WASHINGTON - Their profession mocked by Republicans on the campaign trail,
hundreds of community organizers - including more than a dozen from
Ventura County - got a little payback this week by flexing their
political muscle in Washington and meeting with members of the incoming
Their forum, dubbed Realizing the Promise, attracted more than 2,000
grass-roots, religious and political leaders from around the country.
The meeting was partly a follow-up to the Heartland Forum a year
ago, when Barack Obama promised to include community organizers in
helping to shape his administration's agenda if elected.
During the Republican convention, vice presidential candidate Sarah
Palin, who was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, before becoming that state's
governor, poked fun at Obama's experience as a community organizer on
the south side of Chicago.
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," she said.
The meeting this week was billed as a forum to "demonstrate the
power of community organizers," but according to news coverage of the
event, it also had the feel of a celebratory football end-zone dance.
Local organizer Cesar Hernandez of the group Central Coast Alliance
United for a Sustainable Economy said there were some practical reasons
for going to Washington, D.C. The nonprofit group focuses on advocacy
and organizing around social, economic and environmental issues in
Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Along with helping to set a new agenda to focus on the environment,
healthcare and economic recovery, the organizers were learning how to
influence policymakers, said Hernandez, who went with more than a dozen
other local organizers.
"We're going to be coming back here every week for the first 100 days" of Obama's administration, Hernandez said.
The organizers met with local congressional leaders to see how the
levers of power and lobbying work. They had some specific issues
related to immigration reform and environmental issues in poor
communities on their minds.
Hernandez said they were pushing for reform of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program.
Specifically, organizers in Oxnard want cleanup of hazardous materials at the former Halaco metal-recycling plant.
Since the south Oxnard site received Superfund designation status
from the EPA more than a year ago, the materials remain in a large
waste heap near the beach.