apart by class and race and nationality. And so I guess I have on occasions had to push myself or I've been pushed into service, not always because I thought it was fun or that it was preferable to sitting down and watching a ball game, but because I thought it was necessary.

posted on Sep, 14 2008 @ 09:13 AM
Thank you for posting that excerpt, Sestias.

Reading over some of the articles and watching the videos, I got a feeling that Obama was frustrated with his community organizer job because he didn't have enough backing and influence to do as much as he'd like. He seemed to have big dreams to "change the world", but from his small perch, couldn't make the difference he so wanted to make in these people's lives.

If he does become president, I think it will fulfill a life-long desire to be in a position of power and influence from which he can make some real changes for many people. Kind of like a community organizer, with the community being a whole country.

posted on Sep, 14 2008 @ 12:54 PM
reply to post by Sestias

There is only so much one can do on a local level, but it is where to start. This is where the grass roots campaigns start, and they can end up sending one of your own to the state houses or to national office.

posted on Sep, 15 2008 @ 04:01 PM
Tell me something, how can you talk so much about his community organizer work, but completely ignore who he did it for? How in the world can you ignore the fact this group he worked for is extremely controversial and has ties to some radical people?

I'm just amazed that so much digging in to his work there, could ignore the actual group he worked for.

posted on Sep, 15 2008 @ 04:30 PM
reply to post by Dronetek

I don't see any indication that Obama has been involved in ANY shady dealings with ACORN at all. He hasn't dealt with them since 1993 as far as I can tell. And then, Acorn did respectable work.

Granted, they have engaged in questionable practices since then, AFTER Obama worked with them. But he cannot be held accountable in any way for the work ACORN did after he worked with them.

So, I'm not actually ignoring it, it just isn't relevant.

posted on Sep, 16 2008 @ 07:09 AM
reply to post by Benevolent Heretic

Obama trained ACORN leaders who went on to do radical stunts and/or hurt people. You dismiss it as irrelevant, without even really knowing anyhting about it. Of course you want to move on, it hurts your guy!

If the media did any research in to this, we might learn how Obama met up with all these radical friends of his.

Its also relevant to his plans for the economy. ACORNS practices actually put a lot of poor people out of work. When the ACORN organization was caught not paying their workers minimum wage, they claimed "We cant because we would have to fire people". A little bit ironic, don't you think?

posted on Sep, 16 2008 @ 07:55 AM

Originally posted by Dronetek
Obama trained ACORN leaders who went on to do radical stunts and/or hurt people.

As I said, I don't think he can be held accountable in any way for the work done by ACORN after he worked with them. You are welcome to disagree.

We cannot be held accountable for the actions of everyone we have known and worked with throughout our lives.

If you have something, I invite you to present it. But if all you have is that he once worked with ACORN, who, since then, has been involved in some questionable deals, I got that part. It doesn't prove or even indicate anything about Obama. As I stated in the thread you linked, there are people from my past who went on to be shady characters. I am not responsible for them or their actions.

If you have something to present about Obama's service as a community organizer, then do it. This thread isn't about me or what I believe. So, unless you have something else about his community service, I really have no further input.

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