He absolutely had to be a “Community Organizer”
My good friend over at SouthWest Organizing Project (www.swop.net),
Tomas Garduno, articulated this entire article for me the eve of the
election on VOTE LIKE A ROCKSTAR: The After School Special which aired
on Channel 27. In talking about the work that SWOP does in the
community, he said “Groups like SWOP have been doing the work in the
community long before Senator Obama made it popular to be a ‘community
organizer’”. In that one sentence he beat me to the punch. Not the
punchline or the story line even, but the fist extended into the air as
WE, the community organizers, stand and be recognized for the work we
did to make this historic candidacy possible and the work we’ll
continue to do long after Senator Obama is president-elect.
What do I mean? I mean to say that the Obama Campaign was brilliantly strategized. Hats off to Chairman Dean, Axelrod and Plough! Their brilliance lies in the fact that they did not try to reinvent the wheel. At the same time, they did not parachute campaign either (as I might argue that the Republicans have been very effective at doing in the past). Meaning, they don’t just drop into your town every four years to stump issues and plant seeds of fear, desperation or misplaced nationalism. Only to ransom your vote and then leave right after they’ve won the race, never to be heard from again until the next election cycle…though they supposedly get regular input from their constituency in order to represent you? That was the old “successful” model, now reminisced as the “last campaigns of the 20th century”, while the Obama Camp has ushered in the “1st campaign of the 21st century”.
How so? Because they were smart enough to realize that they needed to use people already on the ground in “real American” communities all across the nation. But these people already in the trenches and fighting the wars AT HOME, aren’t easily swayed by perfect smiles, shiny shoes and fancy-shmancy check signing pens. These people have a certain disdain for authority and government, who has often said they have come to “help”, only leave the place worse off than they found it (kinda like parachute campaigning). People who have already enacted change in their communities on a local level and have a history of holding public officials accountable. People who have already had change they could believe in, because they are the agents of change in their communities. They have seen it, lived it and on a national level, waited for it for a very long time.
Why Obama? Because he is the first candidate that knows where we, these people, are coming from. He had to be one of us. He needed our buy in to give his campaign legs in the community and in order to get that, he needed us to believe. His story was one that folks in groups like SWOP, Common Cause, New Mexico Youth Organized, NM Hip Hop Congress, Young Women United and many others could believe in. Primarily because we lived it and we can smell when someone is falsely depicting or trying to capitalize off of our “everyday”. It’s like when you’re from the streets and you hear someone talking about said “streets” and three sentences in, you know for sure that they have never spent a day on the “streets” in their life. That’s not gangsta at all.
Why has it worked? Because we already had networks established. We have our own grassroots ground games. We already cultivated an organized, informed and active base of citizens who will get up out their homes and do what it takes to carry their neighborhoods, communities, families and schools forward. Tapping into these networks was essential for the Obama Campaign to get to this point. We are the ones out registering the record numbers of voters, convincing our gang-banging cousins to register, walking our neighbors with felonies down the path of re-enfranchisement. We are the opinion leaders in our social circles and personal relationships talking the issues with those we care about because their future is important to us. And that carries more weight than billions of dollars in TV commercials. It means more when it comes from someone you have suffered side by side with in the same economically depressed neighborhood for the past 8 years than from someone flown in from Boston to canvas your block for the past 8 weeks.
The Obama campaign understood this. Why? Because Obama understands this and quite frankly, “birds of a feather…” So stand up and take your bow community organizers. No matter what race, sex or nationality you are, one of ours has made it to the eleventh hour of the presidential race because of you. Because of us. We’ve been the change we wanted to see in the world for some time and now, finally, the world is starting to look like us. Our work is not in vain, and as President –Elect Obama realized on November 5th, neither was his. And maybe, just maybe, you, me a Tomas will all have to get bodyguards and paparazzi protection because after Tuesday, it will be DAMN sexy to be a “community organizer”.