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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Radical Democracy, Voter Organizing and the Right to the City!

Leonardo Vilichis and Jon Liss talk strategy at an exchange in Maywood, CA.
By Jon Liss

To win the Right to the City, we have no choice but to contest and win elections in the cities and regions where new working class organizations are based.  Cities are majority people of color, majority women, and are where new immigrants and LGBTQ people are concentrated.  There is no other way and there is no other choice.  Yes, building leadership and running campaigns is important as we develop the capacity to run urban areas by and for the people. There are many strategic and tactical decisions that need to be discussed, tried, evaluated and tried again.  Yet no matter what, we
still need to win elections - period.

We need a movement in the scale of tens of thousands to millions

There is no better time to carry out massive outreach than elections.  In an active election cycle, 10,000 to 200,000 households are visited.  Each visit is an opportunity to present ideas, engage in struggle, and to listen and learn.  Each election gives us the opportunity to grow our organizations by thousands of members.  If our ideas don’t carry us on the doors, that probably says something about the quality of our ideas!  To win power - whether through elections or direct action - we need tens of thousands of supporters.  Participating in elections in part is a process that allows us to build power by growing the scale of our work.

We need to build power blocs that unite a multitude of sectors

To build electoral power we need to also build voting blocs that are outside of the narrow geographic space and the limited population demographic where most new working class organizations focus our energies.  No matter how well organized, a handful of neighborhoods are not enough to win power in cities and urban regions.  To contend for power, we must have a much deeper analysis of which groups of people we want to organize and build power with, and why we want to build power with them.  In most cities, this means actively developing programs that build unity between immigrants and African Americans, working class people of color and gay and lesbian urbanites, unionists and more.  The Democratic Party, in most cities, has been doing this for years.  They do this without a responsive urban political program, without a deep leadership development program and without a very active base.  Surely we can do better.  Building alliances are critical components of winning the Right to the City, and elections are a very concrete expression of the state of the alliances that we are building. 

We need our own candidates that are grown from the grassroots

In our current state of organizing, most of us doing voter work are not developing our own candidates or platforms.  This must change.  While we can debate whether or not to participate in the Democratic Party or as an independent, Green or even Republican candidate, we must dedicate resources to both create urban platforms that move masses of voters, and to recruit and train candidates who are capable and who share our values and views.  Our candidates need to be well-versed on a wide range of issues, to articulate a vision, to be able to dedicate hundreds of hours of time and be ethical and morally unassailable.  If we hope to get there, we’d better get started on raising the bar on our leadership development programs to a higher level.

The Right to the City Civic Engagement Workgroup understands that we live in country in which the electoral structures are stacked against us.  Completing the democratic revolution in the United States is part of our ongoing struggle.  We stand on the shoulders of the suffragettes who won the right to vote for women.  We stand on the shoulders of over two decades of Black struggle that won African Americans the right to vote. 

Today’s struggles to expand democracy include structural challenges such as the stacking of the political deck with two Senators selected by states like Montana, Wyoming or Idaho, which have both low populations and very few residents of color.  At a national level this leads to a built in white and conservative bias in the U.S. senate.  States like Virginia and Alabama still deny ex-felons (disproportionately African American) the right to vote unless they’ve received gubernatorial pardons.  Similarly democratic rights are denied, in almost all elections, to non-citizens - even those who are long-term tax-paying residents. 

At a local level, very few jurisdictions build their local budgets from the ground up with popular participation.  Important decisions like zoning - which dictate who will live in the cities of the future - are decided in hyper-technical board rooms by specialized lawyers.  How can cities regulate and control the flow of capital?  How can we prevent large businesses from relocating?  While we must fight in the electoral system of today we - as the Right to the City Alliance- must fight and win radical democratic structures that better allow ever expanding participation and popular power. Electoral abstentionism has been the default practice of most of our Right to the City organizations until very recently.  To continue this practice is to cede power to the dominant ‘minority’ who currently run most of our cities. 

RTTC Civic Engagement members sat in the seats of the Maywood City Council where a progressive majority has been won.

Get in the game 
Join together to engage and win power.  Challenge the institutions and ideas that dominate our lives and that are destroying our planet.  This is not the work of any one organization alone.  We need to seize the current political moment and boldly experiment with ideas, platforms, training programs and campaigns. Together, however, we can:

• build organizations to scale

• build urban majority voting blocs through alliance organizing / voter work

• train candidates who are leaders for our communities and beyond

• develop precinct leaders and field workers who lead neighborhoods during elections and lead campaigns afterwards

• win radical democratic reforms that help us better build power and open the way  for still greater social transformation. The state and elections are a place for radical contestation, transformation and power building, but only if we make it so. 

Jon Liss is the Executive Director of Tenants and Workers United and Virginia New Majority (PAC), and a steering committee member for the Right to the City Alliance. The ideas and views of this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Right to the City Alliance.

