|English | Español||February 19, 2018 | Issue #56|
Meet the “Authentic Six” Scholarship Awardees for the April 24-26 Organizing and Journalism Workshop in Rowe, Massachusetts
Join Them and Others at the Weekend Conference, “The Organizing of The President: Making Political Change in the Age of Obama”
By Al Giordano
A bookbinder by trade, Julia wrote in her scholarship application:
“I am currently organizing my community to help stop a corporation that wants to set up and bring 150 tons per day of garbage from three states to our town, which is a low-income town. Our town has been targeted in the past from polluting businesses. My role has been to gather information about and do research, on the industry and their relationship with our municipality. I made calls and activated a network of community members (which I had gathered and connected to during the presidential campaign). I organized meetings and recruited community members to do various tasks as a partnership working toward the same goal: to defeat two warrant articles.”
We were instantly excited about the prospect of having Julia attend the April 24-26 workshop in Rowe in part because she was in the middle of such a concrete grassroots organizing battle. I envisioned involving all the attendees in a brainstorm session on behalf of her efforts. In the weeks since, however, Julia beat us to it. She and her Ashuelot allies have already won their battle against the waste dump, defeating the resolutions that would have paved its way at Ashuelot’s New England Town Meeting. Nothing speaks so clearly as success at organizing. While the victory is still fresh, we’re privileged to have her join us at Rowe.
Trained as a community organizer at Camp Wellstone in 2003 and 2004, Bart took his skills to New Hampshire in late 2007 as a volunteer for the Obama presidential campaign and finished out the campaign deputy field organizer in Miami Dade County, Florida. In his post-election thank you note to the many volunteers and field organizers, Bart wrote, “we ran up the score on McCain in Miami-Dade,” and (as this journalist, in Florida on election night, can attest) the results are quantifiable: The Democratic candidate received 2,636 votes in precinct 206, double what the party gained four years prior with 1,037 votes). In precinct 209, what had been 1,122 votes grew to 1,595. In precinct 216, where Bart led a doorhanger drive the night before the election, the 2004 total of 1,003 Democratic votes spiked up to 1,489. “I suddenly realized that we had a whole precinct of door hangers left to do,” he wrote in his scholarship application. “I quickly turned to my top volunteers, organized a team of 16 people, divided the precinct and we hit every door in the precinct.”
Bart’s grasp of how organizing happens – one door at a time, carefully quantified and mapped – aids him now in a new venture: as a blogger at The Huffington Post. That places him at the nexus where organizing and journalism (both, forms of communication) meet, and a most welcome addition to our April 24-26 workshop in Rowe. Also: Bart didn’t graduate high school, instead gaining his General Equivalency Diploma, then graduating from college at 20, and serving on the Law Review of Florida State University. We were likewise impressed that he’s fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
A community organizer with POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in San Francisco, California, Beatriz, fluent in English and Spanish, is on the front lines of one of the most important and vital organizing efforts in the United States:
“I organize Latina domestic workers, women who clean homes and take care of children or the elderly. Most of our members are immigrants. They face multiple forms of harassment as well as low wages and live under constant fear of being deported.”
“I would like to learn how we could use media to get attention about the work that we’re doing,” Beatriz wrote in her scholarship application. Recently, she began blogging at Wiretap Magazine. (Part of the April 24-26 workshop in Rowe will be dedicated not merely to utilizing existing media, but pointedly to creating and building our own.)
We were impressed with Beatriz’s answer to the application question “what has been your biggest mistake as an organizer, journalist or media maker?” Some applicants kind of bluffed their way through the question. She responded directly: “I think my biggest mistake was last year beginning to organize full time and getting caught up in doing coalitional work at the expense of our member base. Sadly, it took me a full year to realize the importance of having consistent contact with our members and having one-on-one meetings about once per month with members. Outreach is always a challenge to do consistently but I realize the importance of doing it on a weekly basis.” In other words, when she came to that fork in the road that most organizers and change agents hit soon enough, she figured out the primacy of the grassroots path over the bureaucratic. It may be the proverbial “road less traveled,” but it’s the one that leads to victory.
We also asked applicants to attend the conference titled “The Organizing of the President: Making Political Change in the Age of Obama,” if they had any questions for us, and we very much liked a question that Beatriz posed: “I am curious about whether the workshop is open to people who were not big supporters of Obama.” The answer comes in deed, not just word, with the award of this scholarship.
Ben introduced himself to us with these words: “I don’t think the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Suffrage movement, or the Obama Presidency would have been possible without the simple action of going door to door. It is in this spirit of social progress, and my experience on the Obama campaign, that I have begun to organize a rural community in Texas. I want to participate in this workshop because I want to build upon my knowledge of organizing and apply it in real time to a community that desperately needs to be unified.”
