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Cold Anger

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"Cold Anger is an important book about the empowerment of working-class communities through church-based social activism. Such activism is certainly not new, but the conscious merger of community organizing tactics with religious beliefs may be. The organizing approach comes from Aul Alinsky and his Industrial Areas Foundations (IAF). . . . The book is structured around the political life of Ernesto Cortes, Jr., the lead IAF organizer who has earned recognition as one of the most powerful individuals in Texas (and who has been featured on Bill Moyers' "World of Ideas"). . . . Cortes fashioned a hard-ball Alinsky approach onto the natural organizing ground of church-based communities. The experiment began in San Antonio . . . and was successful in the transformation of San Antonio politics. Such dramatic success . . . led to similar efforts in Houston, Fort Worth, El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York, to mention only a few sites. Expansion beyond San Antonio meant organizing among Protestant churches, among African American and white, and among middle-class communities. In short, these organizing efforts have transcended the particularistic limits of religion, ethnicity, and class while maintaining a church base and sense of spiritual mission. . . . Rogers's clearly written book will be of great value to the scholar, student, and layperson interested in urban politics, ethnic relations, social movements, or church activism."--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

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16 Chapters

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1. Moses and Paul: The World’s Greatest Organizers



Moses and Paul:

The World's Greatest Organizers

Dallas, 1986

"Anybody remember Moses?" Ernesto Cortes Jr. asks a group of farmers and farm activists from 40 states who have come to Dallas to discuss their problems and hear Cortes speak at a Farm Crisis Workers Conference. 1 A few members of the audience nod and look at each other as if to say, "Who the hell is this and what have we gotten ourselves into?"

Cortes is the coordinator of a dozen or so Industrial Areas

Foundation (IAF) organizations in Texas, such as San Antonio's COPS and the Rio Grande Valley Interfaith. Because of his 20-year community organizing career in Texas and around the nation, Cortes has become a legend among American political activists and a source on Hispanic politics for journalists from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and a slew of other publications. The prestigious MacArthur Foundation gave him one of its "genius" grants and $204,000 to do with as he saw fit. Esquire identified him as one of the people who represented America "at its best.,,2 Texas Business magazine called Cortes one of the most powerful people in Texas-along with Ross Perot and corporate raider extraordinaire T. Boone


2. We Are Willing to Sacrifice



We Are Willing to Sacrifice

La Meza, 1988

Five hundred miles south of Dallas is La Meza, Texas. A desolate little stop on a back road, La Meza is a Rio Grande

Valley colonia, a neighborhood of 65 Hispanic families, perhaps

400 people in all. It is just outside of Mercedes, which has a population of 12,000 in the county of Hidalgo at the southern tip of Texas where the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the world seems to dwindle. Even the low, wide horizon, the orange groves, and the patchwork fields of onions, cabbage, or carrots cannot stop the feeling that you are in a land that shrinks its people, forcing them inward, isolating them from their nearest neighbors, from the rest of America, and perhaps even from themselves.

La Meza is directly across the road from the Sunrise Hill

Park, a public park with picnic tables, playground equipment, and a sweeping sprinkler system to keep the grass a bright winter green. But unlike the park, La Meza's people, mostly migrant farmworkers, have no green grass. They have no water. Or sewers. Or paved streets. To drink, they must take a water jug to the Sunset Drive-In Grocery where the paved road by the park begins. At the grocery store, they pay the owner 25 cents to use an ordinary outdoor spigot to fill their water jugs.


3. We Need Power to Protect What We Value



We Need Power to Protect What We Value

Austin, 1988

Charles "Lefty" Morris and I spot Ernie Cortes walking ahead of us into the Texas French Bread Bakery and Deli. We are going to meet him for a late lunch. Morris is a successful attorney and former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association who has recently grown disenchanted with the gritty little skirmishes of political combat and has been seeking ideas about how to change the structure of the war itself. He had heard about Cortes and wanted to know more about him.

