Pho to by Ala n Pog ue lo oye. ” Even God doesn’t hear the one who doesn’t speak up. Korcsmar works closely with a threeyear-old group called Austin Interfaith, an alliance of 23 city churches that is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation network, which has become well known for teaching people to organize in their own interests and to hold politicians accountable. In keeping with the spirit of the IAF, Austin Interfaith attempts not just to win political battles here and there, but to develop an emerging cadre of grassroots leaders. Korcsmar tells of getting a visit from a campaigning city council member shortly after he came to Dolores in 1982. When the politican asked who the community leaders in Montopolis were, Korcsmar says, “I was stuck.” He had no names to offer. Now, if the same thing happened, he says, “there’d be a list. And there are concrete and specific things that they’ve accomplished.” One person of whom Korcsmar speaks is Terri Segura, a mother of two children, who got involved with Austin Interfaith after teaching religious education at Dolores. She remembers an initial hesitation about becoming involved, a hesitation she says is common especially among the older Mexicanos in Montopolis. But she was drawn in by an appreciation for what she sees Korcsmar trying to do. “He’s kind of like one of us,” she says. “He’s ‘regular people.’ ” In late October and early November Segura worked in the campaign to increase turnout in poor neighborhoods on the city referendum concerning moving the Austin airport farther away from their neighborhoods. The campaign was successful in both turnout and outcome; about twice as many people in Montopolis voted on the question as compared to the time the issue on was on the ballot two years ago. Segura says she is “in it all the way now” with Austin Interfaith, and thinks the group is making an impact on city politics. “They’re starting to notice we’re here,” she says. Dr. Roberto Perez, an assistant principal at an eastside Junior High School, agrees. When Interfaith started organizing to turn out more voters, he says, “we began to show them indeed the city’s not lost it is very much alive.” Another visible presence in the community is the Montopolis Neighborhood Association, which was organized seven years ago when Enrique Ldpez, a UT graduate from McAllen, moved to Montopolis. Ldpez has for the last two years been concentrating on an economic development project sponsored by the neighborhood organization; Felix 8 NOVEMBER 20, 1987 Rosales Family’s mailbox Rosales, an auto mechanic who has been in Montopolis most of his life, is the current president of the group. The Neighborhood Association has been active in the campaign to move the Austin airport, in opposing a city plan to put a waste incinerator in the area, and in challenging Austin Community College’s attempt to sell a large chunk of land on the west section of Montopolis. \(ACC bought the land that used to Husbands have moved to other cities in search of work. “It tears at the social fabric,” says Fr. John Korcsmar. Rosales has no illusions that his group has ended the city’s traditional neglect of the neighborhood. “We haven’t seen a full-fledged street repair out here in I don’t know how long,” he says. And the Montopolis Neighborhood Association does not have a large and active membership; it is the tool of a small core of activists. Part of their role, as Rosales sees it, is to educate the people “not to throw their vote away anymore.” WHILE THE CHURCH and neighborhood organizers concentrate on specific issue oriented campaigns, there are the usual intractable issues of poverty. crime and social decay that pose larger problems. As the job market has constricted, unemployment in Montopolis has climbed to 13 percent, activists say. Fr. John Korcsmar has recently encountered three parishioners whose husbands have left in search of work one to Houston, one to Chicago, and one to North Carolina. The families left behind try to understand, he says, but still “they feel abandoned.” And many people leave the barrio as well to “step up,” taking their skills and abilities with them. “It tears at the social fabric,” Korcsmar says. Crime presents a stickier problem. There is a common reticence in Montopolis when it comes to discussing crime with outsiders. “Getting rid of a stereotype is the hardest thing,” says Dr. Roberto Perez. Montopolis residents resent the implication in news coverage that their community is crime-ridden. “If you look at the incidents, they are no different than what happens in other parts of town,” he says. Police statistics tend to bear him out. The rate of crime in Montopolis is, in police department parlance, 144 offenses per 1,000 residents, compared to a city-wide average of 175 offenses per 1,000. The department reports no murders in Montopolis in 1987, three rapes, and 26 aggravated assaults. Two years ago, the community saw three murders, 11 rapes and 28 aggravated assaults. At the same time there are problems with drugs and violence that cannot be ignored. Carmen Rodriguez, a mother of five school-age children, tells a harrowing story of her 14-year-old son’s trouble with a gang of older teenagers. Once, she says, they shower, up at her front step, pulled her son out the door and beat him up in the yard. Once a brawl broke out after a baseball game at nearby Civitan Park, while parents and small children looked on. And once they caught her son and beat him up in the parking lot of Dolores Church. She finally ended up pressing charges against four of the teenagers. Rodriguez says her smaller children run into the house when older teenagers walk their street, for fear that they might be the ones who are after their brother. What is unusual in Rodriguez’s case is that she decided to make herself heard on the incidents of gang violence. She started working only part-time at her city job so that she could spend time pressuring authorities to do something. “Nobody was putting a stop to it,” she says. Her memory of a local teenager being stabbed to death in a fight two years ago moved her to step in before things went too far. Although at first, she says. “I didn’t have anyone backing me up, she has been working with a
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