“Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City” (1988) by Barack Obama

Listen Siblings, I come in peace,

“Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership — and not one or two charismatic leaders — can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions.” — Twenty-six-year-old Barack Obama

The Trinity of Liberation and a Core Tenet of the African Blood Siblings informs us that “Liberation empowers Politically, Economically and Culturally otherwise it’s enslavement.”  In 1988, twenty-six-year-old Barack Obama believed Liberation was Political Empowerment.  He had struggled for over five years to Politically Empower African people, which is more than many Africans would do.  But under-appreciation likely got the best of him.  At the end of 1988, Barack Obama enrolled in Harvard.  But his Core Tenets never changed.  He still maintains that Political Empowerment will Liberate African people.  Unfortunately he never learned what the African Blood Siblings teaches; Political Empowerment without Economical and Cultural Empowerment is Enslavement.  In 1988 I was born.

The Literature of the African Blood Siblings is vast.  Those who wish to learn Natural Philosophy can delve into the writings and retrieve an understanding of Nature not typically shared by any people.  Seasoned readers understand how Political Empowerment without Economical and Cultural Empowerment is Enslavement.  Unseasoned readers will need to pay close attention: The Politically, Economically and Culturally oppressed (as Africans are) are saddled with Dependency, Impoverishment and Individualism, respectively.  The three are interrelated in that one can not be removed without the other.  Therefore Empowerment removes all three or none at all.  Political Empowerment alone removes none, ergo it maintains African people in Enslavement and no one of good-will should pursue that strategy.

This is not to say that Barack Obama had ill-will toward the African Community.  He had struggled on our behalf as best he understood, and he can not be blamed for the Mis-Education that most in the West endure.  What’s more he’d be very well-suited in a Unit of Organization in the African Blood Siblings as a Political Scientist, for we know him to have a Sociological mindframe, as we see in his essay and Presidency.  But this shows why it’s important to spread the word of the African Blood Siblings today.  For Organizers are necessary yet most Organizers neglect the Trinity of Liberation as well as the Universal Laws and that’s partly why there is a dearth of Prosperous, Independent African Communities today.  So whereas Barack Obama took issue with teen pregnancies, inner city drug violence, organized crime, the high school drop out rate, issues of middle class flight, education, housing and employment, he couldn’t channel himself toward Liberating the race as the Wisdom of African Philosophy didn’t come his way in time.  He’s now President, very likely still taking issue with these, but still without a Liberating Organization; rather with an Enslaving Mis-Organization: the United States of America.

There are more Mis-Educated Africans akin to Barack Obama who struggle for our enslavement when they mean to Liberate us.  Most Africans never learn of African Nature so they impose the enslaving European or Asian Nature.  But we are responsible for reaching these Africans and Organizing them under an Organization which can Liberate African people: the African Blood Siblings.  For Organizing under the wrong Tenets is Mis-Organizing.  You will see in Barack Obama’s essay potential lost and you know from his ascendancy that he now Mis-Organizes with an Enslaving Mis-Organization: The United States of America.  Download and distribute the Flyer amongst our people.  Liberation is our goal and we won’t get it leaving our people in Ignorance of African Knowledge yet Knowledgeable of European Knowledge.  For that’s the recipe for being swayed by European Mis-Education.  We need to share the Knowledge of the right tenets and the right manners of Organizing.  Read more African Blood Siblings Literature.  Write the African Blood Siblings about Organizing.  Rally more Membership with the Flyer.  Prosperous, Independent African Communities await.  Subscribe, share, love.

By Barack Obama

Over the past five years, I’ve often had a difficult time explaining my profession to folks. Typical is a remark a public school administrative aide made to me one bleak January morning, while I waited to deliver some flyers to a group of confused and angry parents who had discovered the presence of asbestos in their school.

“Listen, Obama,” she began. “You’re a bright young man, Obama. You went to college, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“I just cannot understand why a bright young man like you would go to college, get that degree and become a community organizer.”

“Why’s that?”

” ‘Cause the pay is low, the hours is long, and don’t nobody appreciate you.” She shook her head in puzzlement as she wandered back to attend to her duties.

I’ve thought back on that conversation more than once during the time I’ve organized with the Developing Communities Project, based in Chicago’s far south side. Unfortunately, the answers that come to mind haven’t been as simple as her question. Probably the shortest one is this: It needs to be done, and not enough folks are doing it.

