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7. The First Revolution Is Internal

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

7

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.

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2. We Are Willing to Sacrifice

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

2

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.

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

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

1

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

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10. When People Act on the Gospel Values

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub

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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.

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8. The Black Hand Over San Antonio

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub

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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 Mexican-American 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 Peña, who represents the West Side and who built a Hispanic political machine when he organized Viva Kennedy clubs in the 1960 presidential election. With Peña and Alaniz, plus the vote of the genial incumbent liberal County Judge Charles Grace, who is favored to defeat handily his election challenger, the coalition would control county government. Cortes and the young college-educated Hispanics coming of age in San Antonio and getting involved in politics for the first time are almost euphoric. Change is in the air. Particularly on the West Side, where most of the city’s Hispanic population lives.

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