Toronto The Centre for Community Partnerships sponsored by Hart House and SEIU Canada invited me to deliver the keynote at the University of Toronto on “Lessons from a Life in Community Organizing.” It was a stately room with sandwiches, fruit, and cheese at the back for the guests, and the crowd was warm, supportive, and good humored, which was a balm for a day when I did a 15 minute satellite feed for CNN on the latest bochincha in the United States as the right continues to try to bring down ACORN in a death match.
But the one question that keeps coming up over and over again whether in Ottawa, Montreal, or Toronto is where is the movement? Where is the mobilization? Where is real fight for reform, the pressure we know how to produce, and the hot sauce in this stew? My friends in Canada are head scratching.
When I have said in all of these various communities that as an organizer I’m embarrassed when I have watched some of the footage or read about the town halls, because the Republicans and right wingers have ripped off our playbook, there isn’t laughter usually, but grim, hard headshaking and nodding in agreement. People here don’t get it, and frankly, I have been bobbing and weaving on these questions, because I don’t get it either.
One friendly sort at the University last night asked why when there are 47 million people without health insurance are these people not being organized to storm the gates? Another raised the same question when the lack of progress on immigration was raised, saying, sure, she understood fear, but out of 12 million people desperate for family unification and a path to citizenship, weren’t there enough that could be organized to raise the issues clearly and push back the bashing? Thankfully no one asked why unorganized workers are not clamoring for labor law reform so that they can join unions without fear, since that question would have been even more difficult and gnarly.
Somehow despite articulate argument and the lessons of long experience, we have known that we have to move the base to win and to push the government to give us the best rather than the least on these critical issues, but we have been caught napping or self satisfied or a captive of timid funding and crippled capacity or a transference of responsibility for change to electeds, forgetting that the power is all in the electorate and the base. I hate these polite but pointed questions, because even now it is not too late, but rather than standing up to neo-McCarthyism and roaring into action, we still seem to be cowering rather than finally mobilizing our base and asking people to act.
For now an organization like ACORN seems to have been temporarily taken out of the game, but that just means that many others will finally have to step up, take the heat, and deliver the fire. It’s time to answer the call. There’s now no “other guy” who is going to do this. All of you have to move into action.