where would mt view be without community organizers?

A reader of this blog took me to task for saying that conservatives don’t care about improving Mt View. While I stand by that statement, I also realized that my goal here wasn’t to get overtly political — that most of Mt View’s burning issues transcend mere politicking, and we have to learn to thrive and grow whether or government is led by progressives or reactionaries.

You can see where I’m coming from by glancing at the links on the sidebar. And overall Mt View is a leftist neighborhood, even while we notoriously under-participate in city, state and national politics. So, at risk of further hacking off moderate and conservative readers, I’m going to go there again, and more forcefully this time.

During her RNC speech, Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin mocked Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama for working as a community organizer — implying that community organizing is a waste of time and pursued by scofflaws without the knowledge, gumption and ability to pursue work that has “real responsibilities”. The cruelty and thoughtlessness of her words are exceeded by their inaccuracy.

Mt View is today a good place to live mostly because of the efforts of Randy Smith [1943-2003], an activist’s activist and the best community organizer we ever had here. [He was also a rock-ribbed Republican, gun owner and redneck.] When the streets weren’t being cleared of snow in the 1980s, he went downtown and banged on some counters with his fists. He would spend all day making phone calls, poke his head into offices, and make noise continuously until he got the action he wanted. I saw him yell into the phone many times, and rant and rave when talking with mid-level bureaucrats at city hall. He was big enough and crazy enough to be an intimidating physical presence, so people paid attention.

He turned his energy to various different topics, and worked on each one with a thoroughness and ferocity that was flat-out stunning. He started a community patrol, to keep an eye on goings-on and identify problem people, activities and properties. He monitored and confronted residents of homeless camps in the woods around the neighborhood. He started an annual cleanup that moved 200 tons of trash and recyclables, even crushing cars right in the neighborhood on a vacant lot. He cared about this place deeply and purely at a time when 99% of the rest of Anchorage had written it off. No one in city government at the time was even close to being engaged and effective regarding Mt View and its problems.

Every recent investment in new infrastructure, housing, public facilities and social programs happened because Randy and his co-conspirators laid the groundwork; and all would not have been possible without his accomplishments and advocacy.

Unpaid volunteers, whether self-appointed or part of an organized movement are the backbone of America. Indeed, all the best and most loved parts of a city can be traced back to people caring about them, and showing up for meetings and workshops and forums when they didn’t have to; a constant pushback and a grounded, grassroots effort — one that assures the powers that be don’t intentionally or accidentally ruin lives and drain value out of settings and local experiences.

To have Palin stand there and try to make a snide joke out of community activism was tragic. She should have known better. She probably actually does.

Update 9/13/08: The Anchorage Daily News published a similar version of this rant as a guest column. There was also a third version of it on Daily Kos. I wrote it a little differently for each audience.

2 thoughts on “where would mt view be without community organizers?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would like to point out to everyone who reads this comment that there appears to be two Brown Jug liquor stores in Mt. View. It seems that the owners are doing a thriving business here in the “worst” part of town financing their Hillside, Seattle, winter resort and upper socioeconomic lifestyles off of the poorer folks in Mt. View. How can the city of Anchorage allow this to happen? Is it because the owners are good friends with City Hall? Or, do the owners run City Hall? How can this be? Why don’t the owners move their liquor stores to their part of town instead of preying off of the people in Mt. View? Please let this become known at the next Mt. View Community Council meeting and let the person who supposedly represents Mt. View ask this question to City Hall on how these 2 Brown Jug liquor stores can get closed. Let it be known herewith on 09/28/2008 that a person made a request to get this on the table at the next Mt. View Community Council meeting that this is a crime against humanity for the owner to run his/her stores in the poorest part of town.

  2. clark says:

    i published this comment even though it was off-topic. it’s important to continue to have a dialogue with the brown jug. we learned at the last MVCC meeting that the brown jug stores were sold to a national chain recently [and they will retain the upper management people and one assumes, all of the employees and stores as well]. i have heard rumors that the mt view dr and park st store might close. that’s a good location for them, in a terrible building. the site might be better used for a development sympathetic to the adjacent sadler bldg.
    your drive to close them down might not be met with much sympathy by the CC. this is because former brown jug owner ed o’neill has been seen as an ally of sorts, contributing money and people power to the annual cleanup for years, and helping with cleanup of homeless camps citywide. i also know that brown jug participates in other ways in alchohol cessation and treatment programs of various types.
    i was angry with them recently for other reasons, but didn’t post about it here [yet]. they stopped accepting checks at their mt view, fairview, muldoon and spenard locations only. i figure all neighborhoods should be treated the same.
    when south addition got tired of their liquor store at 14th and G St. they just had it closed down. they also managed to erase G St. between 9th and 10th avenues. it must be nice to have power and influence, eh.

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