Politi­cians should trust in the peo­ple

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Arnold Graf Arnold Graf is the for­mer co-di­rec­tor of the In­dus­trial Ar­eas Foun­da­tion. His email is agraf_21042@ya­hoo.com.

In the sum­mer of 1971, I went to Chicago to train as an or­ga­nizer at the In­dus­trial Ar­eas Foun­da­tion (I.A.F.), which was founded in 1940 by the late Saul Alin­sky, a col­or­ful per­son­al­ity who is widely re­garded as the fa­ther of com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing.

Of the many things he talked about dur­ing that train­ing, he made two points that have stayed with meover the course of my 45-year ca­reer spent or­ga­niz­ing in Bal­ti­more and across the coun­try.

The first point was his adamant stance against ide­ol­ogy, which he be­lieved stood in the way of democ­racy. Ide­ol­ogy, he told us, blocked peo­ple from op­er­at­ing from their own ideas and in­ter­ests. Ide­ol­ogy pre-sup­poses a world view and dis­misses re­la­tion­ship build­ing, which re­quires the give and take that is so nec­es­sary to de­velop demo­cratic prac­tices. In fact, much of our re­quired read­ing came from the Fed­er­al­ist Pa­pers, Thomas Paine and the bi­og­ra­phy of Sa­muel Adams.

The sec­ond point he em­pha­sized was that he be­lieved that most peo­ple, given hon­est in­for­ma­tion and a free en­v­i­ron- ment, would make the right de­ci­sions most of the time. The be­lief in peo­ple’s ca­pac­ity to make the right de­ci­sions was es­sen­tial, he said, to be­ing a suc­cess­ful or­ga­nizer. He told us that if any of us did not be­lieve this, we should leave the train­ing im­me­di­ately.

The past few elec­tions, and the time I spent in the U.K. work­ing for the Labour Party from 2011 to 2013, have con­sis­tently re­minded me of Alin­sky’s words.

I am ap­palled at the dis­dain that so many peo­ple run­ning for high of­fice and their top staff have for so many of the peo­ple they want to rep­re­sent.

From can­di­date Barack Obama, who char­ac­ter­ized some peo­ple in our coun­try as cling­ing to their reli­gion and guns; to Mitt Rom­ney, who said that 47per­cent of Amer­i­cans are tak­ers; to John Podesta, who­told a gath­er­ing of Demo­cratic donors and sup­port­ers that John Kerry lost be­cause white work­ing-class peo­ple do not un­der­stand their own self-in­ter­est; to Hil­lary Clin­ton, with her bas­ket of de­plorables; to Don­ald Trump, who has no re­gard for any­one but him­self; and to the many Labour Party lead­ers I met who had a deep dis­dain for the white work­ing class of their na­tion — they all show a con­tempt for large sec­tions of their coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

I have or­ga­nized in nu­mer­ous states, coun­ties, cities and ru­ral ar­eas. This rich ex­pe­ri­ence has meant that I have worked with peo­ple from very dif­fer­ent back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ences. In each place I worked, any stereo­types I brought with me were quickly shat­tered as I came to know peo­ple.

I learned that Alin­sky was right: Most peo­ple have the ca­pac­ity and de­sire to do what is best for them­selves and for oth­ers. Most peo­ple, given the op­por­tu­nity to re­late to and to work with peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from them, en­joy th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences and grow through them.

There are many press­ing prob­lems that face our coun­try do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally to­day; how­ever, we will make no progress on any ma­jor is­sue un­til — and un­less — the peo­ple who as­pire to be pres­i­dent learn to be­lieve in the peo­ple of our coun­try. Af­ter all, they’re ask­ing us to be­lieve in them; the least they can do is re­turn the fa­vor.

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