The story of Wade Rathke is one that treads a similar path as Ralph Nader. Similar, but not the same. Both men are advocates, activists, and organizers. Where Wade is about on the ground community mobilization that acts on human and civil rights, Nader practices a more national approach, investigating and writing about policies he’s critical of. Both men have been made into near deity legend over the years, by way of their unwavering commitments to people power. And, both men ultimately experienced fallouts with the public for which they’re still moving on from. Ralph wanted to be President, Wade just wanted to keep working on/for the movement. To different degrees, both men are still active, even if the world at large has passed them by.
Still, they press on. Because they have to. Because they want to.
The documentary film The Organizer, which chronicles Wade’s efforts in bringing people together for the great activist fight against an uncaring authority – while also showing the birth and near death of ACORN – seems to agree with my above thesis, only with the asterisk that it wants to make grand a man who just wants to remain a man. There is a mythology building going on, one that Wade is actively part of, even if his intent is for bringing attention to causes and struggles. It’s not nefarious but does exist to absolve those involved of any potential or perceived fault. This ranges within a spectrum, from low to mid grade absolution, all to gloss over important details in an effort to make a mountain out of an organization’s leader and a molehill out of everything else. Again, it’s not wholly wrong, but clearly and conveniently skewed.
Then again, what is The Organizer skewing in favor of exactly? People that storm towards a disaster to offer immediate assistance? People who knock on doors from neighborhood to neighborhood to gain momentum for causes like fair housing or compassionate treatment of the homeless? Bias towards “people power” is not what I would or others should label as being purely propagandistic. Telling the natural legend and connecting the dots to empathy is one thing, using style and editorializing to overemphasize one thing over another is something else. Organizer almost falls into self-made traps here and there but is far too noble and good-hearted to not climb out and get back up. And it all rests on the recounting of Wade and ACORN’s duty to community matters.
When Mothers on welfare needed coats for winter, ACORN showed up and got to work. When after Hurricane Katrina, the Lower 9th Ward as about to fall prey to complete eradication, ACORN came in, rallied everyone, cleaned out homes and buildings for renovation, and fought for the rights of families to stay. The Organizer shines a bright light on the New Orleans lineage of Wade Rathke – a man almost always on the move and traveling – making the city into the perfect kind of place to grow and learn all about, for better or worse, class divisions in America. And, from that point, learning that you can fight back.
“You say nothing, you get nothing,” one organizer says. She meant that if you don’t speak up, nothing will ever get done. “Why can’t we?” is said too, referencing Wade’s can do attitude towards, well, everything. The Organizer works as manifesto and living myth, turning action into righteous being and people into superheroes, never really taking a break or breath. Maybe if this had been an essay film or collage, it wouldn’t have felt too much like a backdoor training video. That technically sounds “bad”, but honestly, if audiences find inspiration and influence here, then all the better.
Wade Rathke comes off as a rather cool and collected guy, one whom I’d love to meet and maybe interview at some point. The Organizer does suffer from redundant points, but you know what else does? America. Progress happens, but it’s slow, with arguments being made over and over again. Still, don’t get tired in watching or marching. Stay awake and keep on.
RATING: 3 / 5