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am ale Sale Manos de Cristo TAMALE SALE 2006! We are a mission that provides service to the working poor. Help someone today eat tamales! A tasty way to support your community. Order hot tamales now through Dec.4 Pick up on Dec.8 4 flavors $9 per dozen Call 477-7454 or email [email protected] Austin’s Largest Selection of International Folk Art, Silver jewelry and Textiles FOLK ART & OTHER TREASURES FROM AROUND THE WORLD 209 CONGRESS AVEAUSTIN 512/479-8377; 0 \\OPEN DAILY 10-6 ,www.tesoros.comZ1 2,4 only when institutions can revive their narratives of traditions and of peoples who have done great deeds and spoken great words. Properly understood, this is what we mean by traditions: the living ideas of the dead. Without context and interpretation, there is no narrative, and no opportunity for people to develop the skills of public life and the trust necessary for collaborative action. The bits of stories that people think they know are void of meaning, and become the dead ideas of the living, or traditionalism. Traditionalism leaves us with words and pieces of stories used to mask agendas and realities that have been fabricated to serve the interests of oftentimes selfish power brokers. In contrast, when we operate and act within our traditions of faith and democracy, we can create our own reality and fulfill the democratic promise. One of the tenets of the broad-based Industrial Areas Foundation network of community organizations in Texas has always been the Iron Rule: Never ever do for others what they can do for themselves. The Iron Rule isn’t social Darwinism; it isn’t root hog or die. The Iron Rule says that we have to help people develop good judgment and the competencies and skills requisite for effective participation in public life. In the spirit of the Populist Party in Texas, we always believed that ordinary citizens have the capacity to become their own experts, to understand complex issues, and to develop an understanding of their own interests. Our leaders refer to their organizations as “universities of public life,” in which they not only develop the skills of negotiation, debate, and collaboration, but also analyze issues related to public policy and the role of government, educate themselves, and then go out to teach the issues in their neighborhoods and communities. In the fall of 2005, more than 300 people from foundation-affiliated community organizations throughout Texas and its neighboring states convened in Dallas to develop training sessions on topics such as taxation; the role of the public sector; understanding markets; and globalization and the role of labor. Three hundred leaders then returned home with curricula outlines, transcripts, and compact discs so they could conduct training sessions in the context of stories from their individual communities. They began organizing sessions in their local public schools, houses of worship, and other community institutions. Their goal was to counter the anti-public sector rhetoric of the far right by identifying and linking people from all political parties who identify themselves as moderates and knitting them together in conversations about the interests of their families and communities. Two subsequent sessions in Texas were organized in January and September 2006, preparing an additional 1,200 leaders to teach civic academies tailored to issues of concern to families in Texaswith a particular emphasis on tax systems and property appraisal caps. At the September session, the former chair of the governor’s Commission on Tax Reform praised the leaders for teaching the commission the intricacies of tax structures during hearings in the spring of 2006. He credited their work for helping dissuade the commission from a sales tax increase in favor of a broad-based business tax. For these community leaders, the experience of developing their own expertise was transformative. They are no longer willing to passively accept the messages of the experts, the media, and the politicians. What does that experience have to say to the rest of us? The real question is whether we, as people who care about children, families, communities, and a dignified workplace, have the patience to create opportunities and investments in the capacity of ordinary people. Will we invest the time, energy, and money to re-create our democratic institutions: our schools, our unions, our congregations, and our community organizations? The universal that “all politics is local” shouldn’t be translated into NIMBYism \(Not In challenge of engaging our local political institutionsour school boards, our city councils and our county commissionerswith a global vision of what is requisite for the flourishing of humanity. Saul Alinsky used to say that people who have the capacity to understand both the issues and their own interests will make the right decision the vast majority of the time: creating a democratic culture that makes possible the promise of American life. Ernesto Cortes Jr. is the executive director of the Southwest Region of the Industrial Areas Foundation. NOVEMBER 17, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17