Welcome Wade Rathke (ChiefOrganizer.org) and Host John Atlas (NationalHousingInstitute)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Global Grassroots: Perspectives on International Organizing

In what may be the most poignant expression of populist ideals, Anne Frank, on the eve of extermination, wrote that after all she’d been through she still believed that people are basically good. Thankfully, many of us are simply wired, against all odds, to think that way. Count Wade Rathke, the author of Global Grassroots, among them. While writing a book about ACORN, I got to know Wade, spending dozens of hours hanging out with him, interviewing him, e-mailing back and forth, interviewing friends and enemies, and literally following Rathke as he worked. In an age of stylish cynicism, whatever else you might say about Wade, he believes in the basic goodness of people, our capacity for empathy, kindness, and caring. These traits are expressed not only through individual acts with his family and friends; but also with strangers, especially those who inhabit the squalid urban communities across the globe–the people ignored by the public officials and exploited by the rich and powerful.

What makes Wade unusual is the tireless way he translates that compassion for the exploited and poor into action. He respects them too much to limit his time and money to charity, the classic form of do-gooder noblesse oblige. Instead he seeks to build movements and organizations that might empower and give voice to the poor so they can help lift themselves out of poverty.

And while many of us hope that poverty can be reduced, discrimination ended, affordable housing built, families strengthened, and that we’ll be protected from reckless greedy corporate CEOs, reckless politicians, and uncaring bureaucrats, Wade understands that wishing it so won’t make it happen.

That requires a plan—a plan to build movements and organizations that live and breathe optimism and trans formative action. That is what Wade Rathke does for a living.

He founded ACORN in 1970. It would become the most effective anti-poverty organization in the US, arguably the most important post 1960s progressive group, and an inspiration to the thousands of people touched by the ACORN experience. He showed how ordinary people can improve their own lives while making their country a more livable society by mustering what he considers poor people’s most important source of power—the poor themselves. Thousands of nonprofit groups around the world help the poor. Some provide charity and social services. Others advocate on behalf of the poor, but without input from the poor themselves. And some, like ACORN, organized the poor to fight for themselves. Among the thousands of community groups in the US, ACORN stood almost alone as a national force, with the ability to win major reforms at the neighborhood, city, state, and national levels.

Although ACORN never had a well-known leader or personality, Wade’s stewardship defined its fundamental strategy and was vital while the organization got off the ground.

After ACORN was destroyed by a ferocious and unscrupulous attack by the leaders of the Republican Party, News Corp and other corporations that hated ACORN because it actually threatened their profits and power, they hoped Rathke would go away.

He didn’t. His new book tells what he’s been up to. Using the knowledge he gained from the rise and fall of ACORN, he not only continues the fight for social justice in the US, but he’s supporting organizations and movements around the world that are trying to give voice and power to the poor. Before its demise more and more ACORN members were third world immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico and elsewhere, and Wade was encouraged by them to help their families who remained abroad.

Based on this experience and what Wade thought was a compelling case for US based groups to be linking up with the global community; “[T]he world of our people is inextricably connected whether through the board rooms or the migration routes or internet, fast planes, and Skype,” Wade began ACORN International. At the same time he recognizes the enormity of the problem—billions living in slums and on less than a dollar or two a day, a daunting reality, which would deter most normal people from a mission to make a big difference. Undaunted, as he did with ACORN, he began building ACORN International one step at a time. He started with one city and quickly built a federation in ten different countries largely in Latin America, Canada, Kenya and India.

In Global Grassroots Rathke does an impressive job pulling together vast amounts of information and introducing us to organizers around the globe, some in the international ACORN federation, who are engaged in a myriad of diffuse grassroots efforts. The organizers and staffers, who stepped outside their usual, private life to become public citizens, speaking in their own voice, take us behind the scenes, providing both the hope and the plans. “[Their stories are] a reminder to the powers that be,” says Wade, “ that noble sentiments, celebrity visits, and large governmental aid grants do not create local empowerment or lasting change.”

