32 Chapters
Medium 9781574414363

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

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub

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 Pickens.3 Somehow, with all of this, you don’t expect him to be talking about Moses.

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5. The University of COPS

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

5

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.

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4. You Feel Like Your Work Is a Ministry

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

4

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.

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15. We Are the Only Alternative

Mary Beth Rogers The University of Chicago Press ePub

15

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.”1

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 El Paso to be at the meeting, and several of the El 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.

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9. Tactics Is the Art of Taking

Mary Beth Rogers University of North Texas Press PDF

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!"

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