Gathering Power: The Future of Progressive Politics in America

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9780807043387: Gathering Power: The Future of Progressive Politics in America

How an interfaith community organization is revitalizing our democracy

Democrats are looking for the right national message that will attract the most voters, leaving progressive politics to operate from the margins. Paul Osterman argues that political change lies not in crafting a better message to
beam from Washington but rather in effective local action. Gathering Power explores the most successful and promising organization to enable local activism and strengthen our democracy: the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).

Osterman focuses on the successes of Valley Interfaith, a progressive multiracial coalition founded by the charismatic Ernesto Cortes. It is
based in the Rio Grande Valley, which straddles the border between Texas and Mexico and, since the passage of NAFTA, has been one of the fastest growing regions in America, as well as one of the poorest. With the help of the IAF, and working primarily through local churches, Valley Interfaith has brought together Latino residents to improve their communities. They have fought for, and won, reform in their schools and improved wages—but most important, the members of Valley Interfaith have been transformed into activists, ready to take on future battles as a community.

Gathering Power shows how the IAF teaches people to become activists, and argues that religious values have an important place in progressive
politics. Paul Osterman is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with joint appointments in the Sloan School of Management and
the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He travels extensively throughout the country and abroad to speak to business groups, community
organizations, and government and public policy organizations. He lives in the Boston area.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Paul Osterman is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with joint appointments in the Sloan School of Management and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He travels extensively throughout the country and abroad to speak to business groups, community organizations, and government and public policy organizations. He lives in the Boston area.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Reviving Progressive Politics

These are not happy days for politics in America, or at least so it seems from
the perspective of Washington, D.C. The percentage of Americans reporting
that they mistrust government is rising while voter turnout is declining. And if
this is a bad time for politics in general, it is even worse for progressive
politics. Progressive politics is going nowhere at the national level.
Democrats have run to the center and will no longer touch issues of power
and privilege lest they be accused of class warfare. In Washington, interest
groups checkmate each other, and those few that represent progressive
causes cannot compete with their opponents in money or influence. The
union movement, the traditional backbone of progressives, continues to
produce funds and foot soldiers for elections, but its membership base is
eroding and its moral claims are unfortunately no longer compelling to most
Americans.
The decline in politics has been accelerated by how we have
come to think about the economy. The boom of the 1990s brought many
benefits, but it was accompanied by a rhetoric that implied that citizens
could, and indeed should, have little voice in the trajectory of the economy.
The economic difficulties of Germany and Japan, both of which had practiced
a form of capitalism that restrained the play of pure market forces,
contributed to this trend, but more important, the spread—in reality and in
rhetoric—of globalization introduced a new force that seems impossible to
control or restrain. Occasional eruptions, such as those at the 1999 World
Trade Organization conference in Seattle, testify more to a sense of
helplessness than to any ideas about a way forward.
Viewed from Washington, the political scene is indeed
discouraging. But if things are so bad, how can we explain what happened in
Austin, Texas, on a Sunday and Monday in April 2001? That Sunday the
Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a network of community organizations in
the Southwest (with sister organizations in other cities around the country),
convened its annual Human Development Fund and Alliance Schools
conference in an Austin hotel. The purpose of the conference was to
celebrate the network's achievements, to provide ongoing training to its
members, and to lobby the state legislature to pass the network's legislative
agenda.
The hotel ballroom filled with fifteen hundred people for the two
o'clock Sunday start. Many were active members in IAF organizations from
Dallas, Houston, El Paso, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Austin, and the Rio
Grande Valley. Also scattered throughout the room were teachers and
principals from some of the Texas schools that the IAF has organized
through its Alliance School program. Some of these people had gotten on
buses at 4:00 a.m. in order to reach Austin on time. The room was bursting
with energy, and that energy exploded with the roll call that kicked off the
session.
Twenty people stood at the microphones in the front of the room
and in turn yelled to the crowd, "I'm from EPISO in El Paso, and we're here
50 strong," "I'm from Dallas Area Interfaith, and we're here 100 strong," "I'm
from Valley Interfaith, and we're here 250 strong," "I'm from COPS in San
Antonio and we're here 200 strong," and so on through the roll of Southwest
organizations that had sent representatives to this meeting.
The meeting then began with opening prayers, led by an African-
American Baptist minister from Dallas and a rabbi from Austin. The leadoff
speaker, Ernesto Cortes Jr., the supervisor of the IAF network in the
Southwest and a member of the IAF National Executive Committee, then
rose. Cortes gave a talk that captured the IAF mix of politics, religion, and
organizing.

