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A Great American Tradition: Community Organizing

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I learned about community organizing from my parents. As a child, their stories were so instructive. For example, in the summer of 1963, my mother was a teacher in Washington DC. She used her summer months to volunteer with the Urban League. That summer, as the Urban League was preparing for the March on Washington, my mother joined with dozens of others to do the unglamorous work of preparing for hundreds of thousands of people to descend on the nation's capital. My mom's stories and experiences from this event and others amazed me as a child and now inspire me as an adult. After Yale Law School, I was proud to try to live up to my parents' example and began my career working for The Urban Justice Center in the streets of Newark, organizing residents to fight for better housing conditions.

As I review the great history of our nation, community organizers have been at the center of so many of our great social movements. The labor movement -- securing decent working conditions and abolishing child labor, the suffrage movement, the abolitionist movement, the product safety movement, the civil rights movement among so many others . . . so many community organizers helped raise consciousness, focus action and drive change.

And today, as mayor of New Jersey's largest city, I witness day after day, from church-based activists to grassroots environmental groups, that the progress in Newark is not top down from this mayor (with my "responsibilities") but instead is being generated by our community which is thoroughly saturated with committed Americans focused, organized and determined to fully manifest our national dream for all of our residents.

Yes, this presidential political season will undoubtedly be full of jabs, barbs and low blows from both sides of the partisan divide. But I am hopeful that, in seeking to achieve short term political gain, neither side will engage in degrading the long term American traditions that have sustained and so empowered our nation.

No matter who wins the election in November, if he truly wants to realize his professed aims at making change, then he will indeed need to heavily rely upon those actually in the community to help make that change possible.

To paraphrase Dr. King, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. It must be carried in on the backs of those committed to making the necessary sacrifices that change mandates." The change we seek for our nation is not the choice of an individual but must be the calling of a country. We need a new president and we need the continued noble work and service of community leaders, servants and organizers throughout our beloved country for any president to be truly successful.

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