The debate as to how black and other dispossessed people can forward their lot in America is not new. From W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington to Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, this internal debate has raged between integration and nationalism, between accommodation and militancy, between sit-down strikes and boardroom negotiations. The lines between these strategies have never been simply drawn, and the most successful black leadership has recognized the need to bridge these seemingly divergent approaches. During the early years of the Civil Rights movement, many of these issues became submerged in the face of the clear oppression of segregation. The debate was no longer whether to protest, but how militant must that protest be to win full citizenship for blacks.

Twenty years later, the tensions between strategies have reemerged, in part due to the recognition that for all the accomplishments of the 1960s, the majority of blacks continue to suffer from second-class citizenship. Related to this are the failures — real, perceived and fabricated — of the Great Society programs initiated by Lyndon Johnson. Facing these realities, at least three major strands of earlier movements are apparent.

First, and most publicized, has been the surge of political empowerment around the country. Harold Washington and Jesse Jackson are but two striking examples of how the energy and passion of the Civil Rights movement have been channeled into bids for more traditional political power. Second, there has been a resurgence in attempts to foster economic development in the black community, whether through local entrepre­neurial efforts, increased hiring of black contractors and corporate managers, or Buy Black campaigns. Third, and perhaps least publicized, has been grass-roots community organizing, which builds on indigenous leadership and direct action.

The Developing Communities Project (DCP) holds a public meeting at Reformation Lutheran Church. Addressing the meeting is DCP president Deacon Daniel Lee. Seated on stage are DCP leaders and local officials. The result was a Career Education Network to counsel and tutor at-risk high school students. Photo courtesy of Developing Communities Project

Proponents of electoral politics and economic development strategies can point to substantial accomplishments in the past 10 years. An increase in the number of black public officials offers at least the hope that government will be more responsive to inner-city constituents. Economic development programs can provide structural improvements and jobs to blighted communities.

In my view, however, neither approach offers lasting hope of real change for the inner city unless undergirded by a systematic approach to community organization. This is because the issues of the inner city are more complex and deeply rooted than ever before. Blatant discrimination has been replaced by institutional racism; problems like teen pregnancy, gang involvement and drug abuse cannot be solved by money alone. At the same time, as Professor William Julius Wilson of the University of Chicago has pointed out, the inner city’s economy and its government support have declined, and middle-class blacks are leaving the neighbor­hoods they once helped to sustain.

Neither electoral politics nor a strategy of economic self-help and internal development can by themselves respond to these new challenges. The election of Harold Washington in Chicago or of Richard Hatcher in Gary were not enough to bring jobs to inner-city neighborhoods or cut a 50 percent drop-out rate in the schools, although they did achieve an important symbolic effect. In fact, much-needed black achievement in prominent city positions has put us in the awkward position of administer­ing underfunded systems neither equipped nor eager to address the needs of the urban poor and being forced to compromise their interests to more powerful demands from other sectors.

Self-help strategies show similar limitations. Although both laudable and necessary, they too often ignore the fact that without a stable community, a well-educated population, an adequate infrastructure and an informed and employed market, neither new nor well-established compa­nies will be willing to base themselves in the inner city and still compete in the international marketplace. Moreover, such approaches can and have become thinly veiled excuses for cutting back on social programs, which are anathema to a conservative agenda.

In theory, community organizing provides a way to merge various strategies for neighborhood empowerment. Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership — and not one or two charismatic leaders — can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions.

This means bringing together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education cam­paigns, and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues — jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to commu­nity needs. Equally important, it enables people to break their crippling isolation from each other, to reshape their mutual values and expectations and rediscover the possibilities of acting collaboratively — the prerequi­sites of any successful self-help initiative.

By using this approach, the Developing Communities Project and other organizations in Chicago’s inner city have achieved some impressive results. Schools have been made more accountable-Job training programs have been established; housing has been renovated and built; city services have been provided; parks have been refurbished; and crime and drug problems have been curtailed. Additionally, plain folk have been able to access the levers of power, and a sophisticated pool of local civic leadership has been developed.

Loretta Augustine, vice president of Developing Communities Project (right) discusses job training needs with Mayor Harold Washington and Maria Cerda, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training (MET). They are at the opening of the new MET Intake Center. Photo courtesy of Developing Communities Project

But organizing the black community faces enormous problems as well. One problem is the not entirely undeserved skepticism organizers face in many communities. To a large degree, Chicago was the birthplace of community organizing, and the urban landscape is littered with the skeletons of previous efforts. Many of the best-intentioned members of the community have bitter memories of such failures and are reluctant to muster up renewed faith in the process.

