BOOKS & THE. CULTURE Practical Visionaries BY ELLEN HOMER Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Power Politics By Mary Beth Rogers Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1990, 222 pages, $14.95. VER THE LAST 17 years, the Industrial Areas Foundation and its state director, Ernesto Cortes Jr., have organized a political force in Texas. Made up predominantly of poor and disenfranchised minorities, IAF organizations have changed the power structure in the cities they have organized. Recently, working collectively, IAF organizations have become a power at the state level. First with COPS, Communities Organized for Public Service in San Antonio, and then with a number of similar organizations from Houston to El Paso, the IAF has organized groups that previously were considered unorganizable, empowering poor working-class citizens to take on city, county, and state officials. It has been a long and arduous process and one that would have been all but impossible without Cortes. In her book, Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Power Politics, Mary Beth Rogers tells the story of Cortes and the IAF. Rogers, who served as a deputy state treasurer under Ann Richards and then as manager of the Richards campaign for governor, obviously is inspired by the work of Cortes and the dozens of other members and organizers of the IAF she interviewed while researching the book. Having grown increasingly skeptical of politics as it has come to be practiced, Rogers sees Cortes et al. as the power behind a return to the democratic ideals displaced by big-money politics and apathy. “For me, then,” she writes, “the significance of this story is how Ernesto Cortes, Jr. and other leaders of the Industrial Areas Foundation organizations are helping ordinary men and women awaken to their power as `we, the people.’ It is a story that makes me feel hopeful once again about American politics.” The story of Cortes and the IAF is inspiring. It is important not only in demonstrating an organizing strategy that is effective, but also in helping to dismiss the myth that the El Paso writer Ellen Hosmer now divides her time between journalism and her new son, Landon Joshua, who arrived as expected on October 23. poor and disenfranchised cannot be organized into a political force. Cortes and the IAF prove that politics can once more be the domain of the local citizen, and that the mixture of religion and politics, rather than something to be avoided, can in the end revitalize both. Cortes has mixed the two with considerable success. He has spent 19 years with the IAF, most of them in Texas, organizing low-income Hispanics, blacks, and whites. It is through his work that the IAF has developed powerful and independent community organizations throughout the state. In Rogers’s book, Cortes appears as more than a practical organization man. “We operate out of Ernie’s vision,” one organizer says. It is a vision of a world where the beatitudes of the Bible are put into practice. In a speech celebrating the 10th anniversary of COPS, Cortes talks, of the vision upon which the organization was founded: “to teach those who have no stake, no role, and no status how to participate responsibly and effectively in the promise of American life, to have selfrespect, dignity, and self-worth.” Rogers introduces the reader to one individual after another who had no stake, no role, but through working with one of the IAF organizations was able to stand up and be counted. It makes for inspiring reading. There is Inez Ramirez, a resident of San Antonio and mother of 10. When COPS needs a spokeswoman to confront city officials to explain how their failure to re-invest tax revenues in the West Side is affecting the neighborhood, she is selected, and eloquently states her case. “Heaven knows what you would do if you were in our shoes,” she tells San Antonio’s city manager. “We’re taxpayers, too, yet people wake up in the morning in our districts with snakes in their bedroom from poor housing and rats in the bathroom from the junkyards. We have no parks or recreation centers, so our children are forced to find ‘amusement’ in the secluded areas where they must associate with the glue sniffers and dope peddlers. We want our fair share of city revenue for our projects.” COPS is by far the most successful of the IAF organizations in Texas. In the early 1970s, residents of San Antonio’s West Side had become so accustomed to being ignored by their own elected representatives that they no longer even made demands of the city. Years of neglect had left their streets in shambles, their schools dilapidated, and their neighborhoods infested with rats and under water when it rained. Poor and mostly Hispanic, they considered such conditions their lot in life. In 1973, Cortes started laying the groundwork for organizing the city’s West Side residents to fight back. Working through the neighborhood churches, Cortes helped found an organization that depended on the community to provide its leaders and to articulate its issues. And the issues they chose were very specific. When delegates from 27 churches joined together to tackle a single issue, they didn’t select discrimination or police brutality, notes Rogers, but drainage problems. Each year when the rains came, floods destroyed homes and claimed lives on the West Side, where the lack of proper drainage left tens of thousands of homes vulnerable to flooding. COPS organizers showed city officials how neighborhoods had been systematically denied proper services. With a strong and organized battalion of COPS members pressuring for change, city officials quickly acquiesced to their demands. A $46 million bond issue to pay for drainage improvements was quickly approved. COPS took the city by storm, not only by size of membership and quality of research, but by developing creative strategies to compel city officials to respond to the new organization. Representatives from COPS proposed a city budget more equitable to the West Side than the budget proposed by the administration and then forced city leaders to consider the proposal by threatening to disrupt the workings of San Antonio’s central business district. COPS members went to the Frost National Bank and changed dollars into pennies and then got back into line to change the pennies into dollars. Other members crowded into Joske’s department store, tying up clerks and retail space with trying-on sprees, calculated to get the attention of the downtown business establishment. Though the tactics did not compel the bank or department store management to pressure city hall to take a look at the COPS budget, retailers were concerned, and ultimately the West Side won commitments for another $100 million in local improvements. By 1976 the San Antonio Light was describing COPS as one the city’s 10 most powerful organizations. And the election of Mayor Henry Cisneros in 1981, writes Rogers, could “be directly attributed to [Cisneros’s] relationship with COPS and the new political climate it established in the city.” COPS transformed both the city and THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25 .14.610.. wirtaret kftWare 1146.-44seir/d
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