organizations patterns that created instability, ineffectiveness, and eventual dissolution: Movements that depended on charismatic leaders fell apart in the absence of the leader. Organizations formed around a single issue died when the issue lost its potency. Organizations that relied on public money, private grants, or the largess of a few wealthy contributors could never become truly independent. Organizations that became overly procedural lost the momentum and flexibility to act. Organizations whose leaders acted autonomously without a system of internal accountability became corrupt when no one monitored their actions. Organizations that played to the public spotlight confused their desire for media attention with their strategy for change. Organizations that scrambled continuously to respond to a crisis got caught up in a whirlwind of activity that soon exhausted their leaders. But the most important critique of movements and community organizations centered around the fact that once an organization folded, people were as powerless as they had always been even after solving a specific problem or enacting a particular law. The power to regularly shape decisions that affected their lives was still not within the grasp of most middle-class and working poor people. If IAF organizations and IAF-trained organizers were to be effective, they would have to grapple with the fundamental issue of political power. That meant asking some essential questions about building a political organization: What if your organization’s purposes were broader than solving single problems? What if your purpose was to amass power that would alloW action on a wide range of issues? What if you sought the kind of power that lifted you to a different level of political decision-making? What if you could become a frequent player in the crafting of public policy? What if you had an organization that could survive not only its defeats on single issues, but its victories as well? More questions and conversation: What if you began to appeal to people not on specific issues, but on something they valued? On something that was intrinsically important to them and for which they were willing to sacrifice? What if your organization could enhance what people valued? Would they then be willing to make a permanent commitment to an organization that seemed to care for them and operate with them on a deep level of fundamental concern? Would you be able to count on the longevity of the organization no matter what happened to individual leaders or specific causes? Within the IAF in the early 1 970s, answers to these questions began to take shape, and the concept of seeking broad power and building organizations around values began to provide a central organizing strategy. This new direction meshed with the personal experiences of both Cortes and Chambers. For Cortes, his Mexican roots helped shape his views that values mattered more than issues. For example, the people Cortes wanted to organize on the South and West Sides of San Antonio cared about “family.” Family was a supreme value in their lives. And family, for most of the Hispanic working poor, was also intertwined with feelings for church. When you value something, you are willing to make a sacrifice for it; there is a ALAN POGUE Ernesto Cortes cost you are willing to pay. Cortes knew that Mexican parents willingly sacrificed for their children and often for their church. By talking about family values, could you motivate and organize people to act politically in their own genuine self interest? Talking about the positive value of families would be a radical departure from the movement rhetoric of the 1960s and early 1970s. Yet Ed Chambers sensed that poor people might be hungry for it. “The movements [of the 1960s1 never attracted the moderate and conservative sections of the country,” he wrote. The majority of Americans, he felt, thought that movement people were “willing to trample on traditions for a single cause.” But old movement images and language would not suffice for the strains and stresses of the 1970s and 1980s, Chambers argued. The new organizations had to reach into the heart. They had to connect with people at a core level of essential value. The idea of protecting and enhancing families might make that possible. Cortes agreed, adding an important caveat. “You can’t just be romantic about families,” he says. “Unrealistic romantic notions about family can lead to fascism. Families can turn out to be oppressive. But families and traditions are useful and important, and you always have to see them in relation to other things. It is the give-andtake of family life, in the sacrifices and compromises that you make for the family that you learn to be human. It is where you learn to nurture and be nurtured.” For Chambers, the concept of family also struck a resonant and personal note. Giving up the life of a professional bachelor, he got married in his mid-40s and began having children at the same time as he was struggling to transform the IAF. Family mattered to him now in a way that he had never before experienced, and he began to understand the pressures working families felt to stay intact and to keep children safe from harm. Particularly in poor urban communities. Families were under siege affected by the corrosive effects of alcohol and drug abuse, crime, and the physical deterioration of neighborhoods. But the pressures were economic, too. “The American family has become a money machine,” Chambers wrote. “Month after month it must meet the food bills, mortgage or rent, car and other transportation costs, insurance premiums, non-insured health items, clothing costs, taxes, utilities and fuel, school expenses. … Both parents must work to fuel the family money machine, to meet the basic cost of keeping the family alive. Too often, what they work so hard for is undone by their own hard work … they have no energy left for the love and care of their children.” If you began to talk to people about their families and about how they might protect and help them by becoming involved in community organizations and if you talked about their own individual growth and development in the process, then you might have a strategy that could lead to stable political organizations anchored by people whose values derived from concerns deeper than transitory issues. “In organizations based on values, social change is not some kind of abstraction that happens out there,” Chambers also wrote. “It happens to people. It involves your whole life.” As the IAF began to clarify its vision of community-based power organizations centered around values, its language also began to change. “I’d had a little training in philosophy,” Chambers says. “And I started forcing myself to look at what our kind of organizing meant to people. We worked with people in the churches, and their language was the language of the gospel. Their language was nothing like Alinsky’s language. His language was power talk. Tough, abrasive, confrontational, full of ridicule. And those are really all non-Christian concepts. So I started looking at it. Here are the non-Christian concepts … here are the Christian concepts. Are there any similarities? Is this just a different language for the same thing?” Because he was now bringing lay church people from urban neighborhoods into the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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