A related problem involves the aforementioned exodus from the inner city of financial resources, institutions, role models and jobs. Even in areas that have not been completely devastated, most households now stay afloat with two incomes. Traditionally, community organizing has drawn support from women, who due to tradition and social discrimination had the time and the inclination to participate in what remains an essentially voluntary activity. Today the majority of women in the black community work full time, many are the sole parent, and all have to split themselves between work, raising children, running a household and maintaining some semblance of a personal life — all of which makes voluntary activities lower on the priority list. Additionally, the slow exodus of the black middle class into the suburbs means that people shop in one neighborhood, work in another, send their child to a school across town and go to church someplace other than the place where they live. Such geographical dispersion creates real problems in building a sense of investment and common purpose in any particular neighborhood.

Finally community organizations and organizers are hampered by their own dogmas about the style and substance of organizing. Most still practice what Professor John McKnight of Northwestern University calls a “consumer advocacy” approach, with a focus on wrestling services and resources from the ouside powers that be. Few are thinking of harnessing the internal productive capacities, both in terms of money and people, that already exist in communities.

Our thinking about media and public relations is equally stunted when compared to the high-powered direct mail and video approaches success­fully used by conservative organizations like the Moral Majority. Most importantly, low salaries, the lack of quality training and ill-defined possibilities for advancement discourage the most talented young blacks from viewing organizing as a legitimate career option. As long as our best and brightest youth see more opportunity in climbing the corporate ladder-than in building the communities from which they came, organizing will remain decidedly handicapped.

None of these problems is insurmountable. In Chicago, the Developing Communities Project and other community organizations have pooled resources to form cooperative think tanks like the Gamaliel Foundation. These provide both a formal setting where experienced organizers can rework old models to fit new realities and a healthy environment for the recruitment and training of new organizers. At the same time the leadership vacuum and disillusionment following the death of Harold Washington have made both the media and people in the neighborhoods more responsive to the new approaches community organizing can provide.

Nowhere is the promise of organizing more apparent than in the traditional black churches. Possessing tremendous financial resources, membership and — most importantly — values and biblical traditions that call for empowerment and liberation, the black church is clearly a slumbering giant in the political and economic landscape of cities like Chicago. A fierce independence among black pastors and a preference for more traditional approaches to social involvement (supporting candidates for office, providing shelters for the homeless) have prevented the black church from bringing its full weight to bear on the political, social and economic arenas of the city.

Over the past few years, however, more and more young and forward-thinking pastors have begun to look at community organizations such as the Developing Communities Project in the far south side and GREAT in the Grand Boulevard area as a powerful tool for living the social gospel, one which can educate and empower entire congregations and not just serve as a platform for a few prophetic leaders. Should a mere 50 prominent black churches, out of the thousands that exist in cities like Chicago, decide to collaborate with a trained organizing staff, enormous positive changes could be wrought in the education, housing, employment and spirit of inner-city black communities, changes that would send powerful ripples throughout the city.

In the meantime, organizers will continue to build on local successes, learn from their numerous failures and recruit and train their small but growing core of leadership — mothers on welfare, postal workers, CTA drivers and school teachers, all of whom have a vision and memories of what communities can be. In fact, the answer to the original question — why organize? — resides in these people. In helping a group of housewives sit across the negotiating table with the mayor of America’s third largest city and hold their own, or a retired steelworker stand before a TV camera and give voice to the dreams he has for his grandchild’s future, one discovers the most significant and satisfying contribution organizing can make.

In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for others, but for themselves.

*For three years Barack Obama was the director of  Developing Communities Project, an institutionally based community organization on Chicago’s far south side. He has also been a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, an organizing institute working throughout the Midwest. Currently he is studying law at Harvard University. “Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City” was first published in the August/ September 1988 Illinois Issues  [published by then-Sangamon State University, which is now the University of Illinois at Springfield].

©  1990 Illinois Issues, Springfield, Illinois

Source: http://www.lib.niu.edu/1988/ii880840.html

8 thoughts on ““Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City” (1988) by Barack Obama

  1. Thanks for the upload. I had never read this before. Although I have heard many complain that Obama doesn’t speak about the inner city much today. I saw him crying about the recent shooting in Connecticut. Which involved mostly white children. But not much mention of the black children being killed monthly in his own town of Chicago. What are you thoughts on the shooting?

    1. I do not really follow Current Events too closely. But coincidentally, I responded to a picture hours ago touching on a similar subject on Tumblr: http://onitaset.tumblr.com/post/38263142662/i-like-this-europeans-own-the-cultural-influence

      In essence, the image is a dialogue between one man and the next. One says “I’m really upset about the massacre of innocent children–” so the next interrupts “The one in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, or the one the media told you to be sad about?”