Watch Jon Liss on GritTV: Progressives and it's Discontents

Jon Liss playing a practical joke on organizer Claire Tran by stealing her pretzels at the RTTC Member Congress.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arizona. SB1070. You. (Plus- Updated Info on the Ruling and Next Steps)

By Marisa Franco

Power blue sky blushes at sunset. A welcome sight after a hard day of heat in Phoenix Arizona. After rush hour dies down, in any given barrio in the valley you can hear the sound of kids playing in the street if you listen hard enough. Somewhere, friends have met for happy hour, football practice is starting, dinner is on the stove. I sit on my momma's porch, give the chicano nod to cars cruising by when I recognize the drivers. Born and bred in this place, I find myself here again, after having been gone for years. And every time I come home, there are some things I recognize, some things I don't. Just like I am still the same, and somehow, now different.

So I have to say, I wasn't surprised when I heard about the passage of SB1070. I wasn't surprised because every time I come home, I hear stories of 'el Arpaio', or I hear about the latest law that got passed banning this or ticketing you for that. I remember how Arizona was the last state to recognize a Dr. Martin Luther King holiday, I remember the countless attempts to undo affirmative action, ban bilingual education, copy laws like Proposition 187 from California.

And who knows..maybe the fact that all this didn't cause a huge uproar before is that we somehow have this way with places, you love what you love and learn to live with what you don't. But, the passage of SB1070 was different. The reaction across the country has largely disgraced the state. But on top of that, many have said, simply put: what the fuck is going on here?

The fact is that in the last 5 years, over 6,000 immigration related bills have been proposed in the State Legislature - that's more than one a day per session. Rather than finding solutions to problems of unemployment, foreclosures, and in the educational system, it seems as though the state capital has become a legislative laboratory to make the lives of migrants miserable. It has become the status quo to blame immigrants for virtually every problem the state faces. In southern Arizona, the Border Patrol's presence has become the norm, as has the death toll of people found in the desert. And then we have Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, building upon his chain gangs and tent cities, parading around the city conducting raids and sweeps. He has already stated, he's willing to build tent cities all the way to the border to make room for migrants. And now, just days before the implemention of SB1070, Judge Susan Bolton deliberates the legality of this law. The Obama Administration, while correct in its suit against the law on the one hand, outsources immigration enforcement to local law enforcment (read Sheriff Joe Arpaio) on the other.

Somehow, this law and what it represents has become a marker for the future of this place. A line has been drawn in the sand. Its for what kind of Arizona this will be now and in the future. And I don't know about you, but I don't think I want to place it all in the hands of a judge. We don't want half injunctions of an immoral law, we need full justice for our community. All these characters have a role in the outcome, but so do you. Where do you stand? It is a question we must all answer. No matter how much we can afford to contribute to the outcome. Just think - What if everyone who opposes this bill took decisive action to oppose and undermine it? What would that look like?

One of the civil and human rights issue of our time has landed on the doorstep of Arizona. It matters here, and it matters in many other places. It will be determined here and in many other places. July 29th is just one day, but it is key in sending a message of what is to come. Is it that the vision of Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce and Joe Arpaio that will prevail? Or is it the other Arizona, the Arizona you and I know that will prevail? Will it be an Arizona that has room for you, your children, your family? The questions will only be answered by our actions.
If you have ideas on this, or want more information on what's happening this week, hit me up. Un abrazo, marisa

UPDATE: Judge Susan Bolton has issued her ruling on SB1070.
What is moving forward:
-- It will be illegal to solicit work on streetcorners (directly impacting day-laborers)
-- It will be illegal to harbor or drive people without documents, making it a state crime and in addition, those person's cars will be confiscated
-- It will be illegal to not enforce immigration law (meaning it bans any type of sanctuary city status)
-- It will be legal to sue state agencies for not enforcing immigration law

What has been TEMPORARILY stopped:
-- Granting police the right to stop question person's status for 'reasonable suspicion' of being undocumented.
-- Requiring people to have their documentation with them at all time.
-- Making it a crime for people without documentation to solicit, apply or perform work (this would've made it a state crime in addition to federal crime)

We are moving forward with mobilizations. We want to convey as much as possible -- that this does not solve the human rights crisis in Arizona. First, this is a temporary stop to the law. Second, several important peices move forward that criminalize our community. Third, ICE Access programs such as 287g and Secure Communities program give local law enforcement license to conduct raids and sweeps.


