Rounding up the citizens

Recently, community organizing has been in the news because one of the two candidates for president worked as a community organizer. There have been snickers, belittling comments and general disrespect for what a community organizer does. I think those who have that perspective are unaware of what community organizing is all about.

When some people look at government, they often complain about government doing things to them or not acting in their interest. While we elect officials every two, four or six years to act on our behalf, some people only get involved that one day to vote, and expect the elected officials and others in government to act on their behalf without the benefit of further input. If we acted the same way with our children, others would say we were negligent.

Community organizing takes the role of the citizen much more to heart. Community organizers work with people to empower them to be part of the process much more than one day every [few] years. After all, how can our elected officials work for us if they don’t know what we want? The people who lobby elected officials are very clear about what they want, and if our elected officials only hear from them, often the actions of those officials are on the lobbyists’ behalf.

I believe when people express their views, elected officials will listen.  We can get frustrated because it seems like our lonely voice doesn’t mean anything. However, a community organizer gets people together to speak with one voice and speak clearly about what the concerns are and the actions they want taken. Many organizers don’t come with an agenda other than to give the people they are working with the confidence to speak and the organization to carry forward so their opinions are heard.

In our community and country, our frustration has lead to cynicism about government of any kind, but democracy only works when people are engaged. If we don’t play our part, the end result is that government doesn’t work the way we want or expect. That frustration and cynicism can be mitigated, even erased, when we do get involved. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but it does take organization, and it does take the willingness of people from the community to get involved.

If those ingredients are in place, a community organizer can make all the difference in helping people change what they want changed. I’ve seen this work many times, and whether you realize or not, you’ve seen it work as well.

— Ron Katz


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