      But as you put it, what about the African youth in Africa, America and the Caribbean? As I say there, Malcolm X pointed out how Cultural Influences can make even Africans sympathize with Europeans. But this is due Journalism. It’s not the European’s duty to gather sympathy for Africans, it’s our own. We are failing on our duty, no one else. I even relate how there were royal grievers in Africa who made whole kingdoms wail at funerals. This is the parallel of the European’s news–that we shouldn’t even be watching.

      As to the Connecticut shooting, I had the fortune to read Alton Maddox’s communication. As a topnotch researcher, he pointed out that Connecticut is actually the mother of gun violence. Samuel Colt and Eli Whitney were both of Connecticut. What’s more, the violence perpetrated at that school is incomparable to the violence perpetrated on Africans. In other words, Europeans are just being treated like Africans. It’s not really news to us.

      Though it does remind me of a particular conversation I had with Europeans in my younger days. In essence, the most learned of them conceded that the Jewish Holocaust was only considered tragic because it was perpetrated against Europeans. “Concentration Camps” were used by the British in Kenya after the European’s Second War; the Brits used it on South Africans prior to the First War. The European Jews were treated as Africans and that outraged the European world. In Connecticut, European kids are killed like Africans and that outrages the European world.

      To me, though, it’s not even accurate to say that they were treated as Africans. The truth is the European does beastly things. He mistreats all. This is what even Europeans ought learn. These mass killings are but reminders. Though I wouldn’t use this incident to make a statement against Obama. There’s only so much one can do with Mis-Education. And it remains upon us to do for self rather than wait and see what others will do for us.

      I hope I addressed your question and thanks for writing–and being an excellent writer yourself. :)

      1. That cartoon on that Tumblr is right on point! It says a lot. Thanks for the response. You’re correct on how cultural influences can make you sympathize with your oppressors. That is VERY true. You answered my question very well.

  2. O’bama’s statement about the problems of the inner city does not suggest that he stressed political power only as a solution to these problems. Instead, he seems to emphasize a multi-faceted approach, involving many institutions:

    (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership — and not one or two charismatic leaders — can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions.

    Although he is speaking in the abstract, it seems clear that he supports many local leaders, who will come together to represent all institutions that are in the interest of the community.

    1. Sister Dallas,

      The key to all problems is the problem of consciousness.

      There are three fundamental sciences of Liberation: Sociology, Ecology and Psychology. These sciences can be practiced in three traditions: Originalism, Occidentalism and Orientalism.

      Obama’s entire argument is Sociological, i.e. the Science of Organizational Empowerment. Ecology (Science of Environmental Empowerment) and Psychology (Science of Spiritual Empowerment) are absent in his analysis; and even today you will rarely if ever hear him speak toward these sciences in an Original tradition.

      To Liberate Africans the African must Organize, but the African must also control her Environment and Spirit. This document gives us a glimpse of Obama’s insight into the three sciences. I see him as proficient in Sociology, but that alone will not Liberate us.

      One of his statements was ironic:

      The election of Harold Washington in Chicago or of Richard Hatcher in Gary were not enough to bring jobs to inner-city neighborhoods or cut a 50 percent drop-out rate in the schools, although they did achieve an important symbolic effect.

      It can be rewritten as:

      The election of Barack Obama was not enough to bring jobs to inner-city neighborhoods or stop a 10 percent school closing in Chicago, although it did achieve an important symbolic effect.


      1. It doesn’t make the statement any less true. Putting Black faces in high places doesn’t necessarily bring change. The community itself must be organized and powerful. The elected official becomes the instrument through which that power is manifested. In the case of Chicago School closings, then we would look to local elected officials as symbols only.

        If organizational power is what Obama stressed, perhaps it is because that is how we harness all the other powers. Just a thought.

      2. Organizational Power can manifest without Environmental or Spiritual Power; in such a case the Empowerment works against African people.

        For instance, one can Organize against our Environmental or Spiritual Empowerment. Specifically, one can Organize for better roads and give the city contract to a White contractor (Organization for the wrong Environment); or one can Organize for better schools and employ a Eurocentric Curricula (Organization for the wrong Consciousness.)

        These routes prohibit African Liberation because they continue either our Dependence, Poverty or Individualism. This is one lesson from the Ancient Proverb, “Organization is impossible unless those who know the laws of harmony lay the foundation.”

        There are a Plethora of African Organizations. The big chain European Grocery stores in African neighborhoods, for instance, are partly a result of African Organizations. What African people need is not so much “Organization” but Self-Determinant Organization. This is what makes Membership of the African Blood Siblings necessary. No other Organization is so focused on the particulars of Self-Determination.

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