* NY RTTC-9:30: Middagh Street and Cadman Plaza.
* LA-10AM: La Brea and Wilshire.
* Oakland-12pm: Federal Building / 3pm Fruitvale BART Plaza
* Phoenix-9am: Sheriff Arpaio’sOffice. 1st ave & Washington. 4:00pm County Jail. 5th ave & Madison.
*Text30644, with message of 'Arizona' for updates.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities Statement on SB1070

As Arizona’s racist immigration law, SB 1070, goes into effect today, we are more committed than ever to fighting racism in all its forms. We understand fully that SB 1070 – which allows police officers to detain anyone whom they “suspect” is undocumented, which allows for jailing any documented person who is merely in the same car or location as an undocumented person—did not become law in a vacuum. In fact, the conditions for this so-called ‘immigration reform’ have been building for decades.

For Asians, like all other immigrant groups, the question of immigration reform is another moment in the long and tortured fight for equality and justice in the U.S. Alongside the myth of great opportunity, advancement, and freedom, the reality of economic exploitation and exclusion resulting from our nation’s discriminatory immigration and civil rights policies have equally defined the experience of Asians in the U.S.

Although Asians have been in the U.S. in large numbers since the mid-1800s, we could not become citizens until 1943. Beginning in 1882, in response to growing racism and xenophobia, immigration from China was halted and in 1924, these exclusionary laws were made applicable to immigrants from throughout Asia. It was not only through laws that we were excluded and barred from entering – in 1904, the first border patrol was created in order to detain and deport Chinese immigrants who were crossing the border with Mexico into the U.S. It was only in 1965, during the height of the civil rights movement, that these restrictions to immigration were repealed.

Today, our communities continue to face barriers to immigration, with hundreds of thousands of us waiting to join our families here in the U.S. Once here, millions of us work long hours for below the minimum wage as a result of oppressive labor policies such as employer sanctions, which result in unfair wages for all low-wage workers, not just immigrants. Asians have also faced the harsh impact of the post-1996 immigration reforms, which have led to the detention and deportation of hundreds of thousands of our community members.

In the wake of the current economic crisis, the immigration debate has been re-framed into a debate about how immigrants are criminals. The use of the term ‘illegal immigrants’ is rife with images of yellow and brown people stealing land and jobs from ‘real Americans.’

This criminalization is not new – communities of color have been criminalized for centuries, and pushed to the margins of our society. From the time of slavery to today, with the huge growth in the prison population, examples abound that make clear how this idea that people of color are criminals is a way to prevent us from attaining full citizenship (even if we have our papers).

But the real criminals are not immigrants, or black men, or queer youth – the true criminals in our country have destroyed our economy, yet still collect multi-million dollar compensation packages. The real criminals shoot people of color and are not held accountable. The real criminals have polluted our water, air, and our land. The real criminals fight tooth and nail against laws that would protect the civil rights of LGBTQ communities. The real criminals started two wars that have devastated millions of lives and cost us trillions of dollars.
As Asians, we have experienced how the promise of the American Dream has benefited some and marginalized most. We know first-hand that even with money and citizenship status, we will be regarded as immigrants – and thus as less than fully human – because of our skin color. And we know in a country that likes to define race in terms of Black and White, most people would like it if we just remained quiet and invisible.

We stand together as Asians from diverse backgrounds in our demand for fair and just immigration reform. U.S. immigration policies should reflect this country's highest values: that all people should be treated equally with respect for their basic human rights, including the ability to work with dignity and at a fair wage. We must cease to view immigrants solely as cheap labor and recognize that migration is driven by global economic and political conditions, often caused by the U.S.'s own unfair economic practices at home and abroad.”

CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities is a member organization of the Right to the City Alliance CAAAV works to build grassroots community power across diverse poor and working class Asian immigrant and refugee communities in New York City.  Through an organizing model constituted by five core elements- zing basebuilding, leadership development, campaigns, alliances, and organizational development- CAAAV organizes communities to fight for institutional change and participates in a broader movement towards racial, gender, and economic justice. Learn more at

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our Second US Social Forum: Right to the City is growing up!

Right to the City was born, or at least came out to the world, at the first US Social Forum in 2007 in Atlanta. It was all the hype then. The idea of an urban alliance grounded in struggle, and with a very deep, urban human rights framework had the movement in a frenzy. From grassroots leaders, to movement veterans, to academics, and even funders, they were all really excited about the potential impact of the alliance in a time of a booming economy and large scale gentrification pressures in cities across the United States.
 Right to the City delegates at the first planning meeting in 2007.

Flash forward 3 years: To sustain and build the alliance has been a ton of hard work. The momentum of our initial blast has been tempered by all the hard relationship questions that we all hate to deal with: decision-making, governance, structure, representation, resource allocation...YUK!!!!!! But we made it through!!! 

At this year's Social Forum the alliance made a big step forward. The membership elected a brand new and bad-ass steering committee to lead the alliance. We officially opened up the alliance to new groups from across the country to join as member organizations. We re-established the role of member leadership, staff, and how they relate to each other including a discussion about the role of the newly announced Executive Director position. We are expanding our work to build towards a new vision of our cities that includes ecological justice, immigrant rights, housing and quality jobs for all.