We have been told we are going through a historic period of
prosperity, unprecedented in terms of growth, employment, wealth creation.
We are the wonder of the world. Yet if we look at what is happening to the
richest and the poorest, anyone who has a brain and a heart would find it very
troubling. . . .
I'm reminded of another time which comes out of our tradition.
And our cantor with his beautiful prayer and beautiful song reflected some of
that great tradition, which comes out of the Old Testament prophets. I'm in
particular struck by the story of a prophet, a fellow called Amos, who
considered himself not a prophet but a worker. Not a man of substance but
an ordinary fellow who was moved by the great injustice he saw. And Amos
was challenged because when he came to the great capital city, when he
came to Los Angeles or to Phoenix, when he came to Houston, what he saw
was a great disparity between rich and poor. He saw a perversion of the
tradition, of the institutions and especially the courts. If Israel was faithful to
its tradition, these courts were a critical institution because these courts
were the place where everyone had the same status. They were run by the
politicos, the men of power and wealth, but these courts were under an
obligation to give fair treatment to the widows, the orphans, the elderly, to
those on the margin of life. . . . And these courts were not functioning.
So, what Amos says in the great prophetic book is that Israel had
strayed, that Israel had wandered off. And he goes after those who are the
elders, those who are the rulers, but more importantly he goes after the
religious leaders because they too had sold out. Those too had catered to
the powerful and the rich and given up their prophetic voices.
So Amos feels this need to say, "I can't stand this situation. I
can't stand that kids in Los Angeles go to school every day but are off track
and are permanently on vacation, I can't stand that eleven- and twelve-year-
olds in Phoenix can't go to school because they have to take care of their
little brothers and sisters. . . ."
The only way we are going to be successful, the only way we are
going to make it possible for our children to have health care, to make it
possible for our children to be well educated, to make it possible for our
families to have living wages is to learn to organize.
How do we learn to organize? Organizing means looking for
leaders. Organizing means understanding the iron rule "Never do for someone
what he or she can do for themselves." Organizing means understanding that
power comes in two forms: unilateral, top-down, expert-driven power from
organized money. . . . But power also comes from organized people with
their institutions. Power can also be not just unilateral but also relational.
Relational means when two or more people get together and have a plan and
begin to act on that plan. When you put together a house meeting, you are
building power. When we build power across our region, then we can have
the kinds of initiatives, the kinds of programs we want. We have to remember
our mantra "power before program." "Power before program." Got that?

The meeting then broke up into about twenty workshops. Some of
the workshops dealt with policy issues confronting the network, and these
included topics such as how to create effective job-training programs, how to
improve the classroom performance of teachers, how to organize the parents
of a school, and how to initiate a living-wage campaign in a community. Other
workshops were about organization building: how to conduct one-on-one
meetings with prospective members, how to organize house meetings, what
the IAF means when it characterizes itself as a broad-based organization,
and how to work with congregations to help them increase their membership
and encourage them to link with the IAF.
One round of workshops took place after the opening session,
another after dinner, and a third early the next morning. People thus attended
three workshops, and the enthusiasm never flagged. Some of the people
were professionals, accustomed to training but still not having been in school
for many years. Many others had less than a high school education. Some
spoke only Spanish (each workshop had its own translation setup). Many of
the people were well past middle age, and the travel and early morning
sessions must have been difficult. But everyone moved from session to
session with energy, paid careful attention, asked questions, took notes. The
IAF, says Rosa Boden, an attendee from the Rio Grande Valley, is "my
university," and that was never more clear than during this day and a half.
On Monday, at the end of the third workshop, the fifteen hundred
people reconvened. Now came the first hint of the political power the IAF
wields. The Texas Commissioner of Education, a Bush Republican,
addressed the group and complemented them on their Alliance School
program. Assorted school superintendents from around the state also took
the stage to praise the organization. In a hint of what was to come, members
of the audience stood to ask very specific questions of these officials and to
extract commitments from them. With a closing prayer, the conference came
to an end, but a long day was ahead of the group: they climbed into buses for
a short ride to a downtown church, where a rally was planned that focused on
the IAF legislative agenda. The size of the crowd swelled because conference
participants were joined by new members who had traveled to Austin simply
to attend the rally. From the Rio Grande Valley, a five-hour bus trip away,
another 250 people arrived at the church, and more members came from the
other Texas cities organized by the IAF.
What was billed as a rally was really ...

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Book Description Beacon Press, United States, 2003. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. How an interfaith community organization is revitalizing our democracyDemocrats are looking for the right national message that will attract the most voters, leaving progressive politics to operate from the margins. Paul Osterman argues that political change lies not in crafting a better message tobeam from Washington but rather in effective local action. Gathering Power explores the most successful and promising organization to enable local activism and strengthen our democracy: the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).Osterman focuses on the successes of Valley Interfaith, a progressive multiracial coalition founded by the charismatic Ernesto Cortes. It is based in the Rio Grande Valley, which straddles the border between Texas and Mexico and, since the passage of NAFTA, has been one of the fastest growing regions in America, as well as one of the poorest. With the help of the IAF, and working primarily through local churches, Valley Interfaith has brought together Latino residents to improve their communities. They have fought for, and won, reform in their schools and improved wages?but most important, the members of Valley Interfaith have been transformed into activists, ready to take on future battles as a community. Gathering Power shows how the IAF teaches people to become activists, and argues that religious values have an important place in progressivepolitics. Paul Osterman is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with joint appointments in the Sloan School of Management andthe Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He travels extensively throughout the country and abroad to speak to business groups, communityorganizations, and government and public policy organizations. He lives in the Boston area. Bookseller Inventory # NLF9780807043387

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Book Description Beacon Press, United States, 2003. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. How an interfaith community organization is revitalizing our democracyDemocrats are looking for the right national message that will attract the most voters, leaving progressive politics to operate from the margins. Paul Osterman argues that political change lies not in crafting a better message tobeam from Washington but rather in effective local action. Gathering Power explores the most successful and promising organization to enable local activism and strengthen our democracy: the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).Osterman focuses on the successes of Valley Interfaith, a progressive multiracial coalition founded by the charismatic Ernesto Cortes. It is based in the Rio Grande Valley, which straddles the border between Texas and Mexico and, since the passage of NAFTA, has been one of the fastest growing regions in America, as well as one of the poorest. With the help of the IAF, and working primarily through local churches, Valley Interfaith has brought together Latino residents to improve their communities. They have fought for, and won, reform in their schools and improved wages?but most important, the members of Valley Interfaith have been transformed into activists, ready to take on future battles as a community. Gathering Power shows how the IAF teaches people to become activists, and argues that religious values have an important place in progressivepolitics. Paul Osterman is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with joint appointments in the Sloan School of Management andthe Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He travels extensively throughout the country and abroad to speak to business groups, communityorganizations, and government and public policy organizations. He lives in the Boston area. Bookseller Inventory # NLF9780807043387

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