Cortes has just come from a doctor's appointment, where he was warned one more time to shed a few pounds. Only about 5 feet 7 inches tall, Cortes' genetic tendency to be overweight worries his wife Oralia, but his obvious comfort with his teddybear body belies worry and lends a surprisingly sensual air to him. It is hard not to be drawn to his dark eyes, which compete with a bushy, graying mustache to dominate his face. Physically, he is almost oblivious of himself. His attire is conservative, but he is as mindful of his clothes as a 3-year-old. During the day, his shirttail might work its way out of his trousers, his tie might be witness to his meals, or the unnoticed string of a price tag might dangle from his sleeve. No matter-to him or to anyone else. Cortes clearly does not dress to be the center of attention.


4. You Feel Like Your Work Is a Ministry



You Feel Like Your Work

Is a Ministry

San Antonio, 1986

I drive for almost an hour through the suburbs and shopping centers in the rolling hills of northwest San Antonio before I find Mary and Jesse Moreno's home near the University of

Texas Medical School. Jesse has worked for almost four years to remodel the white brick and frame house with bright blue shutters that sits on two acres in the tree-filled neighborhood.

The house is spacious and comfortable for Mary and Jesse and their four children who range in age from 6 to 11. Wide windows bring in the pastoral scenes from the backyard where the children's pony grazes peacefully. While the kids watch Saturday morning cartoons in the den, Mary heats coffee in her microwave and we sit at a huge pine table in the dining room, where books and newspapers are stacked alongside children's art, school papers, and comfortable family clutter. The washing machine is humming in another room, and we hear Jesse hammering away, making repairs on the carport he recently added.


5. The University of COPS



The University of COPS

San Antonio, 1986

The doors to the old elementary school on the grounds of the

Immaculate Heart of Mary parish on the West Side of San

Antonio are locked. Only the small red, white, and blue lapel button taped over a doorbell gives me any assurance that I am where I want to be: at the office of the neighborhood organization COPS. A hand-lettered sign lets me know I must ring the bell to gain entrance. The parish and the West Side neighborhood are so poor and devastated by urban renewal that they can no longer support the school. So the 70-year-old building is locked, boarded up, and used only for periodic sessions of an adult literacy class-and for the COPS headquarters, located on the second floor and accessible to the West Side leaders who run the organization. After my first visit, I understood the necessity of the locked doors. There are hazards in the old building and in the neighborhood. One day I lost my footing and fell on a chipped cement stairway that had no railings.


6. Anger Gives You Energy



Anger Gives You Energy

Los Angeles, 1986

"Pastor Sinnott, please leave the room and wait in the hall!"

Edward T. Chambers, teacher, issues the command, and the

Reverend Thomas Sinnott, student, follows it.

Chambers, director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, is teaching a seminar on power at Mount St. Mary's College in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. Tom Sinnott is a Lutheran minister from New Jersey, and he is one of about 100 people from across the nation who are attending the IAF's training program for church leaders and community activists. 1

During the next 10 minutes, Chambers orders other people to leave the room as well-a youth gang social worker from East

Los Angeles, a school teacher from EI Paso, a lawyer from East

Brooklyn, a Methodist minister from St. Louis. All obey the order. After all, Chambers is the head guy, the leader, the man in charge of the program. But the program is about power, and about how most middle-class and poor people give consent to have it taken away from them.


7. The First Revolution Is Internal



The First Revolution Is Internal

Austin, 1986

I wait for Sister Christine Stephens in the coffee shop at the

Ramada Inn, one block from the State Capitol building. She is about 20 minutes late for our appointment, and when she finally arrives, it is only to pause long enough to apologize for the delay of her airplane and to excuse herself for a few minutes more to make a telephone call. The call is to check with the lieutenant governor's office about his itinerary for an upcoming tour of the colonias in the Rio Grande Valley. Lieutenant

Governor William P. Hobby Jr. wants officials from the state's water agencies to see the neighborhoods where people live without adequate water and sewer systems, and Stephens is making arrangements for the trip. But at the last minute, Governor Mark White, who is facing a stiff challenge to his reelection bid, decides he wants to go along. l And now, with the governor's staff and press entourage, arrangements have to be made for 50 people. What started out as a simple visit by water officials has turned into a political circus, which Stephens must manage. As I watch the tall, no-nonsense, graying woman in a blue business suit, there is no doubt in my mind that she can handle it.


8. The Black Hand Over San Antonio



The Black Hand

Over San Antonio

San Antonio, 1966

It is two weeks before the May Democratic Primary election.

University of Texas graduate student Ernesto Cortes has recruited his aunts and neighbors to join him and other college students to stuff envelopes and go door-to-door for a MexicanAmerican attorney, John Alaniz, who is trying to get elected to the Bexar County Commissioners' Court, the official local government arm of the state of Texas. In San Antonio, the political heat is at the boiling point, particularly for those candidates like

Alaniz who are backed by the emerging progressive coalition of

Hispanics, blacks, teachers, unions, and limousine liberals who have won a few offices in the past but have never come close to seizing real power-a voting majority on any public body in the city or county. Now, with more than 100,000 of Bexar County's

235,000 registered voters living in the coalition's strongest voting precincts, the coalition is threatening to capture the majority vote on the five-member county commission and take over the local Democratic party organization. If Alaniz could win, he would join on the commission Albert Pena, who represents the


9. Tactics Is the Art of Taking


80 / Tactics Is the Art of Taking

But TWO members are in a hurry, and when they realize they have given away their leverage to get the city to focus on the neighborhoods, they decide they have to do something drastic to get the mayor's attention.

O'Hare Airport-the world's busiest airport and Chicago's pride-becomes their target. Thousands of travelers pass through its gates each day, and most of them stop long enough to use the bathroom facilities. TWO decides to occupy the lavatories-a sure way to bring airport operations to a halt! All demonstrators have to do is drop a dime, enter the restroom stall, and push the lock on the door. It would take only a few people, armed with books and newspapers, staying there all day to disrupt the airport and create chaos. There might even be fist fights in the long lines when travelers realize they are about to miss their connections and have no place to relieve themselves. Angry passengers would no doubt shout at airport employees. Children would be screaming, "But I've got to go!"


10. When People Act on the Gospel Values



When People Act on the Gospel Values

Chicago, 1971

When Ernie Cortes came to the Industrial Areas Foundation

Training Institute in 1971, Saul Alinsky was conspicuous by his absence. Edward Chambers was fully in charge, struggling to build a program to attract and train professional organizers.

When Alinsky died of a heart attack in 1972, it was Chambers who had to scramble to raise money to keep the training institute alive. Alinsky's speaking fees had supplemented foundation grants to underwrite the program, and now without Alinsky, it was going to be difficult for the IAF to survive financially.

"The first five years I had to sell my soul to raise money.

Foundations wouldn't fund us and I had to figure out a way to make it self-sufficient," Chambers recalls.

Everything was in a state of flux within the IAF-the money, the ties with local organizations, the concept of organizing, and the development of training programs for organizers and volunteer leaders. Then Ernie Cortes came along and dropped into the brewing stew his interest in theological concerns.


11. Leave Them Alone. They’re Mexicans.


106 I Leave Them Alone. They're Mexicans

of that. Public money should support public projects-not groups of activists whose independence and integrity could be compromised with high salaries and low accountability. At the

Industrial Areas Foundation, Cortes had come to believe wholeheartedly in Alinsky's Iron Rule-never do for people what they can do for themselves.

Father Rodriguez liked the Iron Rule, as well as the other ideas spewing from Cortes' active, volcanic mind. The talks continued over the weeks. Cortes laid out his proposal. Based on what he had learned as an IAF organizer, Cortes envisioned a new San Antonio organization to be built around poor Mexican parishes, like Father Rodriguez's Our Lady of Guadalupe

Church on the near West Side, not far from the old MissouriPacific Railroad station. This organization would take no federal or local government money, nor would it hustle private foundation grants. Instead, its seed money would come from an ecumenical sponsoring committee, which would closely monitor the project and hold the staff accountable for how money was spent.


12. A Theology That Does Not Stop



A Theology That Does Not Stop

Los Angeles, 1976

Sister Maribeth Larkin has only a small role to play today at city hall when members of a new East Los Angeles community group make their presentation to the city council. All she has to do is to translate from Spanish to English the words of the local leaders who will present the concerns of the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) to the council. But she is queasy.

Fear grips her stomach, and the telephone call from Ernesto

Cortes doesn't help.