 Right to the City Steering Committee 2007-2010

Wow. It feels so nice to be growing up in such a beautiful family!!!

-Gihan Perera
Right to the City
Steering Committee Chair 2007-2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

MARISA FRANCO: The State of Hate

We came to Arizona from the copper mines in Cananea.  Recruiters came to Mexico trying to find people who would come work.  We came in wagons, there was nothing here..nothing!  They dropped people off from place to place.  Our job was to clear the desert.  And look at it now!   – Antonia Franco 


I remember a childhood of listening to the stories of my elders, sitting at a kitchen table with thick mugs filled with more milk than coffee. There was my Nana Tonia, who came in the early 1920’s with her family from Sonora, México. My Tata Emilio’s eyes would gleam as he spoke, describing the orchard trees along South Mountain and Baseline Road, the ranches, the farms all around. He loved to point out how much things used to cost in the early days, break down what it cost to feed his family and pay the rent and match that to the wages he made as a janitor, a musician and a groundskeeper.

Stories like theirs constitute the backbone of the history of the state of Arizona. Their labor helped
build the foundation upon which the 5th largest city of the United States operates upon today.  And I wonder, what would they think about what is happening in Arizona now, days after the passage of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law?

In the Arizona of today, you can get charged with smuggling – yourself.
In the Arizona of today, the chain gangs of the Jim Crow era are alive and well.
In the Arizona of today, undocumented students are forced to pay triple tuition for a college education.
And, after the signing of Senate Bill 1070, police can stop and question you because you look illegal.

Arizona – a state built by the hands of many people, of many colors and many languages – has taken another step in the wrong direction. Since 2005, almost 6,000 immigration-related bills have been introduced in the state legislature; many have passed with examples noted above. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made it his personal mission to hunt migrants in the community and humiliate inmates in county jails. Check points are scattered throughout the state.  Others have begun to follow this example, as day laborers have been attacked as they wait for work on street corners.  Last summer, nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father were shot and killed in their home; three members of the Minutemen Militia have been arrested and charged for the crime.

The state government has been converted into a legislative laboratory and thus represents an epicenter of the anti-immigrant movement. And as a result, a veil of fear and terror has been laid upon the population.  Daily routines have become a risk.  A child going to school has to wonder whether she will see her mother or father when she comes home.  A quick trip to the store requires heavy good byes reserved for long journeys.  I was in Arizona the week SB1070 was signed into law and I heard stories of pregnant women coming in to community centers to ask if it was safe to go to the hospital to give birth.  The answer was, “No.”

The struggles around immigration are among the defining civil and human rights issues of our time, and Arizona has become the new Alabama.  Governor Jan Brewer made the choice to stand on the wrong side of history last week.  In exchange for votes she has solidified her place in history alongside segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace.  Wallace clung to the institution of racial segregation in the South, defending it by arguing for state’s rights over the federal government.  Governor Brewer and Republican politicians in Arizona will echo this argument, a general strategy of the Right wing under an Obama Administration, which emerged in the health care debates this year.
In a state nearing bankruptcy, with exploding foreclosures and growing unemployment, elected officials have chosen to target the state’s most vulnerable population instead of develop serious solutions to the state’s problems.  In this time of economic instability, people are increasingly fearful and uncertain of how things can get better.  The rhetoric behind bills like SB1070 is reckless and irresponsible, as they paint a narrative that blames immigrants for all the nations ills.  But there is a silver lining that comes from characters like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, legislation like SB1070 and politicians like State Senator Russell Pearce: they wake the people up. Because of SB 1070 the nation has turned its eyes upon Arizona. Now, the question becomes: Will the resistance multiply, or will the hate?

Ya Basta! Enough is Enough

Something tells me that if Antonia and Emilio were here to witness this, they would say: “Esto no se va quedar aqui!Translation: It ain’t gonna go down like that!
On the Sunday after the passage of the bill, thousands of people gathered to demonstrate at the state capital. Long after the official program had ended and the media had left, hundreds of people stayed and continued to march.  And there on the lawn of the capital, one man approached longtime organizer, Salvador Reza, and said: “The speeches are done. We need to talk for real now. What are we going to do?” A conversation unfolded, and the crowd grew to 200 people. In this spontaneous meeting, people gave testimony and made passionate calls to organize boycotts, to vote, to resist in any way possible.  One man said: “What more can they do to us?  I stand to lose everything, everything I’ve built here.  We have nothing left but to fight.”

