Wednesday morning I got an e-mail from a former member of our Sojourners community. Perry Perkins is now a community organizer in Louisiana with affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). "Perk," as we used to call him, reported on the enormous consequences of 2 million people being evacuated because of Hurricane Gustav, much of the state now being without power, how hard cities like Baton Rouge were hit, the tens of thousands of people in shelters and churches, and the continuing problems caused by heavy rains and flooding. Then he talked about how their community organizers were responding to all of this -- responding to hundreds of service calls, assisting local officials in evacuation plans, aiding evacuees without transportation, coordinating shelters and opening new ones, providing food, essential services, and financial aid to those in most need. Since Katrina, Perry's Louisiana interfaith organizations have played a lead role in securing millions of dollars to help thousands of families return to New Orleans and rebuild their homes and their lives.
Then Wednesday night I heard Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin say that her experience as "a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." The convention crowd in St. Paul thought that was very funny. But it wasn't. It was actually quite insulting to the army of community organizers who work in the most challenging places across the country and have such a tremendous impact on the everyday lives of millions of people. I guess Palin and her fellow Republican delegates don't know much about that. The "actual responsibilities" of community organizers literally provide the practical support, collective strength, and hope for a better future that low-income families need to survive.
Community organizers are now most focused in the faith community, working with tens of thousands of pastors and laypeople in thousands of congregations around the country. Faith-based organizing is the critical factor in many low-income communities in the country's poorest urban and rural areas, and church leaders are often the biggest supporters of community organizers. And many of them felt deeply offended by Palin's remarks. Here are a few of their responses: