You also don’t get Ted Stevens getting earmarks for you. You make $12,000 instead of $64,000 a year. You work on issues like removal of asbestos instead of what time the bars close or whether to ban books at the library.
Community organizing is what ordinary people do in order to clean up messes made by politicians and their failed policies.
There’s nothing wrong with being a small town Mayor. There’s also nothing wrong with being a community organizer. The problem with Palin’s ‘experience’ isn’t the jobs she has held as much as a complete lack of interest in those issues that a VP must have a background on. Of course, Obama was an organizer 25 years ago before going on to:
- Harvard Law and the first African-American President of the Law Review
- Running an incredibly effective voter registration turnout operation in 1992
- 8 years in the Illinois Senate
- Being a Board of Director to a multi-million dollar grant to improve education in Chicago
- Running against an entrenched incumbent in Bobbie Rush
- Becoming the third African-American Senator since Reconstruction
- And then his Senate Record which includes bipartisan bills to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and make government more transparent
That, my friends, is experience you can believe in.
On top of that, he beat the Machine backed candidate in Dan Hynes who had every County Chair supporting him and a multimillionaire who threw money around like it was nothing. After that he beat back Mike Madigan and elected a young progressive to the State Treasurers position.
The power of the presidency is to persuade.
“Reading about people not that much older than me who had gone to jail and suffered beatings in order to liberate a people,” he said, “I thought there’s something powerful about that.”
Fellow Harvard University student Kenneth Mack remembered walking around the Harvard Law campus with his friend, who was constantly quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
” ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ ” Mack remembered Obama saying. “For other people to say things like that, people wouldn’t take it seriously, but with Barack, people really did take him seriously. They thought of him as someone who really sincerely believed it.”
But Obama was about 20 years too late to join King’s movement. So, he decided to do the next best thing. In 1985, a few years before he went to Harvard, Obama took a job as a community organizer. Test your knowledge about Obama »
He worked with Jerry Kellman’s Developing Communities Project. As a leader, he stayed in the background, but he taught residents of Chicago’s poor South Side how to effectively lobby their government to get badly needed services.
“Remember, at the time in Chicago, the wards were really politically motivated,” said the Rev. Alvin Love, pastor at Lilydale First Baptist Church. “If you weren’t onboard with the political process and people in leadership, then your garbage didn’t get picked up on time and your street didn’t get fixed.”
Obama helped bring pastors like Love and other community activists together to work on their neighborhood’s problems. En masse, they showed up at city meetings, and in a professional but firm manner made their concerns heard.
“Politicians understand that the number of community residents that come out for a community meeting probably represent 10 times the number of votes,” Love said. “So they pay attention.”
At first, the group achieved simple things. It got the city to clean up Palmer Park, a park filled with garbage and overrun with drug dealers. It got the city to start an after-school program. It even got the area its first badly needed job center. See photos of Obama campaigning »
“It might have been small victories to the outside world, but to us, it was big. It meant those kids could get the jobs; they could buy things to start back to school,” said Yvonne Lloyd, one of the residents Obama trained to lead lobbying efforts.
The small success gave residents something that would last a lot longer than a clean park or a job center. Residents said Obama gave them hope.
“We saw what could happen. We saw what can be done if the community has the resources and somebody to come in and train them. I’ll always be grateful for that,” Lloyd said.
The biggest challenge Obama’s group faced was the one that eventually ended Obama’s career as a community organizer.
Linda Randle, a fellow activist, brought a dramatic injustice to Obama’s attention.
At her job at the Ida B. Wells housing project, she noticed workers removing asbestos from the Public Housing Authority’s offices in that building. When she asked management when they planned to remove the dangerous substance from residents’ apartments, she said they told her they had no such plans. She was livid.
“I’m a lot more of a hothead than Barack is,” she said. “Barack is more for compromise, you know. He’ll wait and see.”
Obama joined the growing effort to lobby the city to remove the asbestos from public housing. Randle said he counseled calm and added that was good for her, because he encouraged her to take the high road in negotiations. “So I would say to myself, OK, I’m not really great at the high road, because the road is already crumbling, OK? So, I don’t know if I can make the road higher.”
Eventually, the Housing Authority gave in to the residents’ pressure. The management promised to remove asbestos from all parts of the buildings, not just its offices.