SB1070 and the reactionary politic it represents do not represent the sentiment of all Arizonans.  And it’s showing.  Outrage and fear is growing into resistance and organizing – on the streets, in the schools and in the neighborhoods.  People don’t want another Jim Crow, or even a Juan Crow for that matter.  Student walkouts are in motion united by the rally cry, ‘Don’t Hate! Educate!’, bullhorn caravans cruise through the barrios, people are donning new t-shirts branded with the slogan ‘Legalize Arizona!’ People who have never been active are finding ways to do something. DJs are organizing cultural events.  Unity building across Latino and African American communities is happening.  Even my sister in law has been inspired to organize the parents and children of my nephew’s little league.  (yes!)
The battleground has emerged.  The latest invention from the legislative laboratory of Arizona foreshadows immigration enforcement in the U.S. if we don’t turn the tide.  This law must not only be stopped legally, it must be rejected in the court of public opinion.  Compañer@s, we have a window of opportunity – NOW.

Millions of people across the country are outraged – it spans across color, age, religion, and income level.  We have an opportunity to transcend the tangled web of legislation to ask ourselves the basic questions of what kind of communities we want to have, what kind of country this should be.  Now is the time to tell our stories, to state the alternative solution and most importantly, to create the arena for action- action that will turn the tide on immigration enforcement, as well as immigration reform.

We cannot allow the Arizona legislature to lead immigration policy in the United States. The enforcement of immigration policy is the sole function of the federal government, not local police.  Just as states cannot declare war or sign treaties, they are not to enforce federal immigration policy. The stories of people in Arizona are the same stories that can be heard across the country.  Todos Somos Arizona. We are all Arizona.

SB1070 is set to be implemented in 90 days.  In that time, we will defeat this law and advance the agenda of justice for civil and human rights.  We are on the right side, now, we just have to make history.

Here’s how you can join the fight:
  • Demand that Obama Administration take decisive action to defend civil rights in Arizona and assert that local police are not to enforce federal immigration policy.
  • Donate to groups in Arizona who are on the frontlines of this battle!
  • On May Day and beyond take the Todos Somos Arizona/We are all Arizona message and promote the demand for federal intervention in Arizona.
  • Take action in your city: push for your local government to pass resolutions against 1070, to boycott Arizona, organize direct actions on the criminalization of immigrant communities.
  • Come to Arizona on May 29th, for a mass direct action to “Stop the Hate.”
For more information and updates, please go to
Marisa is the Lead Organizer with the Right to the City Alliance, a national alliance of grassroots organizations working for urban justice. Prior to working at Right to the City, Marisa worked as an organizer at POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in San Francisco where she focused on building the Women Worker’s Project. Marisa was one of the authors of Towards Land, Work and Power: Charting a Path of Resistance to U.S.-led Imperialism. Marisa also worked briefly with Domestic Workers United in New York City.

Re-posted from Organizing Upgrade

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Unity Statement Against the Legislation of Hate in Arizona


Jobs With Justice, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Immigration Law Center, National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, National Peoples’ Action, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice

In Arizona, the die is cast. On Friday, April 23, Governor Brewer signed SB 1070. The new law forces police officers to arrest Latinos on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented.

Arizona has declared open season on people of color. Children on their way to school will not know if they will see their parents when they return. Families will go to church on Sunday afraid of being detained during mass. US citizens who don’t look white will be detained on their way to work if they forget their birth certificates at home. This law will push hundreds of thousands of terrified Arizona families into hiding.

Civil rights leaders, constitutional rights scholars, legal experts, elected officials, and police chiefs across the country are repudiating SB 1070. The new law sets the clock back on a generation of civil rights gains, mandates racial profiling, jeopardizes public safety, and creates a wedge between law enforcement and ethnic communities.

Now Americans are confronted with a stark choice: will we stay silent as thousands of Latino families are rounded up in Arizona under this new law? It is imperative that all Americans repudiate the most aggressively racist, nativist, anti-immigrant legislation in recent U.S. history. As Americans, we must all raise our voices in favor of this nation’s principles of equality, fairness and inclusion.

The targets of this hatred are not strangers. We know them. Our American lives are bound inextricably with theirs. This law, and others like it, will terrorize our nannies and our gardeners. Our nurses and our home care workers. But it will not stop there. It will also terrorize our college students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Everyone who looks nonwhite—be they citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary visa holders, or undocumented—all of them will be attacked under this law. If they disappear, we will feel it.

So we urge all Americans: talk to these members of your community about the new law in Arizona. Ask them about their own lives, their families’ lives, and the dreams that would be deferred if the terror came to your state. Then march with them on May 1 to express your outrage.

In the past, we’ve seen through racism and hatred dressed up as “law and order.” In another era, when Bull Connor set attack dogs loose on Black residents in Birmingham, he did it in the name of “law and order.” But we saw through it—and stood together against it. We sided with humanity and morality, with the rule of law and with the self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal.

We call on all Americans to make that choice once again: choose the politics of humanity, not the politics of hate.

We congratulate President Obama on his condemnation of this heinous new law. We now call on him to take leadership and action in the face of this crisis. The Obama Administration must publicly oppose, and terminate all programs setting up collaboration between local law enforcement and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These programs increase racial profiling, undermine our Constitution, and instill fear in all communities.

