Barrak Obama feels maligned when his opponents bring up his days as a community organizer. Luckily for him few actual working-voting Americans have had anything to do with said organizers. My luck on the other hand, ran out in 1982 when I was assigned to perform operational audits on every Community Action Program in the State of New Jersey. I can only say that my previous experience with criminals in a law enforcement capacity stood me in good stead in my new role.
What is a Community Organizer? We needn't linger on the formal definition here. A community organizer is a middle class minority individual with the political backing to administer taxpayer money for the benefit of his less fortunate soul mates. The title itself is a misnomer in that the community programs being organized are seldom manifestations of the community. Indeed, if your community needs to be organized, it is not really a community at all, but a neighborhood populated by a population of low functioning, atomized individuals. The is exactly what the American ghetto is. The only actual organization is that of the drug dealers and the political hacks who "represent" the inhabitants. Frequently the hacks and the organizers are two faces of the same political coin. Political factions frequently fight for control of community programs.
On paper, community programs host an array of services. In reality all the ones I audited concentrated on supplying faux civil service jobs to those lucky enough to work for them. Of course these tended to be girlfriends of the hacks or organizers. In other words, pure patronage. The day for such community program workers consists pretty much of sitting behind a desk gossiping, polishing finger nails and talking with friends on the phone, As I said, just like civil servants. Occasionally a call or a genuine person stops by for some help. At this point of contact with the client, paperwork is created documenting the "service." Service consists in the majority of cases in the client being directed to the nearest welfare, or unemployment office. For this, some community programs get in excess of one million dollars a year. Of course there are other activities. For instance, some programs are kind enough to rent offices in run down buildings owned by state legislators. I've seen other programs provide motor vehicles to local political candidates so that his voters could make it to the poles. And we mustn't forget the distribution of government surplus cheese once or twice a year. (It just occurred to me that with a large percentage of the African American population suffering from lactose intolerance, this might not be the boon it seems.)
The role of the organizer him/her self (when not handing out free cheese) is to endlessly petition all levels of Government and the non-profit sector for more money. New Jersey makes this easy for the organizers by providing civil service representatives who rather than act as watchdogs of the public fisc, act as "advocates" for the programs, going so far as drafting the programs annual funding submissions.
Some organizers are Reverends in the Black Churches with a tendency to recruit program staff from within their congregations. Others are up and coming young politicians who's images appear in the windows of program vehicles around election time. One such who was also a lawyer, was apprehended practicing the ancient art of bank robbery on the side. Another was hauled off for cocaine possession. A Hispanic Organizer spent his leisure hours molesting little boys. So it's not strictly necessary to graduate from Harvard Law to be a good Community Organizer.
In Barrak Obama's case I gather his efforts went beyond answering the phone and distributing cheese. From what I've read he went straight to the most esoteric of community activities, education reform. Now I could, with a little digging, document how much cheese a given program gave out and to whom. But I would be hard put to evaluate educational reform efforts since the programs don't actually educate anyone. Obama's efforts seem to have been in educating the educators in better methods. So I must assume that the levels of educational attainment of the young scholars of Chicago noticeably improved, at least enough to get them into Princeton like our soon to be First Lady. Then again maybe not.