Community Organizers ‘Appalled’ by Their Portrayal
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A number of New York-based community organizers are furious with the way their profession is being depicted by Governor Palin and a number of other top Republicans at the party’s national convention.
“Everyone I have talked to is absolutely appalled,” the organizing director for the Brooklyn-based organization Make the Road New York, Irene Tung, said. “It is both naive and offensive. Community organizing has been crucial to progress in this country and to the civil and women’s rights movement.”
“They caused a lot of rage in me,” an organizer for the Bronx-based Mothers on the Move, Nova Strachan, said yesterday. “It sounds like they are trying to belittle something that has a lot of meaning.”
The comment made by Mrs. Palin, the presumptive vice presidential nominee, that “a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities,” prompted one of the nation’s largest community organizers, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, to issue a statement saying it was “extremely disappointed” by the “condescending attacks.”
The tussle started with Governor Pataki asking, “What in God’s name is a community organizer? I don’t even know if that’s a job.” Mayor Giuliani followed with a similar comment on Fox News: “Exactly what does a community organizer do?”
There are 13,500 community and social service specialists in New York, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, although that may not accurately reflect the number of professional organizers, as it includes other professions as well.
There are thousands of professional community organizers in New York City, according to the co-founder of Community Voices Heard, Paul Getsos, the author of a book on community organizing. Activities of professional organizers, he said, range from recruiting, organizing meetings and members, lobbying and drafting legislation, and training.
“We develop neighborhood and community leaders by training people how to run meetings, build organizations, identify what they need to improve their lives, and work to find solutions to community problems,” he said.
Salaries can range from $18,000 for those just starting to as much as $60,000, he said.
“It is an activity to clean up the mess that the government creates by bringing voices of people to the table that have been excluded and left out,” the executive director of New York Immigration Coalition, Chung-Wha Hong, said.
According to the political consultant Henry Sheinkopf, the repeated invocation of community organization is an attempt by the McCain campaign to turn against Mr. Obama his years as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago.
“They are trying to create a class bias, excite the base, and take the term community out of context. That it has the possibility to have a racial connotation is certainly obvious,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. “They want to show that it is not a profession that creates a good or service, so he can’t be working man or woman.”
The lead organizer for Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Theo Moore, said he was inspired to enter the ranks of community organizers following his years as a college student fighting funding cuts to City University of New York and State University of New York programs. Even he admits the profession can get a bit confounding.
“Sometimes I have trouble explaining it to my own mother what I do,” Mr. Moore said.