I spent the afternoon and early evening at Meetup yesterday. I wish I could do that more often. Meetup is a small company with a big mission - they are empowering the creation of the community organizations of the 21st century. Their slogan is A Meetup Everywhere about Most Everything.
As I sat there watching the employees demonstrating all of the projects they are working on and in the process showcasing all these amazing meetups they've helped start (currently over 100,000 monthly meetups serving almost 2mm meetup attendees), I started thinking about community organizing and George Bush and Ronald Reagan.
In George Bush's first debate with Al Gore, he famously said "my opponent will empower Washington, but my passion and my vision is to empower Americans to be able to make decisions for themselves in their own lives."
Ronald Reagan was characteristically more succinct and even stronger with "leave us alone."
Sadly George Bush has done nothing in the past eight years to live up to that brand of conservatism as this post called The Bush Betrayal from Cato Institute points out.
And Bush's would be successors McCain and Palin have made attacking community organization part of their sick attack on Obama (which appears to be working quite well right now). Doug Rushkoff put it this way after watching Palin's speech:
What is it they hate? Guiliani and Palin both made it pretty clear: community organizing. Community organizing is energized from below. From the periphery. It is the direction and facilitation of mass energy towards productive and cooperative ends. It is about replacing conflict with collaboration. It is the opposite of war; it is peace.
Last night, the Republican Convention made it clear they prefer war. They see the world as a dangerous and terrible place. Like the fascist leaders satirized in Starship Troopers, they say they believe it is better to be on the offensive, taking the war to the people who might wish us harm than playing defense. It is better to be an international aggressor - a bulldog with lipstick - than led by the misguided notion that attacking people itself makes the world a more dangerous place.
In their attack on community organizing - a word combination they pretended they didn’t know what it meant - Giuliani and Palin revealed their refusal to acknowledge the kinds of bottom-up processes through which our society was built, and through which local communities can begin to assert some authority over their schools, environments, and economies. Without organized communities, you don’t get the reduction in centralized government the Republicans pretend to be arguing for.
Sarah Palin, the barbie doll pit bull attack dog possibly President of our country said this in her speech:
I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities
When I heard that line, I had that sick to my stomache feeling when I first saw our current President George Bush come onto the national scene. It was good. But it is wrong.
And I hope that true conservatives, who value smaller government, do it yourself, leave us alone will see through this bullshit that Palin and McCain are heaping on us.
John Heilemann wrote another of his brilliant political analysis pieces in the current issue of NY Magazine:
Palin herself, of course, derided Obama’s experience in her speech, in particular his stint as a community organizer—which is no wonder, given that occupation’s urban (read black, read poor, read black poor) connotations.
If McCain and Palin are the really the defender of conservative notions like citizen's right to make decisions for themselves, and the rights of community groups like churches and other non government entities to empower people, they'd be celebrating community organization. But they only have one strategy which is to stick the knife in Obama and twist it and draw enough blood so that they win again. Heilemann always puts it best for me, so I'll end with another quote from his NY Mag piece:
But there is a reason the Republicans keep falling back, again and again, on such hoary tropes. The reason is that, from the age of Nixon to the era of Lee Atwater to our current (yes, apparently, it’s not dead yet) epoch of Rove, they have all too often worked. Us versus them is a potent message—and one tailor-made to a candidate with the name Barack Hussein Obama. Who, need it really be pointed out, is plainly not like you.