In several stories we can witness first hand the hard-fought tenants rights and living wage campaigns in Canada and England, education reform in France, and displacement struggles in Eritrea and Turkey. In its battle against slumlords ACORN Toronto used a variety of tactics, including a Cockroach Derby press event in front of the worst buildings, to push the city to enforce its housing codes. Eventually they won a huge victory amounting to $321,300 in savings for tenants. Of course when it comes to organizing there are no Cinderella endings. When the tenants received a twenty percent refund on the rents they paid for their rundown apartments, some thirty percent of the tenants who participated in the action had moved out without tasting the fruits of victory. And to this day the worst buildings are still run-down.

“It is inspirational to read the histories of these organizations,” Wade writes, “and disturbing to reckon with current challenges they face.”

Rathke argues that there are three big challenges facing community organizing (and I’d add the progressive movement.) One is convincing the public that the working poor, with help, have the capacity to design solutions to their own problems. With education and training they can collectively tackle forces that would overwhelm an individual acting alone.

Secondly, we need to “solve the puzzle of sustainability and self sufficiency for the work.” By which Wade means community organizing must gain independence from “[t]he donor community…rich countries in North America, Europe, Scandinavia…and huge NGOs (nongovernmental organizations…).” His harshest criticism goes to those donors who do things like paying people for attending meetings and compensating so-called community leaders who have not organized a base. Sounding like a conservative critic of America’s welfare state, Rathke criticizes this and other paternal practices claiming that “donor cynicism has created a cycle of dependence even among activists and organizers.”

Related to the issue of self-sufficiency is the issue of scale. “Until we are able to achieve greater sustainability that allows grassroots organizations and the leaders that emerge from them to achieve sufficient scale to wield power…” success will have serious limits. He warns us to be “resistant to the donor-based culture that both shrinks the autonomy of the organization and its program and inserts a culture based on external favor and resources that is crippling to the long term future of an organizing project.”

Of course, this is a lesson that needs to be learned by anti-poverty and other groups in the US who rely too heavily on foundations, corporations and the Democratic Party for their existence.

His caveat reminds me of one lesson I draw from my book on ACORN, Seeds of Change. When ACORN was under attack most of the leaders of left and liberal foundations fled to the hills rather than defend ACORN. Afraid of losing funding or being attacked by the right, they, at best, gave lip service in their defense of ACORN. In addition to this disgraceful behavior, for the past three-decades numerous groups, with HQs inside the DC beltway and no active dues paying members outside it, have had very little ability to influence change because they were not truly independent of the Democratic Party or foundation funding. Although they never figured out how to become financially independent, staffers did have access to close advisors to Obama, and thought that was real power and influence. But the truth is that they didn’t have a large enough base outside the Democratic Party that could push Obama to initiate major economic reforms. The staff mistook access to power for real power. But it’s just access.

When it comes to empowering the working poor and winning victories against powerful corporations and politicians, few groups in the last four decades have made the kind of difference ACORN has. Its well-documented success suggests that when Rathke talks and writes, progressives should listen.

72 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Wade Rathke, Global Grassroots: Perspectives on International Organizing”

BevW April 15th, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Wade, John, Welcome back to the Lake.

John, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

(for readers to follow along, to refresh your brower PC=F5 key, MAC=Command + R keys)

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Excited to be part of the Book Salon and to discuss “Global Grassroots”

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Welcome Wade and BevW thanks for inviting me to host this.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I’d like to start with two questions: why did you write global grassroots? And give us an example of interesting organizing campaigns in some other countries?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Many people, including organizers, think that community organizing is simply a home-grown phenomena. It hasn’t been for decades, certainly since Alinksy visited Korea and the Philippines and Herb White worked in India with many projects. I thought it was important to bring these voices together and to share as well perspectives of ACORN International organizers in our work and my own experiences in various countries where the Organizers’ Forum has visited and where change is happening, slowly but surely at the grassroots.

Elliott April 15th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Welcome to the Lake, it’s a pleasure to have you here.

Must have been agony to have your work so distorted by the right. Too bad there aren’t many real reporters on air anymore.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

So give us two examples of interesting organizing campaigns in some other countries?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I think it is interesting that the Living Wage Campaigns initiated by ACORN and many other community groups in the US are spreading so rapidly. The book tells the story of the work of London Citizens in spreading these campaigns as well as the first ever passage of a living wage ordinance in New Westminster, British Columbia by ACORN Canada.

If we have time I’ll tell about a fascinating effort in Italy now, which could catch fire in Europe!

YoMo April 15th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

What is the corollary between mega slum organizing in Kenya and anything like it in the U.S.?

BevW April 15th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

As a technical note,
there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Elliott, i share the mourning, but we have to increasingly tell our own story, whether through social networking, books like Global Grassroots, blogs, or noncommercial radio. Our voices cannot be silenced.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Have any of the groups you are working with internationally worked with OWS?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

YoMo, that’s an interesting question. In Korogocho where ACORN Kenya works the issues that have engaged them most profoundly are access to education. Increasingly we are seeing the same kinds of struggles here around cost. Yes, it is different winning a “bursary” campaign to get to 2ndary school but the problems of financial equity in access to education are the same, just different by degree.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Many of the groups are familiar with OWS, but there is no real base in most of the countries where we are working, even in Italy where there were some early stirrings, it did not take hold. Certainly I gather there may have been much more in the UK.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

As I read your book it seems you are kind of hostile to NGO’s? What’s up with that?

Phoenix Woman April 15th, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 5

The problem is that too many of the big-city organizers waltz into what they think of as Flyover Land and figure that their interpretation of Alinsky’s methods — which they take to mean demonizing and bullying people who in the heartland and rural areas are often the near neighbors of the local progressive activists who the Big City Boys would lecture on activism effectiveness — should trump whatever the situation is on the ground. They have tin ears when it comes to rural American mores and manners, and what’s even sadder is that far too many of them couldn’t care less. (That’s assuming they’re actually there to do good as opposed to looking to punch another Veal Pen meal ticket.)

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Let me share an exciting campaign in Italy that actually arises from the austerity programs. Parliament passed a measure in 2011 that forced the black market in landlord-tenant dealings to enter the tax rolls. Landlords had until 6/1/11 to come clean and report their property and income. If not, tenants can not turn in the properties and through a procedure that ACORN Italy has devised, a tenant can win a rent reduction of 90% for the term of an Italian lease — 8 years. In the first several months of this campaign in Rome we have already won 4 million euros in rent reductions for our tenants. This is exciting stuff. More revenue for the state an a bounty system for tenants to build power and make change!

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Repying to Reply 14

When I was on a book tour in England the OWS movement was gaining momentum, but there was no connection with the community organizing groups.

YoMo April 15th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

What are the major obstacles to community organizing in other countries? How do they vary from the ones in the U.S?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 16

Phoenix, I have often argued that the most important trait for an organizer is the ability to LISTEN. As a membership-based organization, ACORN and similar organizations that I have built here and around the world don’t have much of a choice — people vote with their feet and with their dollars, if the organization is not responsive and reflective of their issues and dreams.

BevW April 15th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

To REPLY to a question / comment:

there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 18

You may have more insight into the situation in the UK than me. Haven’t been there in years now, but I think generally the OWS mobilized a different sort of organization and individual than is typical of most community-based groups. these alliances are only being made now, even in the USA

BevW April 15th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Please tell us about Italy.

If we have time I’ll tell about a fascinating effort in Italy now, which could catch fire in Europe!

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to YoMo @ 19

Resources are huge obstacles in organizing in the megaslums. A dues-based program that privileges the membership as leaders and decision makers is very, very grassroots as it builds up experience and works to achieve scale. No small problem is the debilitating impact of many large NGO’s that operate very “colonially” the slums by paying people to come to meetings, feeding them, and “buying” community leaders. This tends to be one of the first things we have to “correct.”

Kristy April 15th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

How can we best fight against sweatshops and labor abuses in other countries? Boycott Apple products, buy fair-trade or is the problem so big that nothing can be done?

YoMo April 15th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

What is the future of community organizing?

Phoenix Woman April 15th, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 20

“The ability to listen”, indeed. That is correct. That is also what the people of whom I speak — many of whom had lost their old activist gigs and were much more interested in securing new full-time activist gigs by hijacking local activist groups than they were in doing anything that might actually be effective activism in that particular locality — lacked. And they apparently weren’t too concerned about it, so long as they could buffalo key local activists into letting them take over their groups.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 15

Hostile may be too strong, but certainly it’s fair to say that i’m not a huge fan. Most big NGO’s that operate internationally are basically conduits for their countries international investments. Where the US operates through US AID, and we know it’s about government policy and government programs and money, the same thing is true even for very progressive NGO’s like Oxfam NOVIB where 80% of the money comes from the Dutch government or the German foundations where the money is based on the last seatings in parliament. Many of the Scandinavian NGO’s as well as others are now curtailing their activities as right governments are elected. This all spells trouble for many efforts in developing countries that are now skewed towards expectations from the big NGO’s that can’t be met. We need independent, autonomous self-sufficient organizations of the poor in order to make change.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

when you were organizing Acorn you were focused on sustainability or in other word making sure your group had money to pay for organizers etc and in your new book you seem obsessed with sustainability and scale. Why?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Kristy @ 25

Recently we affiliated to ACORN International the Press for Change Campaign run for years by Jeff Ballinger, who is frankly legendary in Indonesian where he was expelled for helping organize textile workers and winning higher wages in sweatshops, and for a decade of work opposing Nike and its efforts. We have spent a lot of time recently trying to wrap our minds (arms?) around how to make Apple accountable. We think we have an idea that we are trying to put together now, which would figure out a way to mobilize Apple computer, iphone, and ipad users to demand that the company be more accountable. They have been tone deaf, but we think their investment in their “brand” may be a poiont of huge leverage for us if we can come together.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 28

US government aid program, international donors, and groups like Oxfam can be very helpful, don’t you agree? In Rwanda, for example, as donors gave direct support to the government, the government increased its spending in health, while simultaneously decreasing defense spending. And in 2005, after receiving donor support, the countries of Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Uganda, and Vietnam all stepped up pro-poor spending and scaled up social service delivery.

Kristy April 15th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I love my Apple products but feel bad about how the company operates. I would be interested in joining any kind of campaign to make them do better.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 29

when i left ACORN after 38 years in mid-2008, i did so with some confidence that I thought that we had it right. we had a balance of about 1/3 internal monies from dues an other sources, 1/3 from contracts and services provided which were skill based, and 1/3 from outside sources. watching ACORN under attack during the 2008 election and then, devastatingly by the video-scams of Brietbart and O’Keefe in concert with the Republicans and rightwingers, which dried up their outside money and panicked many of the swayback friends that they thought they had, i have concluded that clearly we were more vulnerable than I could have imagined. Twice burned, finally learned. I’m now obsessed with how we can build autonomous, self-funded organizations. We could have done better. We were doing 50,000 tax returns and more housing counseling efforts that that and if we had charged even minimally to those getting the services, we could have continued a robust program without being threatened. That’s just one example.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to Kristy @ 32

Keep in touch once this is over and we’ll be calling on you…website is http://www.acorninternational and i’m at chieforganizer@acorninternational.org

we’ll be counting on you!

bigbrother April 15th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Wade I am an affordable housing advocate http://www.clih.net and the NGOs in this area control the game to exclusion. Political power gives lip service and the AH stock continues to shrink with flipping of older units, smaller section 8 and HUD funding by 1/3. Now with mass foreclosures the rental stock is full. Homelessness is growing. I asked for a “Safe Parking lot program similar to nearby Santa Barbara County. Finally 5 spaces were allowed for 4,000 homeless population of which 40% are children. There is a big truancy rate in that population. Any thoughts here?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to YoMo @ 26

big question! i actually — and this is part of what prompted me to bring out “Global Grassroots” — think we have really just begun. I’m not a big believer in institution-based community organizing because increasingly institutions are so deeply disregarded by low-and-moderate income families around the world — and just about everyone else. Luckily I think people still believe in themselves, their neighbors, and their community, which argues to me that we have hundreds of millions out there ready to organize if we can fashion an organizing model that we can prove works for them on a mass-basis.

let me give you an example that gives me great hope and excitement. I’ve been to Sicily several times in recent years. Sicily has a reputation, ok. mafia and all that, and the mafia is still a problem, so let’s not be naive, but here’s the exciting part. In Sicily there is an outbreak of activity building civic movements. They are very close to community organizations, but somewhat like ACORN was (and is in Canada elsewhere still) more political. In every community there are several civic movements and in Palermo and Catania there are a handful. I’ve spoken and done workshops for their federations across Sicily and they are solid folks trying to work on many levels. Add to the fact that in Sicily civic movements can access the ballot directly, independently of the parties, and if enough support has been built so that more than 5% of the vote can be garnered, then they can compete for power — and change — immediately. Great success story in Syracuse for example where they took over the city in less than a year — of course now they are asking for advice on how not to become what they were fighting against, but that’s part of power building too.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 35

I’m gathering you work in California, so god love you, cuz affordable housing is a huge issue in Cali (and the rest of the country!).

In the wake of the Great Recession and the continuing foreclosure crises (what modifications, President Obama!?!), I’ve had to really rethink decades of work that might have overemphasized home ownership and not done enough to open up affordable rental units, especially with the shrinkage of public housing. I wrote an earlier book “Citizen Wealth” that found that much of a lower income families asset based and income security was rooted in their homes, but now 25 years of progress, almost to the passage of CRA, perhaps the single most important community organizing victory of our generation, has been wiped out.

We have to do better, and don’t be surprised if affordable housing and rental conversions are the wave of the future. You could be a sharp, pointed edge of change. We need a plan and the organizations to embrace it!

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 33

Speaking about Breitbart and O’Keefe, talk to us about the role of the MSM. The NY Times today had yet another article focusing on one of the activists who helped destroy ACORN’s reputation with trickery and deceit. This time it was Andrew Breitbart. Of course what the story wrote about Acorn was wrong.

I don’t think the Times ever did a profile of you. The Times has not done a story on what actually happened to Acorn. Why do you think that’s so? And how do you feel when the Times kind of glorify an evil bully like Andrew Breitbart but basically refuses to do a post-Obama-election-Acorn-story that accurately portrays what Acorn was and what happened?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 31

John, you may be right. I’m not sure. Amazingly your list of countries were all areas that we do not work in, so I hope you are right, but I’m not convinced.

Vietnam is a place the Organizers’ Forum has been. What an amazing country. I would recommend a visit to Hanoi for anyone.

Nonetheless, it was hard to see the “social services” safety net there in the constant embrace of a free market embrace of foreign direct investment and donor dollars that would make even the Chinese seem like fiscal conservatives.

HotFlash April 15th, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Not meaning to bust into the Wade-and-John show here, but Wade, can you give us any insight into what happened with Acorn? I was astonished at how fast it disintegrated. It looked like autolysis to me. Any info from the inside?

YoMo April 15th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

What is the class and gender breakdown of community organizers in other countries?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 38

I wouldn’t be holding out any hope of the Times getting the story right at this point. As you know better than most, they got caught in a web of rationalizations with their former Public Editor and a woe-is-me excuse pattern of claiming that they had too many reporters on the story with no one really driving it. Whatever that says for accountability! They seem to have decided in Murdoch like fashion to dig in their heels and pull the covers over their heads. After all the people hurt by ACORN going under were low-and-moderate income families, which is not exactly the Times demographic. The arc of justice is long though, so what goes around will come around here as well, and it’s already begun. It just make take a while to get there, but inevitably it will.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 40

Having left in mid-2008 I was pretty much watching from the outside for two years until the existing management and leadership felt they were forced to pull the plug. My best guess, knowing and having worked with some many of them for decades, is that they must have been under terrible and excruciating pressure, and not been able to see a way out, or were just beaten down and exhausted and couldn’t imagine ever getting to the other side.

Part of it may have been, as John mentions, and I have speculated, that they were disoriented a bit by the Obama victory, the fact that he had been a community organizer, and that the organization had taken way too many for the team in registering new voters in record numbers for the 2008 election. I’m not saying they thought they were going to be sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom, but unlike an old, cynical street organizer like myself, they may have thought unrealistically that they would have some access and some input. When Obama turned tail and ran from them in the election and then threw them under the bus on the video-came, I think that sucked the soul out of some of the folks who had strategized a new role for ACORN and its members from his presidency. That was clearly never going to happen anyway, but to the degree some were betting heavily on that as a way to pull out of the spiral, it was clearly not going to occur.

Had I been there, perhaps foolishly, I would have simply hunkered down with the membership and kept going, which is what i did w/ all of the organizations where I was working throughout this terrible period. I think that was a choice too many were too tired and beaten and disappointed to be able to make. Instead they hoped that by saving a few of the pieces they might create some space in some cities around the country, and that’s the strategy they have pursued with uneven results, but certainly my huge hope and wishes for success.

Kristy April 15th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Speaking of the press, isn’t it a challenge to get attention to the issues and campaigns of the poor of the world or get any coverage on global organizing in general. I guess that illustrates the need for a book like this.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to YoMo @ 41

all of the organizers in ACORN International are natives of their local communities and speak the various languages and have the appropriate cultural connections to these communities.

in latin america interestingly almost all of the staff are women. in africa and india almost all of the organizers are men. in the czech republic it’s men and in italy a split with men in rome and women in sicily.

bigbrother April 15th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 37

Living wage law is a great start to level the playing field a bit. Our local “Work Force Housing Force Coalition gave up as the construction jobs tanked.
30 Year old “People Self Help Housing” Director observe much has to change before we make any serious progress. The wage average here is $10.00 an hour less than 1/2 the national average. We also have a Housing Trust Fund that makes loans on AH but it is usually a small percent of the tenancy.
We have a large visitor serving industry with low wages and high housing costs we have “hot bedding” when families take shifts on the bedrooms. California used to have a renters tax credit.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Kristy @ 44

amen! it’s daunting. and, yes, that’s part of the reason for the book and a lot of effort on the web, facebook, and so forth.

a good example is the difficulty in getting traction around our Remittance Justice Campaign where we are trying to unite all of our federated organizations with groups in the developed world of North America and Europe to win the ceiling on the cost of money transfers for migrant workers and immigrant families back to their home countries to the 5% that the World Bank and G-8 has claimed is also their goal. we have gotten support from many like Avaaz and others at some times, but where the work gets hard is that we have to win support in each of the countries to actually cap the fees and stop the predatory practices. Immigrants and migrants are almost stateless people and many countries realize that they can’t vote and don’t vote and essentially let the bank and Western Union, Moneygram and others, have their way with their money.

The media has gotten so they don’t know how to follow anything that’s at all complex, and something like remittances is just sort of “whatever” to them.

spread the word!

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 46

ironically the strategy not used enough yet in Cali is setting municipal and county-wide living wage standards, which any community can do. the victory several years ago in San Francisco was huge, but it has ever spread to Los Angeles or many of the smaller cities and bigger counties.

yes, it would take real resources to put it on the ballot and then to win, but the record of victory on these kinds of Living Wage measures is excellent.

needs to happen, and California needs to lead way, big brother!

tanbark April 15th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Relative to this thread, the growing unity among Latin American countries against the United States’ half-century vendetta against Cuba is long overdue.


YoMo April 15th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Was community organizing a part of the democracy movement in Korea and the Philiipines?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to tanbark @ 49

agreed. generally the increasing autonomy of action in Latin America, partially fueled by the successful economies of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, and for a long time the massive investments fueled by the petro-dollars of Venezuela, gives all of us working there huge hope. now that China is also a huge player in the region pushing at the US-heels, we also have to be smarter and more respectful.

the situation in Honduras where we work in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa though give us a lot of reasons to worry that the USA simply does not get it yet. the whole golopista coup has riven the country and the impact continues everywhere. our State Department was simply off the mark here, and unwilling to ever concede that we need to support a democratic process and not elite coups.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to YoMo @ 50

the history of community organizing among the urban poor in both countries focused on building classic “peoples’ organizations” that were broadly representative and fearless in actions and campaigns for democracy in both of these countries. as branches that sprang from the main roots of community organizing I have been fascinated over the last decade or so as they have reached out to me and i have found them (Indonesia too!) how similar some of the organizational formations evolved — they were like ACORN without the dues system!

many have found ongoing contributions in civic life that have sprung from the democracy struggles.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to BevW @ 23

hopefully my answers eventually caught up with these questions, bev?

