A lesson from Wisconsin, Ohio: Take off the kid gloves, Obama
Wisconsin teachers and public workers in Ohio have shown a kind of tenacity and conviction that our Community-Organizer-in-chief President Obama seems to have forgotten. Rather than shying from controversy and compromising his principles, Obama needs to fight his opponents head on.
Public school teachers in Wisconsin last month, and now firefighters and police in Ohio, have given America a lesson in community organizing. The politically naive might say the teachers were defeated, and perhaps in the short-term they were, but in the long run, their refusal to give in attracted immense public will and political capital to their side – which could change politics in Wisconsin significantly as chapter two of this story unfolds.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Who could learn the most from this lesson in courage and commitment? The Community-Organizer-in-chief, President Obama.
These public school teachers and their allies not only faced controversy head on but also fanned it, condemning their opponents, drawing a bright moral line in the sand, and firmly refusing to compromise. They exemplified some of the very core principles of community organizing that, as a young organizer, Mr. Obama taught others in the living rooms and church basements of Chicago.
Yet somehow, the president appears to have lost sight of the principles of agitation and inspiration that shaped his conscience and paved his path to the White House. By recommitting to his organizing ethic, Obama can not only strengthen his policy victories but also his chance of reelection.
Organizers seek out, not avoid, controversy
In outlining the principles of community organizing in his book “Rules for Radicals,” Saul Alinsky wrote that an organizer “must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act.”
In Wisconsin, public school teachers could have worked behind the scenes, through political decision makers and influential news media, to try to quietly address the situation. That would have been the controversy-adverse approach. Instead, the teachers understood the power of public, political friction to galvanize supporters and allies. Early on, they agreed to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s demands around salary and benefits cuts, making even clearer that the fight was over collective bargaining rights.