"I'm testing you out," Cortes tells her. "We'll see how well you do today and then decide how we can use you." That's all the shy and slender, dear-eyed Sister of Social Service needs to lose her breakfast, even consider calling in sick. How can she possibly stand up and talk in front of the politicians and news media in the chambers of the Los Angeles City Council? Yet, how could she even consider backing out with so many people depending on her? Once again, fear and duty-the hallmarks of her life-provoke conflict within Maribeth Larkin. As usual, duty wins the battle, but the fear remains and turns to panic when she and almost 200 UNO members arrive to see that the council chambers are already full.


13. We Are Not an Illusion of the Moment



We Are Not an Illusion of the Moment

Houston, 1978

Houston, Texas, is a city true to its past.

It grew out of a land development scheme in a hot, humid,

mosquito-infested marsh in 1836 when two imaginative entrepreneurs-J.K. and A.C. Allen-persuaded Texas hero Sam

Houston to lend his name to the settlement in return for a few acres of free land. Sam Houston also used his influence in 1837 to help the outpost become the capital of the new Republic of

Texas. 1 In the next two years, the city's population tripled from

500 to 1,500, and the Allen brothers began to make a fortune.

With Sam Houston on their side, the developers boasted to their East Coast investors that their city would soon become the

"great commercial emporium of Texas.,,2

For the next 142 years, other imaginative developers, cotton brokers, merchants, railroaders, bankers, oil producers, shippers, and lawyers had a host of public officials on their side as well, and they made deals every bit as clever as the Allen brothers' alliance with Sam Houston. Like the AlIens, their moneymaking schemes helped the city grow.


14. Is COPS Coming to Your Neighborhood?



Is COPS Coming to Your Neighborhood?

New York, 1986

Texas Lieutenant Governor William P. Hobby Jr. and I share a cab to La Guardia Airport on a crisp fall afternoon. It is one of those interminable rides out of Manhattan, with the mix of high speed, quick stops, and long waits that sends most Texans in New York into orbit. But I am relatively free of anxiety because we have plenty of time before our plane departs and

Hobby is calm because . . . Hobby is always calm, sometimes even maddeningly so.

We have been in New York to see the bond rating agencies about the financial condition of the State of Texas, which has not been good since the price of oil slipped from $21 to $11 a barrel. Wall Street is wary of Texas' ability to meet its obligations, and we have been part of a delegation to reassure investment bankers and bond analysts that state officials will behave responsibly and with fiscal "prudence." No one in the state can do a better job of reassuring Wall Street than quiet, seriouseven shy-Bill Hobby, who since 1972 has stood guard against extremism in Texas government.


15. We Are the Only Alternative



We Are the Only Alternative

San Antonio, 1986

"Most people have come into our communities to destroy them ... the Klan ... the dope dealers ... the developers ....

The people have looked to their ministers to defend and protect them."}

The speaker is the Reverend Nehemiah Davis, the distinguished black pastor of the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in

Fort Worth. The setting is the modern new Catholic chancery of the archdiocese of San Antonio. The audience is a group of about 60 Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and Texas community leaders from eight Texas Industrial Areas Foundation organizations who are meeting to get to know each other better and determine how they can exert statewide influence as a network. Some of them have driven 13 hours from EI Paso to be at the meeting, and several of the EI Paso representatives speak no English. So the low rumble of simultaneous translation from English to Spanish accompanies the dialogue, which is about power and how to solidify it locally and leverage it statewide.


16. There Is No Substitute for the Fire


184 I There Is No Substitute For The Fire

another, reflecting a comfortable camaraderie that has built up among them over the years.

Most of the Texas organizers served an apprenticeship with

COPS in San Antonio where they developed their vision of what a community organization should be. Part of their training was to hold as many as 10 one-on-one meetings a daymeetings with community people, business leaders, government officials, or church leaders. Then, they were to reflect on what they heard.

"In COPS the organizers didn't have to make many phone calls to get a turnout for an action. People did it for themselves," Robert Rivera says. 1

"Yeah ... we taught them the right way in San Antonio,"

Cortes jokes.

"Well, they were raised with action in COPS," Rivera retorts.

"That was the culture in COPS. It's harder to build that into the other organizations, but we try."

The way to develop the culture, Cortes explains, is to get a taste for victory. "COPS had a taste for victory from the beginning," he says. "When we went into Houston and El Paso, before we had a chance for victory, the other side nearly killed us.



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