Community Organizing is Social Media

(I’ll warn you in advance, this is a politics-influenced rant, but it does relate to community issues!)

During last night’s keynote speech by Rudy Giuliani at the Republican National Convention, Giuliani poked at Barack Obama’s former work as a community organizer with a smirk. Giuliani was clearly implying that community organizing was a joke, an utter waste of time. The crowd at the event laughed alongside him long enough to make him pause his speech. During Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech, she took a swipe at Obama’s service. Again the crowd went nuts.

Classy.

Here’s a part of how Barack Obama described his supposedly foolish pursuit in 1990:

In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for others, but for themselves.

Sound familiar? It should; social media and online community building are based on the “beauty and strength of everyday people”. Those of us who believe in the power of social media generally believe that small groups can have grand impact. The social media wonks among us have taken company after company to task for ignoring or misunderstanding this reality, and I hope that we do the same in this case.

This post isn’t about politics. It’s a reminder to all of us that laughing at those working to change the world or their neighborhoods for the better is absolutely unacceptable. We don’t accept it from the companies we buy from and we shouldn’t accept it from the politicians that we vote for, whatever side they come down on.

UPDATE: In the comments below and around the punditsphere today by many Republican supporters that the laughter was directed not at the concept of community organization, but the fact that Obama is somehow foolish for including that in discussions of his experience. Personally, I don’t buy that in the slightest, but you can watch the video and judge for yourself.