Like Woody Allen’s character in the film Zelig, Heather Booth seems to have been everywhere there was a fight for social justice. She’s played key roles in battles for voting rights, child care, workers’ rights, immigrant rights, and reproductive freedom.
Occasionally, President Barack Obama reminds us that he was once a community organizer.
In his interview last Monday night with BET News, Obama said that he had invited some people who have been organizing protests against police misconduct to meet with him at the White House last week.
“Because the old adage, power concedes nothing without a fight — I think that’s true,” Obama said.
Obama was closely paraphrasing a statement by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is well-known among community organizers and activists: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
This is not a phrase that most politicians would be familiar with. Obama probably first heard Douglass’ words during his three years as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1980s. Douglass’ famous one-liner was actually part of a speech he gave on August 3, 1857 in Canandaigua,
I’m currently taking an Occidental College class called Community Organizing – a required class for my Urban and Environmental Policy major. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks learning about what it means to bring about change – the planning that needs to go into it, the necessary time commitment, the different levels of power you need to take into account.
To be completely honest, I’m still figuring out whether I consider myself an activist. Am I someone who is engaged in bringing about change? I’m not sure.
That’s when I had the opportunity to interview a modern-day community organizer and change-maker: Pastor Norma Jean Patterson.
She made it clear that life-changing community organizing continues today, and made the historic leaders we talked about in class much more tangible in my mind. In the hour she spoke, she did more than just tell me her story, she moved me to understand the simpler concept underneath all the issues of community organizing: the power of loving people.