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Grassroots organizers bring listening tour to Gainesville

POSTED: May 4, 2009 11:55 p.m.

Listening to America

Watch Organizing for America officials discuss the purpose for the group's nationwide listening tour.

SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Visitors to Monday evening's Organizing for America meet up at St. John's Baptist Church gather into groups to greet each other and talk about local issues. The meeting is part of Organizing for America's series of listening tours taking place across the country.

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Last November’s presidential election was a testament to the power of grassroots organizations, as even President Barack Obama has credited the efforts of such local organizations for helping him to win the presidential race.

One group, Organizing for America, is on a national listening tour to make sure such organizations don’t become extinct now that Obama is in office.

“Even during the election process, our goal was to build lasting community organizations that would last long after the election was over,” Jeff Ingram, a state field representative for the organization, said during a meeting in Gainesville.

The stop in Gainesville is only one of several similar events planned across the state. The Georgia branch of the organization will move on to visit communities in Norcross, Rome, College Park and Jonesboro in upcoming days, while groups in other states reach out to their local communities.

“This is our 11th stop on the tour,” said Lee Goodall, the group’s state director. “We wanted to be sure to hit all of the major metropolitan areas, but we also wanted to have a good blend of rural and suburban areas.”

Around 50 individuals from various counties, including Hall, Dawson, Forsyth, Rabun and Gwinnett counties, gathered at St. John’s Baptist Church on E.E. Butler Parkway for the Monday evening meeting. Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras was among those in attendance.

The crowd was a blend of concerned citizens, community activists and former Obama presidential campaign volunteers.

Organizing for America officials say that the organization has two goals: to organize support for Obama’s agenda and to also “empower people to have an impact in their own communities.”

During the meeting, attendees were asked to break into small groups to discuss three topics — health care, education and energy.

“The goal of the listening tour is to get feedback from community members about what is working in Georgia and to identify what the problems are. This will help us to develop a Georgia-specific plan for community organizing,” Goodall said.

“Out of this meeting, we’re sure that some community leaders will be identified out of this group and we will follow up with them about what the next steps are that need to be taken and connect them with other leaders across the state.”

While Organizing for America officials want to be able to build support for Obama’s agenda, they say that they also have other goals.

“These listening sessions are a great way to help organize community leaders,” Goodall said.

“We’re not trying to get them to do anything they aren’t interested in, instead we want to empower them to organize themselves and hold elected officials to task when they have concerns.”



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