Part of the mythos of the Obama campaign is that Obama was a “community organizer” in Chicago. What does a “community organizer” do anyhow? I mean, the streets are already there, the water and sewer pipes, the schools, churches, PTA’s, girl scouts and boy scouts. What’s left? And who would pay someone to organize more stuff?
Well, I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but I do have a family story about Barack Obama. It’s a short story and an incomplete one, but a true one and one that touched my family, and for that reason I find it intriguing.
Once upon a time, a neighborhood was changing. In Chicago, when a neighborhood changes, it always changes from white to black, not the other way around. I have lived in a “changing” neighborhood, on one of the 11 “integrated” blocks that are the real demographic of Chicago’s “racially mixed” neighborhoods. Yes, there were incidents, on both sides, and there is no point in pretending that one particular race has a lock on moral purity and does not engage in race-based violence and intimidation.
I have heard stories from whites who lost their homes, everything, when blacks moved into the neighborhood. Unscrupulous real estate agencies engaged in “panic peddling” to pinch them between the emerging racial violence and a crashing housing market. It wasn’t the personal financial catastrophe they talked about, though. It was leaving the neighborhood cemeteries where their parents were buried.
Enter Barack Obama.
In this story, a southside Chicago neighborhood is changing and there is a meeting set up between church members of different races. Eight people show up at the meeting, and Barack Obama shows up. He is the community organizer. As a result of the meeting, the people who showed up invite each other to their homes. My family member in this story (black–we’re not ALL Swedish) invited a white woman to visit. When the white woman got there, she cried. End of story.
Not much of a story. No punchline, or big moral conclusion. But it doesn’t dovetail with anything I know about Obama, and it opens up a lot more questions. When Obama has talked about his days as a community organizer in his campaign speeches, he has talked about not being able to draw a big following. What was he trying to get people to follow? (It was mentioned in his Super Tuesday speech if anyone wants to track down an exact quotation.) He talks about telling his coworkers to look at a little black boy and think about that boy’s future and not give up. What does a black boy’s future have to do with interracial church groups in changing neighborhoods?
And why did the white woman cry when she visited the black woman’s house?