Raucous right-wing outbursts against health reform have been garnering a lot of attention lately, including within community organizing fora such as comm-org, whose editor recently asked: “Are right wing groups really building grass roots organizations and engaging in strategic actions? Or is this just right-wing-media-generated frenzy without any real organizing going on?” According to one thoughtful response:
“People misunderstand Alinsky’s tactics and what community organizing is about. It is NOT about being disruptive; it is about helping poor people and disenfranchised people find their voice and carve out their own platform for expression. It IS about helping people empower themselves; bringing the oppressed together to stop oppressing each other and to identify the real oppressors; and taking collective action to make a positive difference.”
Indeed, community organizing is not about hate — not about the kind of unrighteous indignation that prompted one anti-health reform protester in New Hampshire to bellow: “We don’t need illegals. Send ‘em all back. Send ‘em back with a bullet in the head the second time.” And hate there is in abundance at these town hall meetings, carefully crafted hate designed to shore up political fear and laziness. It is notable, for instance, that even the inclusion of legal immigrants in health care reform is considered too hot to touch by most federal legislators, though there are plenty of reasons to believe that doing so will only help everyone.
Those of us in New York may be tempted to hear-no-evil and see-no-evil when it comes to the place of immigrants in health care reform because legal immigrants, at least, are eligible for public health insurance and other benefits under our state law, so the decisions regarding immigrant inclusion made at the federal level may have little practical relevance for folks living here. (This is due to a lawsuit that was filed by several public interest legal organizations in New York City in the late-1990s, which resulted in the state’s highest court declaring that “care for the needy is not a matter of legislative grace; it is a constitutional mandate.”) But the kind of hate-mongering that has infected the public conversation on health policy is an affront to the low-income communities of color and immigrant communities that we represent, and to the kind of authentic and inclusive grassroots organizing for health justice that we embrace. We have a responsibility to offer an alternative frame to the debates, one centered on concepts of fairness, commitment, common sense and public welfare. (Click here for a set of resources from our friends at the National Immigration Law Center.) And we have the duty to inform others–our friends, family and neighbors–that true community organizing is not what they are seeing and reading about in these town hall meetings . Real organizing is about solidarity and social justice, not about divisiveness and disruption. Real organizing is what we can all do in response to the angry few.