Love for people as a concept in community organizing sounds very abstract. Just what does that word “love” mean? Who are the people to love? Why should community organizers love people? How is that love shown? For community organizers, the concept “people” refers to the poor – the majority of the population who have no jobs, no housing facilities, no formal education, most of the time ignored if not neglected by mainstream society who views the poor as a burden. The usual perception of mainstream society that the poor are in that kind of situation is because they choose to be there. People who view poverty as a choice by the poor have no idea about how it is to wake up in the morning with no food on the table, if there’s a table at all; how it is to watch a loved one wither away in pain because hospitals won’t accept a pennyless patient; or how it is to watch one’s home being dismantled by the government or by a private individual or company with no hope of a resettlement area.On the level of consciousness, there are two groups in society – those who have empathy for the poor and those who don’t care. The consciousness that there is something wrong with the way things are in society doesn’t happen overnight. Consciousness is not only cerebral. It is also an inner knowing that tells people that not looking after the wellbeing of the “have nots” is not the way to live. In fact, why should we just live for ourselves is a question to be asked of oneself again and again until we are able to breathe. Why should some people have several houses, cars and all the other fruits of the earth when others can hardly keep their body and soul together? Why should children as young as seven engage in a slave wage labor in fish ports or sugar cane plantations or sex work? Those of us who earn a decent income cannot conceive of a life as backbreaking and as depressing as the work of child laborers. In the context of grinding poverty, we will understand why young people resort to solvents like rugby which is the cheapest item for sniffing. Children and Youth and even adults sniff to ease hunger pangs or ease their fear of bullies. When people are poor, they are vulnerable to everything that can wreck their spirit. Hunger can kill one’s dreams. Fear of the police who would arrest you for vagrancy can gnaw at your most cherished will to live.
There are people who think that being aligned with the hopes of the poor is good. So they embed their compassion in whatever they do. Or, they become community organizers. But community organizing is not just working with people and just taking the signal from the goodness of the heart. Community organizing requires competence in an equal measure with love. So what is love for people? It is having a ferocious faith in the poor’s capacity to chart the course of their lives. It is believing that the poor can transform their situation if they are given a chance. Believing in the poor is an attitude that is drawn from a person’s inner fountain of social justice. Belief or faith in the poor’s capacity even if on the surface no evidences that they can is all what is seen is what love for people means. Believing in the poor plus experiential learning has been proven to work wonders.
The trouble with poverty is that it doesn’t only destroy houses. It also destroys perspectives. Logically, the poor would think that turning against their self-interest would be abnormal. But because of a perspective that has been imposed on them by the status quo, the poor have lost even their love for themselves. A sense of self-esteem is a manifestation of loving oneself. But the poor, majority of them, go through life believing that they are less when compared to those who have means. The community organizing process facilitates processes that lead to collective action and introspection on the tremendous wealth inside themselves that no one else but themselves individually and collectively will discover. When the poor start believing in their innate capabilities because of their collective experience of victory after victory, that’s the time that their own trust in the capacity of society to trust them begins.