We must choose morality and inclusion over hatred and exclusion. And we must make our choice loud and clear – before the racism in Arizona comes to every state in America.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Get involved with making sure the 2010 Census counts ALL of Oakland

Oakland Rising has officially kicked off our “Yes We Count” Census program this month and we want you to be counted, too.
The Census is an opportunity for Oakland to maintain an accurate count of our racial, lingual and economic diversity so that we can receive the federal funds we need to support the health and vibrancy of our communities. Census data will ensure funding for Head Start, reading programs, public healthcare, libraries, community centers and roads.
 Read more:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Census Participation is Critical for Our Communities, for Our Cities

A First Step in Building Power For Our Communities

Census data is used to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, allocate the number of electors to the Electoral College, and re-draw political districts lines. We can't miss this opportunity to include people that are typically left behind and ensure they are properly represented in local, state and federal governments.

Census data also determines federal funding to cities and states, which will become increasingly important as city and state budgets are being slashed.

We need to ensure that our communities are counted and advocate for our fair share of federal funding and resources for our communities.

It’s a Civil Rights Issue 

The 2000 census missed 16 million people. Low-income communities—particularly low-income communities of color—were disproportionately under-counted. An undercount leads to institutionalized racism: lack of political representation and resources.

It’s an Immigrant Rights Issue

Census is the one US policy that all residents can participate in. It’s critical for our communities to be counted to advocate for our fair share of resources such as education, healthcare, transportation, jobs, housing, and emergency services.

It’s a LGBT Rights Issue 

Thanks to unmarried partner data the prevalence of same sex couples has emerged: Same-sex couples live in 99% of all US Counties. Beyond visibility, Census is an important first step in ensuring that LGBT community gets access to the resources that support our health, economic well-being, safety and families.

Building the New Majority in Urban Areas

Though the country as a whole is still majority white, cities are approaching majority people of color. The U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2008 cited that 85% of the U.S. population resides in metropolitan areas. Cities consist of large low-middle income populations. And, increasingly, cities have a high percentage of immigrants. The tide is turning.

It’s critical that we be counted and advocate for our fair share of representation and resources as a building block to power for our communities.

To volunteer contact

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keeping Them Honest: New Approaches to Candidate Accountability Sessions

From the Civic Engagement Workgroup of the Right To The City Alliance
Interview with Henry Serrano of Community Voice Heard

Candidate forums and community accountability sessions are long-favored tactics for engaging power. Often these events are the only time elected officials meet low-income residents. They can also serve to inspire interest and motivation for the civic process. Still, with shifting interests driving political campaigns and the globalizing of cities, communities are finding new ways to leveraging the public accountability tactic to foster real and usable relationships to governance. Below are excerpts from an interview with Henry Serrano of Community Voices Heard (CVH) on their approach to candidate accountability:

What was CVH’s approach to candidate accountability? What was the format and who was involved? 

The election season is an opportunity to raise the visibility of community issues. We organize public accountability sessions with candidates running for local, state and federal offices. In 2009, members from CVH’s NYC Public Housing and Sustainable Communities campaigns joined CVH’s chapters in Yonkers and Newburgh to organize a total of six accountability sessions. The sessions included candidates for NYC Council in three City Council districts, candidates for one City Council district in Yonkers and candidates from County Legislature and City Council in Newburgh.

In 2009, we used two different types of formats:

Accountability Sessions: In this format, CVH leaders developed and presented demands to the candidates. They asked specific questions to gauge the candidates’ level of support.

Accountability Tours: This year we tried a more dynamic form of accountability session by taking candidates for a NYC Council district in Queens on a tour of a public housing development. The candidates were escorted by CVH leaders and NYC Housing Residents to observe the impact of reduced funding on the quality of public housing.

The candidates were then presented with demands developed by CVH leadership. Demands varied by CVH campaign or chapter. Some examples included:

  • The creation of “accountability committees” by local government that include residents of low-income communities, elected officials, other stakeholders to oversee spending from revenue streams such as American Recovery and Redistribution Act (ARRA) and Community Development Block Grand (CDBG) funding.
  • Increased funding for public housing and the creation of affordable housing ordinances. 
  • Local & targeted hiring; job creation programs using CDBG and stimulus funds. 

What were the goals of the candidate accountability sessions? 

  • Raise the visibility of the organization with elected officials. 
  • Raise the visibility of the issues that we work on. 
  • Get commitments from elected officials on organizational demands.  

We document the commitments in various ways. Media often cover the events. Another way is to use “scorecards.” The community members in attendance individually keep a “scorecard” and there also is a large scoreboard where responses are recorded.

Create leadership development opportunities for membership. From core leadership to new members, people take on a variety of roles. Facilitation, agenda development, mobilization, presenting demands to targets, etc. These events particularly function well to move newer members into assuming stronger leadership roles in CVH. How did the candidates react? Any surprises?  Any success stories?

