This is a blog post I hoped I’d never had to write. It’s a post about ACORN, Van Jones, Barack Obama, and culture of fear that is festering in our nation during an age of Glenn Beck. Those very ‘key words’ I just used will practically guarantee healthy post views and a long search-engine life for this post, but that doesn’t make me happy. Because I know that many of my friends – and probably even family members – will become a little more agitated with me, a little more distant as time wears on and views clash.
Where is the kid who was scored as the single most conservative member of his AP European History class in high school? Where’s the student that accompanied an elder of his PCA church to John Birch Society meetings? Where the guy who voted for Harry Browne in the 2000 elections?
Buried in the rubble of 9/11. Come of age in a Bush administration era. Watching the dream of Hope being crushed by fear-mongering word-of-mouth media marketers, and their circles of influence. And as a fellow nu-media marketing jockey, I’m pissed. This post isn’t going to score me any points with some of my ‘Christian’ friends, or certain corners of CBA publishing…or with my radical Anabaptist/anarchist I’m-too-cool-to-vote friends either, for that matter. Screw it.
Here goes…what follows is taken from my recent Facebook wall almost verbatim, but it’s mostly my side of the conversation, summarizing certain comment-ers, when appropriate.
First I post The GOP’s Blame-ACORN Game article from The Nation, showing how ACORN community organizers have long been against the predatory lending practices of the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae types (who names these cabals, anyway? Sallie, Freddie, Fannie…it’s like Dick and Jane books on crack). What follows is some basically insightful back-and-forth commentary from folks of different points of view. But then someone says “The punchline is the same – the GOP has no stomach for Acorn, IAF, and other (Alinsky-style, people-powered) community organizing groups.”
I think he’s right about the GOPs intolerance for rabble-rousing, truly populist movements. But I also agree with outrage expressed by many (on all sides of the aisle) about the human trafficking stuff – the Left (and all of us really – the Right too when it comes to gun-toting tea partyers and town hallers) need to realize that The People are messy – they can’t be boiled down an intrinsic, bucolic good. The People have issues, as do The Elite. God help us all…
That said, I continue to be 100% in support of community organizing, with the understanding that people need transformation and development as well as the lower functions on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A conservative friend of mine chimes in and says,
I like to think of myself as a gun-toting, tea partying, town haller!
And I say “Well there you go. And many progressives fear you, fair or not. Just like I’d say many conservatives fear power-to-the-people educated urban poor. Two sides of the same coin, really.”
Someone sounded off on this, saying that s/he found it incredulous that anyone could find value in community organizing organizations like ACORN.
Well, as someone else commented, “My spouse is a Realtor and has seen ACORN offer legitimate and much needed help to low income people. They have provided an important service.” Many other grateful low-income families would agree. Another friend of mine – who I’m guessing is fairly conservative-leaning politically – conceded that “ACORN is…a good organization with a worthy purpose and great success, but is now being brought down by the actions of a few corrupt, high-profile individuals who were put in positions of power that the should not have occupied.” Probably true. But the overriding concern here is that of media literacy: If the first you’re hearing of ACORN is from ticked-off media pundits blasting it, you’re probably not getting the full story. (And yes, I agree this means balancing my lefty news sources with your fascist ones! Tee-hee.)
Then someone brought up this 1999 New York Times story about President Clinton lowering the financial ceiling for eligible home-buyers. What do we make of this? My thinking is that one could construe the desire to make lending easier for poorer families a decade ago as being borne out of a genuine desire to help more low-income folks get into homes – just as one could see the GOP moves toward massive de-regulation as an idealistic move in keeping with conservative principles of minimal government.
Of course, one could also see both of these with a jaundiced eye – Clinton’s move to help Sallie & Freddie share-holders and GOP moves to further line all of their pockets with de-regulated flow. We have choices in how we interpret the motives of others – and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Ah, but polemics never stay in the middle, do they? Some people jumped on board hurling epithets like
“Not all poor people deserve to be able to own a home because they are too irresponsible.”
“In this country, if you are poor there’s a good chance it is because you’re too lazy to work.”
“The actual number of people who are poor for some reason other than it being their own fault is very low.”
“These people need to learn some personal responsibility.”
…and other insults. (I’ve got one question for ya’s: Ever read any Barbara Ehrenreich??)
Soo, then I launch into some heated words of my own – like poor people just don’t deserve a break, eh? Only those who earn favor (or are born into favored conditions) should get opportunities – the rest are ‘lazy’? I guess the Gospel we espouse and the Jesus we worship doesn’t apply so much to the real world, huh?
Look, I’m pro personal responsibility. I’m a small business owner who comes from a low-middle class (or high lower-class) family background and all that jazz. Who knows – maybe what I’ve done is that gravity-defying feat of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps! And I’m not naive: In being friends with homeless people for a couple of years now, I know that some have the aptitude to get off the streets and some just don’t – they’ve been acculturated into the streets. But does that mean we de-friend, and give up? The way these things about the poor are said, I’m sorry – it sounds like un-loving, callous disregard. When an organization is trying to lift people up by bringing a community together – I just don’t see how anyone can be categorically against that. I’ve long supported Christians (and others) involved in community organizing, and will continue to do so. Long live the CCDA!
And when I say “I just don’t see how anyone can be categorically against that” – I’m not trying to set up a rosy, pollyanna-ish caricature of ACORN or any other group. I think we’ve established that community organizers are people just like everyone else, and subject to the same foibles as the rest of us. I’m not nearly as convinced about ACORN’s voter fraud as I am that Bush stole the 2000 election via Florida and 2004‘s via Ohio, but I am sickened that anyone – poor or rich, liberal or conservative, black or white – would have hypothetically helped a pimp set up a brothel slavery ring for underage girls. This bears a thorough-going investigation and house-cleaning. But this isn’t where you’re coming from at all – you seem to be saying that community organizers are by definition lazy-enablers. I know too many organizers to know that this is simply not the case.