“I am currently working in Smithville, Texas helping the community re-appropriate a segregation-era school building and transform to accommodate sustainable, green technology, a health clinic, an arts initiative, educational programming, and a community garden. This building was erected in the early 1900s as the first school in the community, with a mission set forth by the city that the land and buildings must ‘be used only for Educational Purposes and for the purposes of inculcating and practicing the principles of morality and charity…’ Today an aggressive real-estate developer threatens to tear down the building…”
Before he graduated Suma Cum Laude from Columbia University last spring, Ben volunteered in voter registration drives in North Philadelphia. Upon finishing school, he joined the Obama campaign full time as an organizer in North Las Vegas:
“This was incredibly interesting and challenging because the Nevada population ranks number 50 in volunteerism per capita… My primary goal was to get people to volunteer, I had to be creative to get people involved—and more importantly, stay involved and get them to become organizers in their own right.”
“I would say that my personal maxim is to listen early and often, rather than aggressively push an agenda,” Ben wrote in his application. “I find that people are eager to unify around common issues that surpass party affiliations, socio-economic disparities, or race.” Right there, he captured the essence of successful organizing and journalism both. We’re looking forward to his participation in Rowe on April 24-26.
An attorney by trade, and former government prosecutor, Tracy, a mother of two (whose husband recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq), passed up the big bucks of the legal profession to represent indigent Legal Aid clients on a volunteer basis. Fluent in Spanish and English, she frequently finds her clients plagued by the harsh immigration laws in the United States. She’s currently on the planning committee for a May 2009 event “to raise appreciation for the Latino community in Chattanooga,” titled Sangria on the Southside. She also assists convicted felons to restore their right to vote.
Tracy wrote in her scholarship application: “I agree with Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, when he posits if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would identify Spanish speaking immigrants living in our country as members of our society in need of civil rights protection.”
On her blog, Dulce Mia, she wrote last year:
“Today nearly ten percent of our workforce is illegal and cheap. True to basic supply and demand economic principals, this large powerless workforce drives down the price of labor. Cheap labor increases productivity and profits for employers and illegals, who are in no position to demand minimum wage, guarantee that it stays cheap…
“In 1996 the IRS began issuing ID numbers to enable illegal immigrants who don’t have social security numbers to file taxes. Close to 8 million of the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country today file personal income taxes. No doubt they hope that one day it will help them acquire legal status. Of course they automatically pay sales taxes. They work hard and contribute to society and are worthy of basic human rights and dignity.”
Tracy is a Volunteer State Field Hand and a regular commenter here at The Field, where we think it is high time that more progressive bloggers and independent media makers get off the sidelines and pitch in to make immigration reform – a path to citizenship for those twelve million undocumented Americans – a reality. Tracy’s is one of the voices we believe can help make that happen, and so we’re very pleased that she’ll be participating on April 24-26 in Rowe.
Mike, vice president of College Democrats at the College of New Jersey, spent much of 2008 organizing door-to-door canvassing, voter registration and absentee ballot drives for the Obama presidential campaign, including across the Delaware River in swing state Pennsylvania. And then, last February, he had a radicalizing experience:
“It began when Ann Coulter came to my college to give a lecture. Afterwards, as she signed books on the stage, I approached her to ask a follow-up question, having asked one during the Q&A session during the event. I was forcibly escorted off the stage, and when an officer tried to muscle me toward the exit, I instead walked back to my seat. The next thing I knew, I was tackled to the ground and restrained, handcuffed, and led to a police car. Over the course of the arrest and detainment, the officers treated me extremely poorly, hurling insults and making sure I was as uncomfortable as possible. The next day, I documented what happened on a DailyKos diary, and from there the story exploded. I’ve been interviewed by various newspapers and television and radio stations about my story, and have become something of a “cause celeb” (pardon my French) on campus. Rather than file a lawsuit against the police department or college, I have decided to use the publicity and support to organize for the creation of a Student-Police Review Board on campus.”
Mike penned this column for the college newspaper. A Facebook group in support of his efforts now numbers 1,429 members. That’s pretty fast work in response to an incident that happened just two months ago. I had asked each of these six scholarship awardees for the April 24-26 Rowe workshop to write a brief introduction to each other and Mike, in his, offered an update on his organizing efforts: “We just passed the hurdle of being acknowledged by the student governing body, and seem to be well on our way to actually getting something done.”
“Hey, Abbie, I stole the book,” one said of his 1971 bestseller Steal This Book. “Hey, Abbie, how’s Jerry?” asked another asked of his estranged co-organizer-turned-yuppie Jerry Rubin. I thought, “oh lord, this is going to be a long and boring weekend.”
Suddenly, Abbie snapped at them: “I don’t want to talk about the 60s. I’m not into nostalgia. When I studied at Brandeis under Abe Maslow he taught me that nostalgia is just another form of depression. I’m here to talk about organizing in the present, about how we can fight the system and win.”
From that moment, my path in life shifted and almost 30 years later that was clearly for the best. Great things happen at Rowe. Again, you can register for the conference at by clicking here. Hope to see you there.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism