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Organizing the Grassroots

This week, the JOURNAL profiled community health advocate America Bracho and her organization, Latino Health Access. Working in Santa Ana, California, they have organized community-based programs relating to diabetes and domestic violence, among other concerns. Recently, they led a successful campaign to procure permission and land so that they will be able to build a neighborhood community center.

Bracho said:

“What I want our community to know is that nobody is going to do this for us... You can complain and sometimes I feel very frustrated, but if you are at home watching soap operas and feeling sorry, I can understand that, but that is not going to help... From day one, when we began this project, we said to each other: the most important but also the most dangerous part in doing community work is when people actually believe they can transform their community. That's pretty dangerous, because when people believe that, they want to do that again, and again, and again.”

Although community organizing has traditionally been identified with the left wing of politics, activists on the right have increasingly begun to adopt organizing tactics for their causes. THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT recently reported on some conservatives’ newfound interest in renowned left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky and his 1971 book RULES FOR RADICALS: A PRAGMATIC PRIMER FOR REALISTIC RADICALS:

“Thirty-eight years since the publication of his handbook and 37 years since he died, Alinsky has found a thriving and surprising fan club in the modern conservative movement... ‘Alinsky-cons” have taken the union organizers ‘13 rules for power tactics’ and ’11 rules to test whether power tactics are ethical’ and found a strategy that, they believe, is chipping away at the momentum for national health care reform. When they flummox representatives with chants, or laugh out loud at their attempts to explain their votes, many ‘Tea Party’ activists say they’re cribbing from Alinsky.”

What do you think?

  • How much change can community organizers effect on a local, state, and national level?

  • Are some issues too complicated for grassroots activists to tackle? Why or why not?

  • What role do you think community organizing will play in political battles to come, including passage of legislation regarding health insurance reform and climate change?

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    Ikehara is correct about forms of protest becoming obsolete. He has taken a cue from Moyers/Winship's discussion of proto-fascist use of Saul Alinsky's handbook. The implication is that teabaggers are driving a 1965 Corvair, unsafe at any speed. Mischief protest (yesmen stuff) is reaching an exhaustion point, and how many puppet shows can America take?

    It remains to the people to invent new "ways of voting." Experiments will be conducted both out of doors and in cyberspace. Every dissident mind is a "chemistry set". As Grady says, "For a good time, join the resistance." The more the merrier. I believe that any technique involving consumer expenditure (or not) could be effective considering the structure before us. Figgers neither purchased nor displayed any holiday decorations this year. We criticized municipal displays as commercially motivated and/or wasteful. Was that a sacrifice or a liberation?

    Corny George: I have not recently seen Senators dressing down and getting close with constituents in public (excepting maybe Olympia Snowe, and she always wears a girdle and a wool suit, never eats hot dogs). They travel in motorcades with an armed contingent on their way to fundraisers with selected elites. Petitioners encounter lowly staffers who exhibit their powerlessness. The highest prize is 15 minute gallery tickets to hear someone bloviate to C-span and an empty floor. Emails and writings are responded to with talking points letters, often on a different issue or filled with campaign slogans. If you ever see a Senator up close, handlers spritz you past in a nano-second. The elected celebrity mouths prepared phrases like an Elmo doll. I don't recognize the world Corny George inhabits. Maybe he has Harry Reid's cell phone number; I don't know.
    I suspect that most elected officials are plenty repugnant people that would sour the stomach at a meal. (John Edwards and Tom Coburn come to mind.) I've walked a few blocks in Cleveland with Dennis Kucinich and he is approachable and can hear, not as ugly as on TV either. I've met Virginia Foxx, too, and she is a human snotball. (Cut Christmastree Queen) Electioneering I guess? Seeing Silvio (Dictator of Italy) get his mouth and nose busted with a rock does elicit caution. I guess that's what happens when one has no real friends left.

    Concerning the question, "What role do you think community organizing will play in political battles to come...?", the following article concludes:

    ...Does this explain why grassroots efforts are less likely to succeed in the future?:

    - By all but the pathologically romantic, it is now recognized that this is not the age of the small man. (John Kenneth Galbraith)

    The segment on America Bracho and her effort to elevate the voice of the community and engage residents in the solution to an identified community need is most inspiring. If ever I get tired during a busy day at work, I will remember the people of Santa Ana who are tireless in their work to create a healthy community for their children and will be renewed in spirit.

    There's an old saying " Cut to the chase". We all have a person in the senate whose job it is to represent us. These representatives were elected by voters.When on the campaign trail, these "elected officials" can't get close enough to the "common folk". They dress like them, shake their hands, eat their hot dogs and kiss their babies.
    If you want to know where you really stand in today's political landscape, pick up the phone and call your representative after they have been elected and request a meeting with them to express your concerns. What you should pay attention to is how and why you are told you cannot have a meeting with the person who represents you.
    Like another old saying you may find that "Something smells fishy" when you think about the fact that the person representing you can't find the time to listen to your concerns because they are too busy representing you.
    A sarcastic person might think they were a victim of "the old shell game".

    Focus on this:

    No more pay to play.

    Promote public funded elections. No donation from any one individual to any candidate for federal office to exceed $????. Donations to legislators, or any federal official either elected or appointed, from any source except a private individual will constitute an assumed conflict of interest. graft or bribery.

    National Strike Day April 9, 2010.
    March on Washington April 10, 2010.

    There it is folks. Start posting it to as many places as you can.

    Potential Speakers: (in no particular order, just as they came into my head)
    Michael Moore,
    Zero Hedge,
    tyler durden ,
    marla singer,
    Amy Goodman,
    Simon Johnson,
    Paul Krugman,
    Karl Denninger,
    Rep. Dennis Kucinich,
    Rep. Raúl Grijalva,
    Rep. Marcy Kaptur
    Rep. Ron Paul,
    Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey,
    Rep. Alan Greyson
    Sen. Russ Finegold,
    Sen. Al Franken,
    Ariana Huffington
    Bill Moyers,
    Katrina vanden Heuvel.
    Robert Reich,
    Bill Maher,
    Larry Flint,

    I can't think of any Republican legislators who would want to put their name on this, but there probably are. Who are they?

    And I'm sure you can think of others who would have something to say on this issue.

    I am unable to put this together by myself. My hope is that a consortium of prominent bloggers will.

    Charles Michael Couch wrote, in part, "The question about "Why are they fleeing countries with all the natural resources people need?" is a very valid one. One which we as Americans will soon be asking ourselves. Only, to where will we be able to flee?"

    It's chaotic, isn't it? I keep thinking about the 4 million Iraquis and how many Afghans...don't know? Man, those people DO carry a grudge for millenia - they're still mad about losing to the crusaders! Yikes!

    USA has been stripped bare. How could all those USA dollars shipped to China from WalMart ended up with USA IN DEBT to China...? What part don't I understand about "economics", huh?

    The rules of the slum lords that welcomed America Bracho to her TV-famous OC apartment house and the immediated pop up of liquer stores in the 'hood - is that what someone thrown out of their OC home by Wells Fargo execs will find as a welcome wagon if they do a "refugee run" to Canada?

    Chit chatting with a wounded person at a restaurant, recently, I found out that he was a cop in OC and a gang member pullet out some kind of hatchet and tried to cut off his arm...I asked, "did you kill him?", he said the other cops on the scene did.

    Maybe one day we'll be able to talk about racial weaknesses that are genetically real when it comes to holding your liquer.

    "Community" quickly becomes "Gang" or "tribe"...

    The question about "Why are the fleeing countries with all the natural resources a people need?" is a very valid one. One which we as Americans will soon be asking ourselves. Only, to where will we be able to flee?

    The problem is now and has always been that a small enclave of "elite" feel it is their right to draw maps and divide up all lands and resources for their personal agrandizement(sp) and/or to amass a "cash" advantage and the push that until they "own" everything "legally". Thus imposing the "Lords and Surfs" realities we continually must have revolution to reset.
    This repeating history will continue until WE make it IMPOSSIBLE once and for all. How do we retrieve the 800 Billion Bailout, the 2.3 Trillion "missing from the Pentagon budget", the untold billions stollen from hard working Americans by the monetary "policies" of the "Elite"? Unless we learn to vote upstream of the Illuminati media ardment it will never happen.

    Charles Michael Couch

    Mr. Moyers,

    Per your 10/09/09 essay on, "The Health Industry Lobby,"--you tell us to not just get mad but get busy. Please, tell your viewers how they can "get busy!"

    One of the three questions for consideration on this thread is "Are some issues too complicated for grassroots activists to tackle? Why or why not?"

    Thanks, David H, for a thread to pursue re: Mexico.

    I think it is understandable that when the ECONOMIC reality is that 1% of the population of USA "owns" 90% of the "wealth", people don't have a lot of patience with this kind of social engineering schtick that defines the "goodness" of "grassroots" for us. If we are back to awarding medals for mothers realizing that kids need a place to play, we're done.

    I think I'd rather listen to America Bracho talk than anybody in media. Start with diabetes...wise. I don't see this story as an indication of inevitable victory for progressive people all across the U.S. I see this story as perfectly an example that should be replicated many times over across the land. The example is inspiring enough to help us do it too.

    "And you better look around ... vast swaths of this country are starting to look like parts of Mexico. And I don't mean just the barrios where we restrict Hispanic residents ... I mean most urban centers in the country as well as the once productive industrial heartland of the Midwest." posted below article in Contra Costa Times 9/25/2009 - 3:35 p.m. by "shays"

    There's no need for the people who watch Moyers Journal to play innocent. If you haven't had time to keep up that's another story. Hey, but Kivu has resources too...why in the heck can't they take care of themselves?

    Are we being fished? Is that the reason no one bothers to answer AD and explain why Mexicans "can't make it work" with "all the natural resources that ANY people need"?

    Read "shays" and read the article, Anna D. I could put up more links, but it wouldn't be starting off modestly and wisely like Bracho did. You could Google "Mexico" and the phrase "death squads" and then order the citations chronologically (at Google Groups). I'll let you do it.

    Hi Bill,thank very much for having Ms A.Bracho,give us a 101 in community-organizig,they are the "future-leaders".Thanks for M.Danner,he make you think, their is nothing fair in war!Mr.Moyers,we need a "Peoples-Bank",will you please get the word out.God help those that help themselfs,That bank can solve alot of the "Peoples-Problems".Have you seen Capitalism movie?Have you read Ralph Nader new book?It`s tme to size the time!Thanks

    What an amazing video. I got goosebumps seeing the change a community can create. Individuals are taking steps that politcal representatives are afraid or unable to take. In economic times like today, communities must unite to fight for their rights and to see the change they wish to see. I like how individuals stepped up to leadership as promotores to help others- their neighbors.

    Very good show, but I do not understand why, with 70% of the population in the town, that they cannot have more representatives, in fact, ALL representatives, that they vote in as a group. Don't they vote? Ms.Bacho should get them to vote, if they don't. THEN they can get more than they bargained for. Good luck

    For Blogger Susan O'Connell:

    Go to their website and there is a place to donate online or send a check.

    Mady Goldstein, NYC

    What a great article! Where do I send money? I would love to help this Latino community develop their park. I can't send much, but maybe others will join in. I can't believe all those lots were closed off for so long; what a mean country we live in. But kudos to this wonderful community!

    A terrific program on America Branco and others you profiled on the quest for better living conditions in Santa Ana for Latinos. Thank you for finding her and thank you for showing us the communities across America that are neglected by the political system and the media. Parks are just part of it. There is much more to come with this group of people who are moving forward and taking care of their own.

    Keep the programs coming,

    Mady Goldstein, NYC

    I'm not sure you really examined what you were typing but rather hastily opted to hit the post button. To characterize these people of Santa Ana as "not participating in our society" is beyond myopic. Additionally, your quip about "actual Americans" is quite insulting. Do you not realize that the majority of those children, who will be well served by a community center and park, ARE indeed American citizens? Sadly, your broad brush, reflexive mentality on this issue is not uncommon: the idea of relegating these people to substandard existences, whether here or in their native countries, is much more palatable to you than to applaud this one victory as something that can inspire others and change the character of a community and our country for the better.

    I am extremely gratified by the work of all these women and men. I really hope they take this victory and move forward. As the numbers of promotores grows I'd like to see them tackle bigger and more challenging topics that are the heart of community strife. Struggling neighborhoods across our nation should take note, change is best served from the bottom up. Best of luck to them, keep us posted Bill.

    Can anyone make a suggestion for educating myself about the "latino" exodus from countries that have all the natural resources that ANY people need? I am not trying to start trouble, I just don't understand why hard-working people can't make it work in their native lands?

    What's going on in south america? This whole planet can't become just one large refugee zone, can it?

    Four million ran out of Iraq, 5 million ran away from Katrina - how many continue to have to run awayfrom natural, cyclical events?, how many on the run from Afghanistan...?

    What is chasing so many out of "Latin" America...? Why could Ms. Bracho not build a playground in her community in her native country?

    Seriously...I want to figure it appreciated.

    Thanks for the story about America Bracho and the community organizers in Santa Ana. I would love to see a follow up on the park in future.


    I don't think she thinks parks are the solution. They are a beginning point. I think she said early in the interview that she was aware of gangs and domestic violence, but saw the health issue as a better entry to the community at this time. As the community coheres then they will take more initiative in their own affairs. This is empowerment not socialism or whatever -ism anyone prefers.

    i agree with freddie. they got a park, great, but why are people who don't speak english and are not participating in our society here in the first place? wake up, real unemployment is at 20% and we still let illegals come in, take jobs, and fill our ERs. I mean them no harm, but that money they got could have helped actual americans.