What’s particularly painful for me is the broken fellowship and lost friendships that are hemorrhaging over all these issues. I think about how politically lock-step I would have been with all of this political-rhetorical haze even 10 years ago, with my Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal/charismatic, and house church sisters and brothers. Though the differences between these sects are many, politically their conservative/Evangelical variants are virtually indistinguishable. (There are many in all of these streams who are politically heterogeneous, but they often suffer in silence as their viewpoints are ridiculed – either from the pulpit or around the living room.) I guess I’m coming from such a different place these days. I’ve said (repeatedly) that ACORN itself should be held accountable for anything that’s substantiated that it’s done, but this needn’t tar all community organizing organizations with the same brush – nor should it stain the reputation of the vast majority of ACORN workers. I think the reason why Beck, et. al’s, hysteria is so ‘believable’ to many is white fear, plain and simple.
( Let’s not get started on the Van Jones lynching! I’ve been a fan of Jones for years – we were even wanting to book him for a Christian festival I help organize (there’s that word again!), Soularize, but we couldn’t host it this year due to funding. No honest reading of his excellent book, The Green Collar Economy, could possibly support the claim that Jones is a communist – he’s quite capitalistic, but not in a naive way that gives big business carte blanche do do what they want without factoring in social and ecological costs. If you’re willing to consider another take on Jones, there are other perspectives. And for a clear-headed, factual refutation of Glenn Beck’s deliberate ratings-and-power-inducing spin job, you must read this article and this one.)
But what do I mean by ‘white fear’? I mean what Jimmy Carter meant when he said
“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter said. “I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that share the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.”
Carter continued, “And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”
I think that many of my fellow caucasian peeps are afraid of nonwhite people in power. Whether that’s the distributed power of communities organizing for better conditions, Latino workers’ unions, or a person of color occupying the highest office in the land – it’s terrifying many conservative whites.
Some balked at this assertion- was I calling them the dreaded ‘R-word’ – racist?
Not necessarily. I don’t know most people well enough to make such an assertion. I tend to believe that most people aren’t overt racists – not consciously, anyway. And that’s not a back-handed slam: I’ve been in a relationship with a black woman (now married) for over 12 years. Until I was dating her for a couple of years, I had no idea how unconsciously racist I was in so many tiny but cumulatively world-shaping ways.
But let me ask you something: Where were all the spontaneous white/conservative uprisings from 2008-2008. GW Bush, to use an epithet presently applied to Carter, was a complete idiot politically. And yet he surrounded himself with people (like Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld) who weren’t idiots at all – they were ideologues in service to a neoconservative agenda exemplified by the Project for a New American Century, which has as its stated aim to extend a new American imperialism over the entire planet. (Not very conservative if you ask me – hence the ‘neo’ I guess). So we get into a little war that ends the lives of over 100,000 women, children, men and soldiers, and costs $3 TRILLION dollars – money we didn’t and don’t have. Based on half-@$$ed ‘intelligence.’ Let me ask you this: Why was it only the hippie peacenik liberals who marched against the war efforts in 2002-2003? Where were the tea-baggers, and town-hallers then? Heck, where were they when Bush himself, in the waning days of his presidency, authorized the first bailouts?
Nowhere, that’s where.
Barack Obama has been president for less than nine months. He inherited, by any sane estimate, a $#!tload of problems from the previous decade. And yet right out of the gates folks are foaming at the mouth to bring him and his associates (and any perceived associates) down, and for what? Trying to fix the economic situation (my conservative friends and I agree on this – I don’t think Wall Street should be bailed out. I’m with this economist David Korten. But tell that to Big Business, the ultimate expression of Late Capitalism – they’re sure as hell not complaining), and trying to provide affordable and effective health insurance to everyone? I can understand political disagreement (and intelligent dissent), but bringing weapons to town halls, holding up signs with Obama’s face and horrible racist screeds?
I’ll ask again: Where was all this anger, vitriol, hysteria and fear these past 8 years? Why is (yes, I’ll name it) conservative, white America literally up in arms now when it was pacified as a contented mewling lamb during the Bush years? Why was W tolerable, even laudable, whilst O is Obaminable?
I’m helping raise an interracial family in a multiethnic neighborhood, so it doesn’t please me to ‘play the race card.’ It doesn’t make me happy to consider the possibility that this current state of affairs is fueled by racial fears and tensions, because to acknowledge such a potential pits neighbor against neighbor in my community – the ideas involved pit my little girl’s own blended genetics against herself. I don’t toss ‘white fear’ out there lightly.
But let’s compare the previous eight years with the past nine months, shall we? Did each administration…
- Take polarizing stances on social issues? Check.
- Increase the size and power of the Federal government? Check.
- Earmark lots of money for an initiative unpopular with a sizeable chunk of America? Check.
So: What’s the difference between GWB & BHO that has made these very different spiritual climates to live in? I have to say, the color of our Leader-in-Chief’s skin – with all the historical, cultural, and power-related pain this entails – is the most glaring difference.
This reality isn’t up for debate in my mind when I look at the barely-contained rage of so many indignant whites. My question is: What are people of faith, hope, and love to do given this reality? Are friends and followers of Jesus – and people of goodwill everywhere – going to turn a blind eye to this steadily-creeping phenomenon, much like Europe did toward Jewish people in the 1920s and 30s? Or are we going to confront this head-on, name it with love but resolve, and seek to diffuse these tensions by polemic-free debate that focuses on policy and not identity politics, and that throws parties rather than keeping locked up behind barred doors and picket fences? Me and my house, we choose the latter – God help us.