YoMo April 15th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Are there tactics that are new or better or anything like agitprop that is out there for community organizers to “LIKE”

BevW April 15th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 53


Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Not seeing a question this “refresh” I want to encourage any of you to think about community organizing on a global context and not just on the local scene. We need more attention paid!

Love for any of you to read and spread the word about “Global Grassroots: International Perspectives on Organizing.” Available directly via Social Policy Press (www.socialpolicy.org) or of course through Amazon, if you must, or your local independent bookseller who can also order directly.

I would love to keep the dialogue going!

bigbrother April 15th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 48

Might test the political waters for a ballot measure.
Another problem for my community is a public works project that cost $200.00 a month for 40 years. It is ill conceived and not needed but an earmark for USDA RUS funding and State Water Board with juicy contracts with unlimited change orders. Some say it is gentrification.
I did a sucessful Ballot measure to move thge project out of town. I will get ypur book Citizens Wealth for some tips.

And The third World is in dire straits compared to us. A third class rail ticket in India, living on the streets there and hitch hiking and freight train hopping in Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe)I saw the UN Refugee program go amuck with tribalism.

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 47

Could you say some more about Acorn International’s campaign to get the President of the World Bank to commit to aggressively making all available efforts to achieve the World Bank and G-8 goal of stopping predatory pricing of remittances and reducing maximum costs for migrant workers and immigrants to no more than 5% for remittances.

Explain the family tragedy and human suffering that motivated this campaign.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to BevW @ 55

It’s fascinating for me to follow mass actions in India where we work in Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangaluru. The cultural reference points there are still back to the anti-colonial fight and the country’s independence, so some of the same tactics are still common today.

In Kenya our organizers recently got a hard lesson in new tactics in the megaslum. They had some volunteers make puppets which were going to lead the march and rally through Korogcho demanding the building of more primary schools for the almost 400,000 who live there. Just at the beginning of the march, a vigilante group had managed to catch a young man who had stolen a motor bike and beaten its owner, and were engaged in taking mob justice on this guy which collided with our puppets and the march. police mobilized by the chief then moved in force with all parties running for the hills and the puppets torn asunder and the campaign forced to regroup for another time in the future.

Hard to plan for stuff like that!

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I am surprised no one has asked questions about the Kony/Invisible Children campaign. Recall that last March a group called Invisible Children became instantly famous after its video that publicized the atrocities of a Ugandan warlord named Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army went viral. It was part of a grassroots campaign that included getting Angelina Jolie and 20 other “culture makers” to call for the warlord’s arrest and to promote programs to save young African children. Her image appears towards the end of the documentary along with other famous figures, such as Bill Gates and Justin Bieber, who Invisible Children hoped viewers might pressure to condemn Kony.
The group raised $5m in just 48 hours.
According to YouTube statistics, the Kony video was most popular with young women aged 13 to 17 and men aged 18 to 24 racked up the most views in the US, China and Australia.

Critics have condemned the group for over-simplifying a complex issue, not doing enough work on the ground in Uganda and its ties to rightwing Christian fundamentalists groups in the US, who have also funded anti gay-rights causes.

However, the group has succeeded in highlighting a horrible and continuing human rights cause that had garnered little attention for decades and using social media to engage young people in social activism.

Wade what lessons have you learned from Invisible Children work?

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 57

There is a huge national campaign that needs to be waged in the USA around the infrastructure demands for water and sewerage that are part of the EPA compliance programs where billions and billions of dollars of long term bills are going to be coming due in community after community — i suspect that’s what you are referring to and we’re seeing it as part of the proposal in New Orleans where I live as well. I had a long and interesting meeting a couple of weeks ago with organizers in Pittsburgh with the Clean Rivers Campaign and had one of those “ah,ha” moments when I realized this wasn’t really an enviro-campaign, but a straight up utility cost and public works campaign with national impact.

