At the risk of exposing too much about my offline life, I'm going to tell you a little something about the people I work with.
One is a woman who grew up in a squatter community in a Southeast Asian country. When the government bulldozed her entire neighborhood, she created a joint savings program with her neighbors and together they obtained governmental permission to purchase land on which to rebuild.
One is an MIT graduate who could have had his pick of any number of jobs upon graduation. He now lives in a slum in Asia, where he has helped establish a micro-enterprise program that gives individuals trapped by economic injustice the opportunity to start small businesses.
Another couple left careers in business that earned them seven figures a year. In a Central American country they worked with their neighbors to set up a commercial center that provides the community with stable jobs and much-needed services. It is now so successful that it donates to local charities out of its profits.
Still more make their homes in the inner cities of the United States, where they partner with their neighbors to run tutoring programs, drive out destructive businesses, and prod local government agencies to bring much needed improvements. They've protested unjust housing policies and spoken up for the disenfranchised. Sometimes government officials partner with them, other times they work against them.
Instead of seeking to elevate themselves, as much as they can they do their work behind the scenes. They're ultimately trying to work themselves out of a job. Because their goal is to empower struggling neighborhoods and communities to lead themselves. They advocate for the poor among the influential and equip them to advocate for themselves.
It can be risky work. Just in the last month one of my co-workers was threatened at gunpoint by a local gang threatened by the influence of his work. Two others had their apartment secretly searched by the police. Another had to comfort and protect her young children when a man was murdered in the street outside their home. But they press on because they believe in a cause greater than themselves.
They are community organizers.
You know what? A good number of them will probably vote in November for the party who has made a political strategy out of mocking their work. And that's their choice to make. I may disagree with them on many political issues, but I have the utmost respect for them and what they do. I'm proud to call them my friends. And if any of them moves on to elective office one day, regardless of their political party, I think they will weigh every decision against its human cost and effects on the most powerless among us. Because right now they live, day in and day out, with those who are struggling.
I don't care if it's a Democrat or a Republican doing it, anyone who dismisses the work of community organizers doesn't know the first thing about true power, true justice, or true service.