The candidates react in various ways. Some candidates are intimidated by the tone of the event and the directness of the demands. Others develop a reluctant respect for the level of organization at the event. Accountability sessions almost always open access to the candidates
elected into office.

We were surprised by the participation of the candidates this year. In Newburgh, for example, a total of twelve candidates participated (all candidates for the City Council and County Legislature). One reason may be the uniqueness of these types of events in some of the CVH communities. Our electoral project focuses on communities and potential voters that are largely ignored by candidates. We offer candidates the benefits of exposure. In exchange, we assess candidates’ commitments to community issues and then follow up once they are in office.

Any lessons learned or recommendations you would like to share with other Civic Engagement / RTTC groups in doing candidate accountability sessions? 

This is the first year that we tried something different from the static, town hall type of event. Our public housing tour with the candidates had a stronger and more relevant impact. It was a better way to present the issues that our members are confronting. In the future, we are going to think a little more creatively about how we can structure these types of events to take the candidates out of their comfort zones.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Building New Majorities

From the Civic Engagement Working Group of the Right To The City Alliance

The new majority is up for grabs in United States. In fact, though leaders on both the right and left are developing strategies on how best to harness the shifting demography and ideology of the “American People”.

Since the 2000 presidential election, there has been a surge of reflection, exploration and innovation with regard to voter work. Books and essays across the country surfaced about “red states and blue states” and an impending rift within the nation. New organizations formed, distinct from the traditional non-profit 501(c)3 formation, in the form of 501(c)4s, 501(c)5s, 527s and PACs that expanded (and sometimes exploited) new voting blocks and ideological groups. Until recently, these were largely explored by the political parties or specific candidates running for office.

Simultaneously, there were dramatic demographic shifts in U.S. cities. Cities began shifting to majority people of color. And, cities were recognized as representing the majority of the country’s population. The U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2008 cited that 85% of the U.S. population resides in metropolitan areas. As a result, some organizations contemplated how to recognize new ideological rifts, harness new forms of organization, and articulate new strategies for organizing.

Indeed, the 1960s birthed a civil rights movement couched in an analysis of an entitled and equal racial minority. Things have since changed. Though the country as a whole is still majority white, cities are
approaching majority people of color.

Cities consist of large low-middle income populations. And, increasingly, cities have a high percentage of immigrants. The tide is turning.

In that vein, community organizations are considering how to meet this changing tide. In the last few years, some began experimenting with new organizations and new strategies for public education and mass mobilization. Recently, we witnessed the emergence of urban-centered voter mobilization projects – termed “New Majority” projects.

These projects are slow to emerge, require significant resources, and necessitate a steep learning curve. But, already, they are delivering dramatic results. Below, Tenant and Workers United Director and founding member of RTTC, Jon Liss, shares his intentions and insights behind a flagship New Majority project: Virginia New Majority. (Graphics courtesy of New World Foundation: Building the New Ma- jority: Fighting for the Future of American Politics, 2005).

‘New Majority’ is a strategic approach to power building that links micro-targeted electoral organizing with the ideological approach to community organizing, developed over the last 20 years. On a basic level, it reflects the political maturation of the wave of immigrants who entered USA over the last 25 years. When combined with established African American residents, progressive unionists and the most progressive sectors of white working people, it reflects a numerical and voting majority in most urban regions.

We view Virginia New Majority (VNM) and our emerging model as a power building strategy. The project seeks to expand democracy in terms of who participates and maximize what democracy can look like. We hold no illusions that elections alone can create the society we want. However, we view elections as a critical area of engagement which we ignored throughout our first two decades of organizing (TWU). In part, this was because the wave of immigration now creating a new electoral majority was just arriving. Additionally, we avoided electoral work because of our own political immaturity. We believed (or acted as if) elections were futile, reformist, not ‘real organizing’ or even part of our power building strategy.

In practice, ‘new majority’ is the political project actively building a new common sense or understanding about politics, policies, culture, and the role of government. Ultimately, we are building unity around these strategic beliefs at a scale that moves hundreds of thousands, of people. Elections are the primary arena of contestation - initially including voter registration, issue identification (what issues voters agree on), member identification (generally a very low bar to formal membership), and canvasser (paid and volunteer) recruitment, training and, over time, cadre development. The emerging ‘new majority’ model consists of an initial period (about 3 months) of intensive outreach and canvassing into a second period (6-9 months) of legislative work, precinct leader development, and policy campaigns.

