Barrack Obama and Community Organizing
Erik Qualman has written an interesting article in Search Engine Watch on October 24, 2008 comparing the internet activities of two US presidential candidates on 5 key areas: website traffic, social media, paid search, organic search and You Tube. In Erik Qualman’s article he said Obama was the overall winner. Obama’s site receives 5.5 million unique visitors, while John McCain’s site receives 3.1 million. Social media (Obama): Obama has over 2 million fans on Facebook, while McCain has just under 600,000. Paid search (McCain): McCain has higher listings than Obama on key search terms. For Organic Search, it was a tie. YouTube (Obama): Obama’s YouTube channel has 100,000 subscribers and his videos have been viewed 17.1 million times. John McCain’s YouTube channel has 24,000 subscribers and has been viewed just 11.1 million times.
Just why is the world so fascinated by this man named Obama? In a You Tube video of Michelle Obama, the US first lady to be, said that when she was to meet for the first time this man who had a funny name, he thought he may be a nerd. But then after watching him conduct a meeting with a group in a low income community to which she was invited, she was very impressed at how eloquently the meeting went. In the meeting, what was discussed was the world as it is versus the world as it should be. That was the time Michelle Obama came to have an idea about community organizing, she said.
Yes, there is such a thing as community organizing. It is a process in which poor communities analyze their problems together and come up with proposed solutions. Community organizing is about people helping themselves. It is about people looking at the world as it is from a perspective of wanting to change it to a better one.
Society as it is, is arranged like a pyramid. The top 10% gets so much of the world resources and their concomitant power and prestige. While the poor, the greatest in number – around 75% of the world population, scramble over whatever is left for them to survive. This is not how the world should be. The value of social justice teaches us that there can be no peace without social justice. To be born with a silver spoon in the mouth is not a birthright from the point of view of justice. Every creature is supposed to have a just share of the resources of life. But the world as it is negates the higher values of life.
We know the great men in history who fought for the changing of social and political structures. Mahatma Gandhi led the salt march to tell the British that their control of the salt industry was making the Indians very poor and miserable. Economic and political control of people most often lead to a situation when those who are controlled by laws and power view reality as normal. Hunger, unemployment, disease – to people who have been in this condition for so long - this situation becomes normal. The mind gets so callous from striving only to survive. Quality of life is no longer the question. It’s just how to respond to the instinct to live.
Community Organizing wishes to show society that there is a way people can change reality; that if there is no way, people can make a way. But at the heart of that way is the empowerment of the poor. Without power, unjust social structures which are the root causes of poverty in the world cannot be changed. What is power then? Surely, the concept of power by the majority who are powerless and almost hopeless in all aspects of life is, initially, that which mirrors the power arrangement in the world as it is. But that type of power is not to be the type of power in the world as it should be. Power in the world as it should be is the power in solidarity with others who work for social transformation. It is not about having power over others. It is never having power over others. Power in the world as it should be is that power coming from the finest side of people. That power is the force coming from compassion, fairness, gentleness , irreverence at unjust social structures and the other values that belong to the higher order of values. Power in the world as it should be is the power to link up with other people to change a reality that does not dignify life.
Barrack Obama, the community organizer, is a kindred spirit. I bet this is the reason he is quickly becoming a symbol for everyone who wants a better world. Just an hour ago, I replied to an email from a community organizer in Nairobi with whom I had the rare chance of sharing my community organizing experiences in 1997 through my role as an external evaluator. It has been quite a while but this community organizer and his colleagues are still in touch with our community organizing group. My friend, a Kenyan, who is a community organizer is very proud of Obama. As a community organizer, Obama learned community organizing from Saul Alinsky, the great community organizer who started organizing at the Back of the Yards in Chicago. I was trained in community organizing under Trainers who were trained by a Presbyterian Pastor named Herb White who was trained by Saul Alinsky. From Alinksy, another big influence in our work is Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian educator who wrote the famous book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. This article sounds like tracing my roots by talking about Obama and Community Organizing. Yeah, I’m tracing my roots and my family of kindred spirits. I am very happy that a person who was once a community organizer is now in a position that can redefine the concept of power. I am not a cynic otherwise I am not a community organizer. I have faith in the future. I just hope that a community organizer who is about to take oath as the 44th president of a powerful nation will be on his way to generate the collective will to redefine the concept of power.
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