The Pilgrims Were Community Organizers

05/25/2011 12:55 pm ET

The Pilgrims Were America's First Community Organizers

As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) chirped on-camera while a wriggling turkey was beheaded in the background, one could only feel a sense of thanksgiving that this sprightly but unschooled woman will not be the next Vice President of the United States.

The scene was so exactly wrong, she could not have done a better job of inspiring a parable about the Thanksgiving pilgrims.

Surely this one has delighted us long enough, to quote Jane Austen. Speaking of the wickedly clever English novelist, maybe Katie Couric knows: did Sarah Palin mention Pride and Prejudice on her reading list? The title's a natural, with her small-town pride and prejudice against big city dwellers in the Lower 48.

We all saw the interview, as if a satirist were writing the lines. Sure, Sarah Palin brightly said with a smile, the visit to the turkey farm might invite criticism, but at least this is, "Fun!"

She's always "in charge" of the turkey at her family gathering, she added. We heard the very phrase in a campaign debate when she said she looked forward to being "in charge" of the U.S. Senate.

Senators, be grateful to the goddesses: they are not sending the Wasilla woman to Washington to rule over the roost yet.

Pardon me for asking, but isn't the Thanksgiving tradition granting a pardon to a turkey or was that back in the 20th century? Clemency is more ceremonious, more what we like to see in presidents in this season -- a tradition that's a bit more humane.

Thanksgiving is, after all, a feast that goes back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony pilgrims, who huddled over a feast with prayers thanking American Indians and the Almighty for watching over them in the New World wilderness.

In other words, the pilgrims knew they would have perished without Squanto and others in his tribe who befriended them and taught them how to grow corn in the soil, catch fish in the waters. American Indians had a place at that banquet table.

Interdependence, humility and the kindness of strangers are the lessons here.

In fact, Sarah Palin, the pilgrims were, in a real way, the original American community organizers. She rained scorn on that activity in her first speech on a national platform at the Republican National Convention.

In a dig, Sarah Palin said as a small town mayor, she was like a community organizer "with actual responsibilities." Obama learned the sociology of the houses, streets and neighborhoods of Chicago as a community organizer in his 20s. The South Side was his initiation into grassroots outreach, door by door, meeting by meeting, and served as an excellent preparation for electoral politics. His campaign methodically organized the whole country using the set of techniques and principles he learned on the job.

Obama's presidential campaign was a marvel of community organizing, writ large, bringing together Americans of every class, color, network, age, religion, and every kind of media, including thousands of groups that live and breathe by the Internet.

The Pilgrims organized their small numbers well in sailing out of England. Once here on these shores, they did some grassroots outreach of their own and made allies with the native people as they constructed their own community with their own hands, door by door, meeting by meeting.

And it led somewhere. The Pilgrims gave us the concept of Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday in the bleakness of the mid-Civil War. And now in 2008 we have a lot to be thankful for, as Sarah Palin blitely reminded us.

Let's say the better angels of our nature won this time.