September 12, 2008

Standing On The Shoulders Of (Organized) Giants

I have written before on what it means to me to be part of the nonprofit community and how excited I am to one day be a nonprofit professional, so I'll get straight to the punch:

Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani made comments last week about community organizing that offended me.

Before I go on, there's a few things you need to know:

1) In full disclosure, I am a supporter of Barack Obama. However, it is important to note that my frustration stemming from the above comments has very little to do with politics, and everything to do with the complete misrepresentation of the nonprofit sector and the work my colleagues and I engage in on a daily basis.

2) I do not think that Barack Obama is the Messiah.

3) I have no ill will towards the office of mayor. The work they do is very important and I strongly believe that local elected officials have more impact on our daily lives than those good ol' boys in the District.

4) I hold firmly to the belief that the foundations of democracy are disagreement, dissent, and discourse. Please consider this post a living and breathing dialog, not a manifesto.

Alright, down to business. In the days following Palin's comment, I posted a Facebook status that read something like, "Sam has a thought for the day: Jesus was a community organizer, Pilate was a governor." It wasn't original, but it struck a deep enough chord with me to repeat it. The status also garnered some attention - not all positive. A quick sample:
You should not compare Jesus to either [Palin or Obama]. How absurd.

Pilate washed his hands, I'm sure both candidates do that.

As a nonprofit major, I was insulted at the comments.

Wasn't [Jesus] extremely divisive? There was that whole turning father against son thing... He was a great organizer, but he may be history's greatest divider.

I changed my status after a few hours, knowing I needed to clarify my thoughts on the subject. The next day it became obvious that this clarification needed to happen quickly. Greg Patterson over at Espresso Pundit posted his thoughts on the debacle. "Those of us who consider Jesus to be the Messiah aren't pleased to see him belittled as a mere 'community organizer.'" A mere community organizer? I sent him an email as soon as I read the post. Greg said he would be stopping by to read my thoughts. Hi, Greg.

In any case, after a few days of thinking through things and a few more conversations, I decided that two main things need clarification:

1) By reprinting the statement, I was in no way trying to making a comparison of Obama and Jesus. Instead, I felt it (effectively) highlighted the importance of the work that organizers do. I, like Greg, consider Jesus (read: not Obama) to be the Messiah, and arguably the most important man in history. Where we differ, though, is that I believe that the work that Jesus and the Dozen engaged in was community organizing. I mean, JC and the Big Twelve basically wrote the book (too good to pass up) on organizing a group of people around a cause...

2) Community organizing and voluntary action are central to our nation's history. As a voter, and as a (future) nonprofit professional, I don't want someone living at 1600 Penn who doesn't get that. If you have an issue with the whole Jesus thing, fine. But what about Susan B. Anthony, MLK, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, or those guys who organized a group of passionate people and started our country a couple hundred years ago? Fire departments, hospitals, and financial institutions all have historically deep roots of voluntary action. The PTA, of which Governor Palin is a proud member, is a perfect example of voluntary organization. The Boy Scouts of America, one of the most tenured and respected nonprofit organizations in our country, trained and tested Senator McCain until he was worthy of the title "Eagle Scout." Both McCain and Palin are proud card-carrying members of the NRA. Wait, "members?" Like members of an organization? Weird.

The Nonprofit Quarterly printed an editoral this week highlighting their take on the whole thing, saying that Giuliani might have less than cheery thoughts on organizing because he, "[Had] plenty of opportunity to become personally acquainted with the work of the New York Immigration Coalition, Jobs With Justice, the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development... and dozens, perhaps hundreds more [organizations]."

It's disappointing that Governor Palin doesn't realize the importance of community organizing, and that if she does add another crack to the 18 million, she's only able to touch the cieling by standing on the shoulders of giants. And last time I checked, political campaigns are run purely on voluntary action and community organizers.

When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the mid-nineteenth century he noted that, "The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by its private citizens." If I were to modernize his sentiment, it would read, "The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by its private citizens and the ability of its civic leaders to recognize and respect that work."

"The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
Alexis de Tocqueville

September 9, 2008

Presidential Forum On Community Service


* * *

PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent and Political Editor Judy Woodruff Will Join

TIME Managing Editor Richard Stengel to Co-Moderate

* * *

Public Can Submit Questions on Service for the Candidates

In their first joint appearance since the party conventions, Presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama will discuss in-depth their views on service and civic engagement in the post-9/11, post-Katrina world during the primetime “ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum” on the evening of September 11 at Columbia University in the City of New York.

The Forum is being organized by ServiceNation, a dynamic new coalition of 110 organizations that has a collective reach of some 100 million Americans and is dedicated to strengthening our democracy and solving problems through civic engagement and service.

PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent and Political Editor Judy Woodruff will join previously announced moderator Richard Stengel, managing editor of TIME, to question the candidates—who will appear separately—about their views on the meaning and importance of service.