In Virginia, Tenants and Workers United has been organizing for over 20 years. TWU generally has between 600 and 1200 members and knocks on 10-15,000 doors a year. TWU invests thousands of hours a year developing the political consciousness and leadership of several hundred project leaders. By contrast, Virginia New Majority already visited over 300,000 households in the last two years. VNM has at best only three dozen activist members. In other words, the outreach capacity of the New Majority project is working on a scale ten times greater than TWU. Conversely, TWU is developing grassroots leaders at ten times the scale of VNM. The point is not to criticize either approach. Rather, we can see the value added of each approach: one in terms of scale and the other in terms of leadership development.

On a broad level, we now hope the New Majority (NM) projects will challenge the dominant ideas or common sense of society. In Virginia, both parties present a orthodoxy that is focused on keeping Virginia “business friendly”. Neither has ever talked about making Virginia “worker friendly”. Virginia has focused on keeping taxes low, providing few services, building highways rather than mass transit, and actively discouraging the enfranchisement of people of color.

Changing conceptions about the role of government, the redistributive role of taxes, and the understanding of race, class and gender are all part of a broad counter-hegemonic frame that we seek to develop, build support for and ultimately achieve.

Civic Engagement Workgroup is made up of the following member organizations: 
Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Make The Road New York, Tenants Workers United/Virginia New Majority, Miami Workers Center, Union de Vecinos, People Organized to Demand Ecological and Economic Rights, Causa Justa / Just Cause, People Organized to Win Employment Rights, Community Voices Heard 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yes We Count!: Right To The City NYC Launch

Diverse Community Groups to Launch New Census Awareness Campaign  

New awareness campaign will target hard to count communities in all five boroughs and surrounding suburbs  

WHAT: On Wednesday, six community groups of the Right to the City Alliance will launch a new campaign to increase awareness among communities that are usually undercounted. The Yes We Count campaign is a national collaboration of groups based in urban communities of color who work to increase civic participation and community organizing on issues of urban justice, human rights, and democracy. In New York City, groups have come together that represent the diversity of the City and are strategically situated to mobilize participation in the 2010 Census. Tactics to increase participation include town-hall meetings, phone banks, pledge card distribution and new media campaigns. The Yes We Count campaign is the only one in the City that will conduct a canvassing campaign that will target hard to count census tracks in all five boroughs and surrounding suburbs.  

WHEN: Wednesday, February 3rd at 12pm (Noon)  

WHERE: Chinatown YMCA Houston Street Center 273 Bowery New York, NY 10002  

Right to the City – Yes We Count Campaign 
New York Secretary of State – Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez  
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities 
Community Voices Heard 
Domestic Workers United 
Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) 
Make the Road New York 
New York City Aids Housing Network  


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gihan Perera on the Huffington Post Blog: Haiti: Canada's New Imperialism?

Haiti: Canada's New Imperialism?
Gihan Perera
Executive Director of the Miami Workers Center
Posted: January 26, 2010 12:37 PM

On Monday, the world's political and financial powerhouses met in Montreal, Canada to deliberate the future of Haiti. It was a six hour meeting between the United States (Haiti's most recent military intervener), France (Haiti's colonial ruler), and the IMF and World Bank (Haiti's financial creditors/despots). The United Nations, which is now the official security force, was also in the room, to referee the proceedings, while Canada played the role of a cordial and humanitarian host (that couldn't happen directly in the U.S.). Meanwhile... Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua boycotted the meeting along with Fidel Castro, who condemned it and accused the United States of turning the humanitarian effort into a military invasion of Haiti by the United States.

So begins the politics of recovery and reconstruction of Haiti. While the dust clears, in the midst of prayers, and while the dead are still being buried, 'recovery' plans are being made and lines drawn. As much as our hearts are drawn to the devastation and victims of the disaster, our bodies, minds and souls have to get in motion and fight for the integrity of Haiti and its people. We must lay the foundation for a people centered, justice focused, prosperous, and sustainable agenda for the beleaguered nation. We must bring our voices together, learn lessons from disasters and invasions past and fight new battles for the sake of and in solidarity with the people of Haiti.  Read more. . . 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Residents Knockin on HUD's Front Door

Tomorrow a group of public housing residents that includes members of Community Voices Heard, Miami Workers' Center and People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) as well as DC and New Orleans, amongst other cities, will meet with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan.

HUD wants to hear directly from residents and with folks from across the country on hand, there will be plenty to say. This meeting will be a great opportunity to push findings and demands from the resident led report by Right to the City HUD work group.

For nearly two years RTTC's HUD Work Group has engaged public housing residents in an effort to develop recommendations for improving public housing in the U.S. This report on the state of public housing, from the perspective of residents, will be released in March.

During the meeting at HUD headquarters in Washington, DC residents will highlight the need to build more public housing, investment in existing housing housing stock, replacement of demolished units, and improved conditions in housing developments. Many groups from across the country will be on hand, with coordination and advisement provided by the National Housing Law Project, National People's Action, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, and National Low Income Housing Coalition. Be sure to check your inbox for more updates on this meeting and the report as the week progresses!