Community Organizing At Its Best

August 17th, 200910:12 am @ Angela Odom



A group of people hold signs supporting health-care reform, outside the Alhambra Library in California. Danny Moloshok-Reuters

The other day I read an article on on my congressman’s health care reform town hall meeting. The article entitled “Congressman Adam Schiff’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care: Face Off Between Supporters & Opponents” did not really talk about what, if anything, was accomplished at this town hall meeting.  Instead, I read about the crowds assembled, their tactics and how the Congressman made a change of venue to one, accommodate the large crowd and two, create an atmosphere that was — I would guess — less confrontational.  All of this is fine and good but sadly, the article does not address what, if anything, was actually said and that is what I have found most disconcerting with all of these supposed town hall meetings.

From what I’ve heard or read, approximately 3,000 people appeared at the Alhambra Civic Center and because of the large crowd, the meeting was moved outside to the street.

The comments following the article were most interesting as people seemed preoccupied with the signs folks were carrying.  One person commented:

So the opponents only had hand made signs and the supporters had ones supplied by various support groups. That seems at odds with Administration/reform supporters who claim the opponents are organized and financed by various industry and right wing groups.

Hmm, apparently this individual is unschooled in the ways of — gasp — community organizers.  Yes, this was taken straight from the playbook of community organizing and it is community organizing at its best.

As a former activist, community organizer, etc., this was how I was trained.  The question was always “how do you motivate a people?” The answer was always “you lead them without them knowing they’re being led.” Makes sense right?

The point of any good grass-roots plan is to give the appearance all involved are not part of any one organized group.  It is important the people feel empowered and for this to happen they must remain in control of their message.

For organizers, emphasis is placed on providing folks with keywords which are then used to create signs, slogans, etc.  If brother-in-law has a printing shop, the organizer must encourage individuals to not allow brother-in-law to make signs because it could adversely affect the power of their words.  The appearance has to be people came, unplanned, uncoordinated, with homemade signs — community organizing at its best.

On the other hand, if you want to give a show of an organized block or group, everything is made uniform.  Everyone follows the same color scheme and carries similar signs following that color scheme, it’s basically one uniform glob of color and wording that says “we are all of the same mind.”


A group of Obama supporters chant outside the Portsmouth, N.H. high school where the President took part in a town hall meeting with constituents to speak about his plans for health reform. Jim Cole-AP

I hope I haven’t burst too many bubbles but let’s face it, after Palin made fun of “community organizers” in her speech last year, the tactics or techniques of community organizers were used at several of her rallies and have been employed since the presidental campaign.  When I first saw these techniques being used I laughed aloud.

Not much is as it appears unfortunately.  Techniques are used to sway hearts and minds knowing most will focus on the superficial without giving much attention to what is actually occuring.  It’s mostly about smoke and mirrors or giving off certain appearances and it’s working.

As it turns out, many truly gave focus to the signs peopled carried and were swayed by appearance which proves the point, “lead them without them knowing they’re being led.” As they say, I ain’t mad at ‘em, it works.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch:
Real Time with Bill Maher Clip – Healthcare Divide