“I am so pleased that my colleague Judy Woodruff will be there with me to moderate this historic event,” said Stengel. “This forum, timed to the anniversary of one of the greatest challenges our country has faced, is an opportunity for the next President to explain how the ideal of service fits into his vision for America.”

September 5, 2008

Friday Fun

Happy Friday!

If you're somewhere in or around Phoenix, don't forget that tonight is another edition of the First Friday Artwalk. I'll be checking out the new Ed Weston exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, and then probably meandering my way through all the street vendors and ad hoc artists, towards a watering hole later in the evening.

Don't forget the film screening tomorrow night. In the meantime, enjoy this:

"We're women. We have double standards to live up to."
Ally McBeal

September 3, 2008

On Track For Nonprofit Professionalism

I swung the bat a second time over at the Nonprofit Congress Blog. Would love to hear your thoughts:

Sure, there was a day when Birkenstocks and patchouli were the overwhelming symbols of the sector. Just a bunch of passionate people with big dreams about filling those proverbial gaps in society, operating outside traditional models of organizational structure and accepted definitions of hygiene. But those days are more or less over, and hopefully gone with it the stigma that we’re nothing more than a bunch of hippies. My friend and colleague, Alex, says that nonprofit work is about filling the gaps. She says that nonprofits meet the needs of people that government and private sectors fail to do. I believe that the sector always has been, and always will be, enlisted in the mission of filling the gaps. But how we respond to those gaps is evolving.

Go here to read the rest.

"I'll always be there because I'm a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I've any talent is beside the point."
Michael Caine

September 2, 2008

New Stuff From Banksy

These pictures have been floating around the Internet since Thursday. But with so much other stuff happening in NoLA over the weekend, I figured public art could take a back seat for public health and public awareness. More pictures from where I found them, at Wooster. He's also traveled to Birmingham, AL. Nice reference to the Grey Ghost in the first picture...

"We will return, we will rebuild and NoLA will rise!"
Michael "Rex" Dingler
Founder, NoLA Rising

September 1, 2008

Primaries Tomorrow!

Tomorrow (September 2), is the primary election for Arizona. So go, and engage civilly. Don't know where? Find out here. And then go do it.

"A nation that values its privileges over its principles soon loses both."
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Locavore: Coffee Style

Locavore, n: one who eats food grown or produced locally.

The term "locavore" gained official status when it was chosen by the New Oxford American Dictionary as its Word of The Year in 2007, but its practice has long been in existence with things like the 100-mile diet, other locavore movements, and of course the longstanding tradition of Farmer's Markets. In my own daily life, I try as hard as I can to partake in such a lifestyle. However, being in college (read: having a collegiate income) I find that sometimes a green life requires that other type of green...

Enter: coffee. I love the stuff. And now, I'm finding out that I can get a hint of that locavore mindset every time I indulge in that deliciousness...

Kevin over at Coffee Conversations put together a great list of Ways to Help the Independent Coffehouse. A few of my favorites:
Pay CASH for everything - There’s a bunch of rascally merchant provider salesmen out there who constantly work the independent coffeehouses and other small businesses to get them to switch their credit card processing to their company–promising low rates and then hitting them with exorbitant fees on a monthly basis. Even the legitimate merchant providers are a big expense for coffeehouses and being a small business normally means you have no room to negotiate with the big companies that run these credit card processing machines. Help your local coffeehouse owner by refusing to pay by credit or debit card because they in turn normally pay a flat fee plus a percentage of the sale (and then later monthly fees) so you can have convenient use of your card. Paying cash avoids all of this and helps keep an extra 2-5% where it will do the most good.

Live large by tipping large - Most independent coffeehouses are paying their employees everything they can but it can be difficult to retain and keep the really good ones with all the other expenses they have. If you’re given great service–but even if you’re given adequate service–be extravagant in tipping the guy who’s making your drink. He’ll remember you and the next time or two you’ll likely get what you ordered even faster.

Once you find that special place, BRAG BRAG BRAG - Tell your friends and neighbors all about this shop you’ve found and what you like about it so much. Insist that they tell their friends. In fact, just talk and talk about it. You’ll drive enough people crazy that eventually they’ll come to the coffeehouse to see what the fuss is all about. And once they’ve done that, mission accomplished! Now you are really helping your local coffeehouse to succeed and prosper.

If you're in the Downtown Phoenix area, I highly recommend Fair Trade Cafe, Royal Coffee Bar, and Copper Star Coffee (all members of Local First Arizona). If you're not down here (yet), check out Arizona Coffee's exhaustive list of coffeehouses in other parts of the state that are not named Starbucks (full disclosure: I used to work there). If you'd like to stray away from the chain and try something new, join up with Phoenix Friday Coffee (#PFC on Twitter). They don't bite... I think.

"Coffee is not my cup of tea."
Samuel Goldwyn