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Sarah Palin, community organizers, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Looking back on the historic events of the past week, GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention stands out. The Alaskan governor was in full blown attack mode throughout the speech. The RNC loved it: the delegates broke out in applause and cheers numerous times during Palin’s speech. In the days since, Palin’s speech has been praised as one of the highlights of the convention.

Many of the zingers and jabs thrown at the Democrats by Palin are being repeated over and over again. One that the Republicans appear to relish was intended to be a put-down of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s service as a community organizer.

In touting her own experience Palin brought up her time as mayor of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska. Palin said “I guess — I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” The convention thundered with applause, cheers, and hoots of approval.

For me that remark disparaged the hard work and achievements of all community organizers. One famous community organizer comes to mind, Martin Luther King, Jr. You might remember, Dr. King first gained national attention as one of the community activists who organized a historic boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott began in December of 1955, lasted 381 days, and ended discrimination against Black bus riders. 

The Montgomery bus boycott galvanized the civil rights movement and Dr. King became its passionate spokesman. Dr. King would go on to help organize many marches, demonstrations, and events. In a relatively short period, 13 years, King would touch the hearts and conscious of millions of Americans.

Also, Dr. King gained international fame as a civil rights leader, but he never forgot his roots as a community organizer and activist. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis where he had gone to support striking black sanitation workers. A life of community service and activism ended at 39. He never held a public office, but his activism changed our nation.

The third Monday in January is a federal holiday in honor of the birth and achievements of Dr. King.  Ironically, GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain vigorously opposed the King holiday for years up until April 4, 2008, when he publicly admitted he was wrong to do so.

Meanwhile, there are community organizers and activists all across the country carrying on King’s legacy of service to others. Frequently they fight injustice, provide support and comfort in our communities to the needy, the young, the elderly, the homeless, the victimized, and oh yes, unwed teenaged mothers as well.

Palin should be more careful where she slings her ax of insults and contempt. Perhaps, the GOP vice-presidential candidate ‘s energy might be better spent speaking about the issues and concerns of the American people.

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