Water Man Spouts

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Community Organizing

{1} A Disorganized Dust of Individuals

"Durkheim, in his classic work on suicide, assumed that the cause is to be found in a phenomenon which he called ‘anomie.’ He referred by that term to the destruction of all the traditional social bonds, to the fact that all truly collective organization has become secondary to the state, and that all genuine social life has been annihilated. He believed that the people living in the modern political state are ‘a disorganized dust of individuals’."
--Erich Fromm; The Sane Society; 1955; pages 136-137.

Emile Durkheim was one of the "founding fathers" of sociology. The book that Erich Fromm quotes from, "Le Suicide," was published in 1897. His collection of works are still used in sociology and anthropology classes in colleges and universities around the world.

Among his most important contributions was his focus on the role of the individual in traditional societies, versus in modern society. A century later, the social pathology that Durkheim and others noted has become more entrenched: the break-up of the extended family unit, due primarily to economic influences; poverty; crime; depression and other mental illnesses; substance abuse and addiction; and suicide rates all provide evidence of the break-down of modern, high-tech society.

In this context, we must examine why a potential US Vice President would attack a community organizer.

{2} The Contest of the Future

"There is no doubt in my mind that a major crisis exists. I believe, however, that it is deeper and more pround than racism, violence, and economic deprivation. American society is undergoing a total replacement of its philosophical concepts. Words are being emptied of old meanings and new values are coming in to fill the vacuum. Racial antagonisms, inflation, ecological destruction, and power groups are all symptoms of the emergence of a new world view of man and his society. ….

"…… It would appear to me that modern society has two alternatives at this point. American people are being pushed into new social forms because of the complex nature of modern communications and transportation, and the competing forms are neotribalism and neofeudalism. The contest is between a return to the castle or the tipi.

"The difference between the castle and the tipi is immense, yet there are such great similarities that it is difficult to distinguish between them. Each offers social identity and economic security within a definite communal system. But the leveling process of the tribal form prevents hereditary control over a social pyramid, and the feudalistic form has the efficiency to create and control technology. Both are needed if we are to rule machines instead of submit to them.

"Many people can and will support the return of the castle. We have already experienced Camelot and the universal longing for its return. The massive corporate organizations have driven us into the era of neofeudalism. But the continual failure of the total economic system to support the population and the corporations speaks of the necessity to reorient social goals more in line with a tribal-communal life style. Tribalism can only be presented in mosaic form. ….."
--Vine Deloria, Jr.; We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf; 1970; pages 13-15.

Again, we should consider Sarah Palin’s attack on community organizers in the this context: is she actually against community organization? Or do her comments indicate that she is in favor of organizing the society on the model of the corporate castle, and simply opposes organizing on the "tribal" level?

I believe that most progressive and liberal citizens will agree that Ms. Palin is an advocate for the corporate castle. This allows a tiny minority to exploit the larger community, and that exploitation depends upon keeping individuals in a disorganized dust.

Tribal identity teaches unity. Alone, we are like individual fingers that our enemies can easily break. United, we form a powerful fist, where the fingers unite in a manner that is capable of protecting the interests of the larger community from those seeking to exploit them.

{3} Community Organization

Malcolm: "The only person who can organize the man in the street is the one who is unacceptable to the white community. They don’t trust the other kind. They don’t know who controls his actions. …. Let’s say I’m going to create an awareness of what has been done to them. This awareness will produce an abundance of energy, both negative and positive, that can be channeled constructively ….

"The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action."

Marlene Nadle: "Wake them up to their exploitation?"

Malcolm: "No, to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage. …."
--Village Voice; February 25, 1965.

I was lucky as a teenager: I had a friend/ mentor who had been friends with both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. When I first knew him, I was a top amateur boxer, and anticipated that I would have a career as a professional fighter. My friend, who had been a world-famous fighter, convinced me that I should hang up the boxing gloves, and instead focus on getting a college education. He told me that there were more important contests for me to prepare to engage in.

In part, I was able to pay for my education by working summers. I worked on foundations, and septic systems. It wasn’t glamorous work. It was hard, physically tiring, hot, and dirty. People driving by didn’t see me, and appreciate the quality of the work I did. But my father taught me that if a building didn’t have a strong foundation, that pretty soon its roof and ceilings would be damaged. And without a good septic system, the family living in the house would find it mighty uncomfortable.

As a young man who engaged in community organizing, I found there were similarities to that construction work. It was difficult and very tiring. People passing by on the streets of life might not recognize what I was doing, or appreciate my efforts. But without a strong foundation, the top of the social structure will fracture, too.

Those at the top appreciated some of my work. I helped create community-based programs that served children and youth in a cost-saving manner. Everyone could feel good about that. But more often, when I organized groups so that they could advocate for themselves, the people "at the top" resented and opposed my efforts. This was always directly related to attempts on their part to either directly or indirectly benefit from exploiting individuals and families at the margins of society.

I’m an old man now, and do not have the strength or ability to build foundations with the blocks and stones I could once lift. But I still try to do my part. And I have the utmost respect for those other community organizers who work daily, without the rewards they deserve, to repair and rebuild out society’s foundation. I encourage those who read this essay to continue to organize by educating others to their humanity and their worth.

Thank you,
H2O Man


Post a Comment

<< Home