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ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SWAIM AUSTIN, TEXAS 78131 5.12 453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip began to get a sense of the importance of this. And finally, in this last session, 1989, we worked very, very hard and passed a bill providing $100 million worth of sewer and water services to the colonias. We had a lot of help, bipartisan support. So that’s starting to get put in place now? It took effect last year. But there was still a lot of work to do. The counties are not real happy about this bill because they have to pass model rules and they have to start taking some responsibility for the colonias. It is, in fact, a very conservative bill. It requires the colonias’s residents themselves to pay for the sewers. It’s not a giveaway program. The grant money is primarily to make it possible to buy down the cost of interest. Really, we’re just stretching out the longterm payments on these sewer projects to make them more affordable. There are some grants to get hookups to the homes, but the residents have to pay for these projects. Some good may come of that, too, in terms of a commitment to help yourself. Well, we believe in the iron rule. Never do for people what they can do for themselves. It’s real important to enable, to empower, to inspire, to challenge people to begin to take responsibility for their lives. I don’t mean this in a harsh way, I don’t mean it in a mean way. I mean in a way that they begin to see that they have to be co-responsible for what goes on with them. Somebody in Texas Lieutenant Governor Hobby, I believeshocked everybody a few months ago by calling for an income tax. Yes, and the corporate community across the state is for an income tax. What turned those people around? Two things. One was the Tax Reform Act. Sales taxes are no longer deductible from Federal taxes. And then they began to notice that they were paying franchise taxes and other fees regardless of whether they were making any profits, and the idea of a corporate-profits tax an income tax –began to look very attractive to them. Because of the Texas recession? Because all of a sudden they weren’t making any profits? Exactly. Alinsky used to say, “When you people do the right thing, you do it for the wrong reason.” Virtually every corporate leader I know of is for an income tax. It’s ironic, because the Texas Association of Taxpayers was formed to fight the income tax, and now it’s one of the biggest proponents. That’s a corporate lobby? With a name to make it sound like “just us folks” ? It’s really Exxon. We’ve been talking a lot about statewide issues. Now, COPS and the other Interfaith organizations have been famous over the years for their confrontational meetings with local officials, city council people and so on, holding their feet to the fire. Does that work with state officials as well? It varies. When we first worked on school finance, one of the lobbyists described us as “the circle-and-conquer group.” We’d have these sessions with legislators, gather 30 or 40 people around him. We’d bring our people to the Capitol to get state representatives to commit themselves. So I would say the tactic works, with modifications. But there’ s a bigger distance to cross with, say, the lieutenant governor than with a city council member or state representative. That’s true. But Hobby has been to our accountability sessions … Ann Richards, all those people. So it’s yes and no. The accountability forum works well. We don’t need to do the kind of confrontations we used to. Those were to get public officials to deal with us. And now they know they have to? When somebody is willing to deal with you, for you to be confrontational, you’re just being a bully. You don’t do it for its own sake. We’re trying to teach people politics. Politics means negotiating and being reciprocal and thinking about the other person. The importance of an action is to put yourself in a position where you can sit down and really do some hard negotiating. I’ve heard people say at one time or another over the years that one characteristic of the Interfaith organizations is they don’t work in coalitions with other community groups. Do you think that’s a fair generalization? If it is, is that just a pragmatic result of local conditions or is it a basic philosophy of organizing? Well, we work in coalition with a number of groups…. We’re selective about whom we work with. We want to be sure that whomever we work with is somebody we can work with, someone we can trust, someone who will be accountable in some kind of way to us. Probably the reason you hear that is we don’t join these huge, big coalitions. We particularly don’t do that in the beginning. When you’re trying to develop an organization, that’s not the way you do it. And, frankly, a lot of people see that we’ve got numbers and we’ve got a constituency, and they will try to use that. So to that extent, the generalization is not fair. You mean there’s a self-protective reason not to join? It’s a recognition that it’s not the way to develop the organization, particularly in its early stages. The people who have to get the recognition for your work are your own leaders, the ones you’re working with. You’re trying to teach them. If they are going to get buried in some coalition effort, then it doesn’t teach them any sense of recognition of their own power. Remember that we think our primary task is developing leadership, not just resolving some problem, not just doing good. We’re building an organization, so we have to think about these questions. So people who make those accusations or complaints are only thinking about their particular issue. The organizer has to be thinking about all this how do you develop the organization? So you make a determination or recommen dation. Let’s work on this issue rather than that, on the basis of: Is this going to help build the organization or not? You might get into a fantastic issue that will take 10 years to resolve, and you may solve the problem eventually by going to court or all kinds of other ways, but you won’t have an organization in the end. Because people get tired. There’s nothing for them to do; the work is all being done by lawyers. So another thing we don’t do is file lawsuitg. Lawyers want to go into court and be heroes. But there’s no role for our folks in the court. And there is an ideological question here. We think too many things are having to be solved in the courthouse in the United States. My point is that the courtroom freezes the action for people. There’s no role for them. We’re trying to teach people how to become involved, to be participatory. From an organizer’s perspective, a negotiated political solution teaches more effectively. And people then begin .to see their role, see how important they can be. So that’s what we do. And sometimes that means we don’t get into coalitions. Turning to something more personal, you’ve stayed active and involved for a long time now. My impression from everything I’ve heard is you work long and hard. How do you keep that up over 20, 30 years, that level of commitment? Burnout is a common problem with grass-roots activists. Well. One of the things I’ve always liked about the Industrial Areas Foundation approach is it allows you to do things differently. There’s no one way to do this business. I like to teach. For me, organizing is teaching, and the organizations are mini-universities. So as long as there is an opportunity to try to teach different people, new people, new insights and new dimensions of this process, then it stays real interesting. If I were teaching the same thing over and over again to the same people, I think I probably would have had a hard time sustaining myself. One of the reasons I’m in Arizona now is because it’s new turf, there are new people, there’s a new dimension, I get my head into a new situation. Phoenix, Tucson. Probably in four years I’ll be in New Mexico. Or Colorado. Or both. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11 ut bo -.*V-0.