Rekha Basu wrote about activism in her Sunday column in the Des Moines Register.
Basu talked with Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, about Iowa's history of grassroots organizing.
If Americans have a renewed confidence in the value of grass-roots organizing, that is at least in part because a former community organizer is now in charge of the nation and understands the power of it. But that doesn't mean anyone can let up, says Espey. Enlightened and forward-thinking as any leader may be, you can't rely on good intentions to bring about sweeping change. There are too many competing interests to be juggled, too much pressure from moneyed interests. The leadership must be prodded by organized groups representing labor, health care and farmers, among others. "It's our responsibility," says Espey, "to make this work."I just finished reading the book Tribes by marketing guru, Seth Godin. Godin says the only thing holding you back from leading is fear. By taking that first step on an issue you feel passionately about you will become a leader and at this time we need leaders.
The other reason activism is making a comeback is the fallout from a souring economy, which has sapped people's ability to keep their homes or feed themselves. That's led many people to pay more attention to government priorities and want to play a role in how they are shaped.
The activists' tool kit is expanding, too, thanks to e-mail, Facebook and a bevy of other online social-networking techniques, which makes it easier to get the word out about a cause and deliver people to an event on short notice.
In this line of work, hostility expected
Still, it takes courage to be an activist. It requires putting yourself out there in public, daring to take the unpopular position and getting hostile feedback. When vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin ridiculed community organizers, she no doubt spoke for many. But those who understand history know well the role activism has played in winning rights and making a more just, humane and accessible America.