09/14/2008 03:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Proud to be a Community Organizer

There's been a lot of talk in recent days about community organizers - and small town mayors. Now neither of these jobs usually gets a lot of press attention. But they both involve long days, hard work and yes, real responsibility.

So I was particularly disheartened to see the attacks on community organizing at the Republican Convention, equating community organizing with liberal make-work.

In fact, community organizers have built and bettered America, from Paul Revere to Susan B. Anthony to Rev. Martin Luther King. All dedicated public servants, all patriots, and all community organizers.

Like Barack Obama, I spent my early years doing community organizing. Rather than helping South Chicago residents hurt by steel plant closings, I worked in Massachusetts to close unsafe nuclear power plants in residential neighborhoods. And here in New York City, I've helped low-income tenants stay in their homes and won better affordable housing policies.

And I learned a lot -- How to listen to what people say, not just tell them what you think they want to hear. How to empower individuals to change their own lives. How to change and impact government policy in ways that can make an actual difference in real folks lives.

These are lessons I still use every day in my position as New York City Council Speaker. Because whether you're a small town mayor or Speaker in a city of 8 million, we should all be approaching elected service like community organizing.

As an organizer, I believe in using the power of elected office to help empower and engage our constituents, to reform government so it actually works for working folks. We can bring those who, for so long, have been left out, or opted out, to the table, and make sure they have a voice in how their taxes are spent, or the laws that govern them. Effective elected officials, just like good community organizers, help connect people and policy, making sure our government work is on the mark.

Look at West Village Houses. Built in the 1960's in lower Manhattan, these low rise affordable apartment buildings have been home to dozens of middle income families. But a few years ago, the developer put it up for sale. Those families risked losing their homes, and the neighborhood risked becoming an enclave for only the wealthy.

The community, local electeds and government organized. We held meetings with residents and heard what they wanted. Between tenant pressure and government will, the tenant association was able to purchase the complex, allowing residents to stay in their homes and keeping the development affordable for years to come. This wouldn't have happened without government tax breaks, but it also couldn't have happened without the residents organizing themselves.

All over this country, from the West Village Houses to rural Iowa, community organizers are rolling up their sleeves and person by person, empowering America. I'm proud to count myself among their ranks.

Christine C. Quinn is the Speaker of the New York City Council.