    Thank you for presenting the piece profiling America Brancho. While I admire her passion, I disgree with her premise that creation of parks is the sole solution. One needs only to visit inner city Chicago, where I was born and raised, to see the many parks that are sparsely populated with child activity due to the danger of the siege created by gang bangers and drug dealers that make these areas unsafe. Lack of a place to play is a problem for most inner city poor children and unfortunately will remain so until the government supplies a militia to keep them safe from stray bullets. Its unfortunate that gangs and drug dealers take these areas over. I guess they can't really call what they are doing a turf war without turf-an element found in abundance in America's inner city parks. When I saw the chains on the school playgrounds, while unfortunate, I can identify with this practice and see it not as an effort to shut children out but as an effort to shut out the drug dealers and the gang bangers that take these areas over when school is not in session. Inner city schools have even had to discontinue recess to protect children from gunfire, pedophiles and drug dealers. And additional budget cuts have forced schools to cut out P.E. Today's children need a place to play and be a child, yes. They have parks but lack a national militia to keep them safe from the stray bullets and rif-raf. Until this problem is addressed by cities who turn a blind eye to the conditions that keep our parks unsafe, communities and children will continue to be "made sick". Great effort America! We need a million more people like you.

    How could the GOP ever have denigrated these hard working people, these "community organizers"? I teach in an urban middle school in a "blighted" neighborhood--will we become Brazil or will the warm glow of the real America burst into flames and incinerate the inhumanity of privilege and greed? Did we take the wrong turn in the 60s?

    What struck me in this piece was I thought this was Mexico not California. Does anyone not realize we are very close to being Mexico. They are the majority you can't get a job unless you speak Spanish. When are we going to say enough is enough. This country can't substain millions of people coming in here daily from all over the world but more just walking across our border daily.

    allenwrench wrote, in part, "Back in the day, (prairie and turn of the century) citizens were more of a self sufficient nature. Most of us have lost that skill of self sufficiency and we have shifted gears to be dependent on gov and a few other such as farmers or oil producers or China to take care of the whole pop of the US. The problem is, it is very hard to go back without causing a lot of pain. (Actually a lot of deaths)"

    This is pure "perception is reality" drivel, and you know it, "allenwrench". It's what you hoped would have happened by now - and it didn't.

    Issuing our own currency from here on in...

    MAYBE they'll keep delivering food to the island - maybe not. After the nor-easter that dumped over 3 feet of snow on the NYC area in 1994 (?), the island ran out of food in 3 days - remember that?

    Corporate welfare is over NOW. If you're broke from investing in delusional power quests in the middle east, then suck it up and learn the lesson.

    One lost paycheck and - poof - you're out.

    "Right to work" state for all politicians!

    My feeling about community organizing is that it has reached its limit. Foundation Grants and closely linker corporations have so coopted many of them, that rather than enhancing the body politic they actually diminish it.

    We need a return to the big picture.

    We need to understand that a country that is responsible for 67% of all international arms sales can only stand so much small is beautiful. After forty years of this defeatist mantra we need to return to the big picture.

    Please read Russ Baker's Family of Secrets for one of the best explications of the links btw. Corporate America, the CIA and interventionist foreign policy and the transformation from Industrial to finance capitalism. This book will amaze you. Bill Moyer has praised Bakers work. He links H.W Bush to Dallas 11-22-63 in ways that will have you wondering "why has this not been page 1 for the last year" Then its on to brand new revelations about Watergate.

    This book returns us to the big community, where shared discourse is still possible.

    In our future, Americans may find themselves to lean more to a community / socialized based life, As the fossil fuels dry up the gov may find it hard to help all those in need. Localized groups and communes of sorts may be all we have to turn to.

    so·cial·ism (ssh-lzm)

    n. 1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

    Our world is upside down, when the right way to s sustainable future will bring our world down. The only thing to do to keep the Ponzi scheme going is to do just the opposite of prudent advice.

    What would happen to our economy if we took the advice and did as this reworked 'victory' poster from WW II suggested?

    Sad thing is...IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE TO DO A 180...Without compulsive spending and conspicuous consumption funded by unaffordable debt, we would fail as a country. Since our economy if fueled 70% by the consumer, we must stay in debt and consume by any means necessary to keep the Ponzi scheme from collapsing.

    We must make shoddy products that self-destruct quickly - so new products are in constant demand to keep the workforce of drones working. All the while squandering natural resources, but we are increasing the business of the landfills.

    We must not grow our own food. We must buy poisonous food from chemical laden farms. Our concrete jungles could never hope to allow anything else from their inhabitants.

    Yes, a consumer strikes en masse could change many things. After all 70% of the economy is based on the consumer. But the politicians have a way of forgetting and going back to old ways. As such, it would take continual strikes to keep the knuckleheads in DC going down the right path.

    But such strike would take a measure of self-sufficiency that 99.9% of the modern day people lack. They can't miss one paycheck or will be behind on their mortgage or If they are unable to go to market for a few days they will starve.

    Back in the day, (prairie and turn of the century) citizens were more of a self sufficient nature. Most of us have lost that skill of self sufficiency and we have shifted gears to be dependent on gov and a few other such as farmers or oil producers or China to take care of the whole pop of the US. The problem is, it is very hard to go back without causing a lot of pain. (Actually a lot of deaths)

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