Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One: Origins, Chapter Eight. Realities.
When Barack arrived in Chicago Harold Washington had been elected as mayor and the spirits of the black community were running high in expectation of a larger share of the patronage and opportunities the mayor’s office had under its control. However a large number alderman were white and beholden to the political machine created by Richard Daley and the other white politicians that had gone before him.
Washington was a consensus builder and was aware that white votes as well of black votes put him into office. He wanted to be thought of as the Mayor not the Black Mayor. He governed the city with an even hand towards all groups. Obama took note of the fact that Washington was able to build a coalition of Whites and Blacks to further the interests they shared in common.
Marty Kaufman’s (Obama has changed the names of all but well known figures in this book.) plan was to work through the Catholic and Protestant churches to form a coalition to force the investment bankers, the politicians and the “fat cat lobbyists” to create the conditions to repair Chicago’s manufacturing base which was severely damaged when the steel mills shut down. To this end the legislature had appropriated $500,000.00 for a jobs development bank. Now all the communities on the Southside had to do was find jobs and put people back to meaningful work.
Marty was astute enough to know that a white organizer would not be accepted so the plan was for Obama’s to work through the black Christian pastors and ministers to determine the needs of the community and then try to organize to achieve those ends and thus gain influence and perhaps enlist a source of real power; the unions on their side.
He became friends with the pastor he calls Will of St Catherine’s church. St Catherine’s was a Catholic church but Will had never been ordained as a priest. The Cardinal and the Archdiocese accepted him and the fact that he wore a collar. Father Will mentored Obama on the vicissitudes of community relations.
Marty started Barack’s training by having interview people to learn what their needs and fears were. The older church going generation was fearful that their achievements in establishing economic stability and quiet neighborhoods was being lost on the younger generation of immigrants to Chicago while their own children had become educated and successful and moved to other areas of the city. Now the neighborhoods were starting to deteriorate and were beset by gangs and drugs.
He organized a mass meeting with the police commander as a speaker. The purpose was to petition the police to more effectively control the gangs and drugs. He enlisted the local pastors to announce the meeting on the Sunday before it was to take place and to urge their congregations to attend in order show a united front to the police that the citizens wanted something done; that maintaining a declining status quo was not enough. On the night of the meeting only thirteen people showed up and the police commander cancelled sending a human relations specialist instead.
Father Wills counseled him why the meeting failed and the reasons for the local pastors not getting behind Barack and making it a success. Most of the pastors were aware that they were more likely to get what they wanted through their alderman and ultimately the Mayor: the ultimate wielders of power in the city. While they were not oblivious to the problem of declining neighborhoods, drugs, gangs and the lack of jobs they thought they were more likely to solve these problems by petitioning their elected officials than community meetings with bureaucrats. Further each congregation had its own agenda of achieving their goal and their goals and methods were not all the same. Also many of the pastors were in competition with each other for more congregants and their votes to increase their political influence and the benefits to be obtained. So they were unlikely to work together or even send their congregants to be organized in a united front by an outsider whom they saw as the black representative of a white power group.
Barack begins to see that instilling a belief in individuals that uniting into community groups to change their own destiny from the ground up was a long and difficult road. Further there were other groups in the city with similar goals or which made similar promises and although these groups were splintered and inefficient they were seen as loyal to the black cause and had made some progress in the past.
Barack saw that community organizing was a heart breaking job with a low success score and that change was more likely to come from the top down even in a democracy.