Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hope vs. HOPE

So I've spent a great deal of my post-campaign life pontificating upon the many principles that I learned while organizing in two unique Missouri communities and one of them has become almost crystal clear to me in the past few days:

It is....the idea of Hope vs. HOPE

HOPE: the kind you find on the many Obama stickers and bumper stickers

Hope: the old school virtue that we were living by in the pre-Obama era. The kind of stuff that people write about in Self-help and Weight loss books. And you read about in the bible. That thing that none could wrap their mind or heart around, but desperately needed.
~Jonae definition (not official)

**No, caplocks aren't the only difference between the two.

Where does this election leave us with this notion of hope? Certainly not just with a stack of un-sold bumper stickers bearing the image of a certain President-Elect. What, truly, is our hope rooted in and how does it sustain the heatwave of a movement??

So, last night at my church's mid-week service a lady spoke of setting our sights and our virtue higher than what we see on earth. I know that some readers aren't into religion, but it's something worth pondering.

Maybe, just maybe, we have over-commercialized this idea of hope. HOPE, the new age stuff, comes from people like community organizers, and seas of people at rallies, and rural offices brimming with volunteers at all hours of the day. We like HOPE, we buy HOPE and we watch HOPE played out in special interest pieces on CNN. In some ways, as we have seen in this election, HOPE moves us to action, and seems much more useful than some stuff your grandma has prayed on for years, but what is it rooted it?

What does that mean for you, and I, or country even, today, tomorrow, and the day after. We must invest in hope. So that when we are no longer wrapped up in a candidate or a race, hope will subside. Good news though. The types of hope that I refer to have you and I in common. We are the thread. In my post -campaign life, I pledge to do what I can to keep hope alive, simply because, as the great Dr. Martin Luther King once said (maybe even more than once):

If you lose hope you lose the vitality that keeps life moving... you lose the courage to be... that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream. ~MLK, Jr.

So it's up to us (isn't everything??) to cultivate a culture of hope by translating HOPE into hope, get it? Taking the amazing thing that has been stirred up in communities across America and merge it with the hope that sustained Dr. King and his people and keeps that old wise man in his rocking chair talking about "the struggle"

Quick story: I was having a 1:1(campaign term for short, personal meeting with a potential volunteer or team leader). It was the best one I'd had yet. She was a lady, middle aged, who lived in rural Missouri. We shared a ton of personal stories, and I even felt comfortable divulging more information than I usually would. By the end of our discussion she looked at me teary-eyed and said to me:

"I'm so hopeful." I'd like to think that the HOPE that this little brown Obama field organizer brought to this lady (she later became a neighborhood team leader) , gave a boost to the hope in her heart. That, in essence, is why I prefer to be called a community organizer as opposed to a political organizer.

Perhaps the only actual confrontation that I have had about this Hope/HOPE/community organizer/political organizer issue came after our defeat in the Jim Martin runoff election. A few organizers and I went to an event called The People Speak. Despite a little bit of Obama bashing, the event was quite interesting. Afterward, the same few organizers and I had an encounter with a man who, despite his age and depth of wisdom (not really), clearly did not understand what "Obama organizers" did. His refrain during the entire dialogue was "But you guys were organizing around a candidate, not policy really, I mean, it's different than organizing"

I was highly perturbed with this gentelmen. I was also pretty offended. I seemed to have failed on all levels of explaining my job with any degree of efficacy. All I could say, because our job descriptions are often lost in rhetoric, was the we were COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS. We we planting the seeds of activism in communities all over the nation. Seeds of hope with a message of HOPE. Geez. No one was carrying around a policy manual quoting PDF files or stacks of flyers bearing policy bullet points.

I suppose it takes a special person to organize and a truly open-minded one to understand it...

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