They estimate that more than 700 communities around the country could be facing astronomical bills along these lines, and I bet the real dimensions of the issue are even broader and deeper than that.

Off line later let me know more about this…I think we are sitting on a game changer here!

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 60

I’m a huge believer in learning from others what is working and trying to adapt it to your own work. I know carry a movie camera wherever I go so that we can learn — and it’s a process! — to use YouTube better and connect to the video world that is moving people.

I wish I could figure out how to “Kony” up some of ACORN International’s campaigns!

Most of the carping was from the established, donor-based NGO community, which has a vested interest in being the broker for change and resources through their platforms.

Even if the Kony folks were way off base, we need another paradigm and we need stuff that hits home hard for young folks and the rest of the tired asses out there, so we get up and git!

bigbrother April 15th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Hitch hiked through Kenya and visited the Peace Corp people who were helping with farming technology. They spent a fair amount of time drinking beer. The Religious charities were less open. And I think it is harder to help violent populations that are waring each other as East Africa has : Kikuyu 17%, Luhya 14%, Kalenjin 13%, Luo 10%, Kamba 10% competing for survival.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to John Atlas @ 58

Just on the numbers if we could actually move the costs of remittances to only 5% (and our studies estimate that the real costs including conversion is above 20% and not the 10% that the World Bank pretends) we could allow more money to get into developing countries in this family-to-family and family-to-community method that would add to the development investment in these communities many fold over current AID investments. Traveling in Mexico or Vietnam, it is easy to see the houses in working communities that are being built by remittance contributions from families in the US and elsewhere.

The tragedy is the same as we find in any instance of theft. It is from lost opportunity. We have a leader in Vancouver with ACORN Canada who is from Korogocho where we organize in Nairobi. He uses Western Union and it can cost him $40 out of the $100 he wants to send his family once all costs are included. We have a partner in a great credit union in Vancouver who we tried to devise an alternative system with, and they believe it will be 3 years before they can even get to the problem.

Every year tens of billions of dollars are being diverted into Western Union, Moneygram and the banks of developed countries because governments are allowing this plain and simple robbery of the poor.

In a computer age transfers are trivial matters, but here technology is a tool of oppression.

AitchD April 15th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

(Anne Frank expressed that notion in your introduction while she was in hiding in Amsterdam before she was arrested by the Nazis. Serious literary scholars have interpreted her sentiment you allude to as being particularistic and not intended to include general humanity as such. She was not selected for extermination at the concentration camps, but she eventually died from typhus.)

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 63

our organizers are from the 2 main tribes and we waited for a year after the post-election violence to begin our work finally in Nairobi, but this is less a problem than getting traction with resources, against the NGO-bi that is Nairobi, and moving the dead weight of governmental bureaucracy.

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:50 pm
In response to AitchD @ 65

John might be the best one to respond here, since he wrote the excellent introduction to this Book Salon.

bigbrother April 15th, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 61

NO kicked Montgomery Watson Harza out but we are not as fortunate. The $100,000 bribe they offered was taken by one of your sewer official and is doing federal time. Got an email address I have a big story for those interested. Insider double dealing, misreps and falsifying USDA RUS loan apps for openers. My email is on the website I put in my first comment at Number 35 http://www.clih.net

BevW April 15th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Wade, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and organizing globally.

John, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Wade’s website (ChiefOrganizer.org) and book (Global Grassroots)

John’s website (NationalHousingInstitute) and book (Seeds of Change)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Wade Rathke April 15th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I notice by the clock that our time is starting to run out. Let me thank all of the participants, both visible (with questions) and invisible (just hanging in!) for the opportunity to learn from what you are thinking and listen to your reactions to the work reported in “Global Grassroots.”

Much appreciated!

John Atlas April 15th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Wade for a great discussion and thank you Bev for continuing your commitment to this great institution, The FDL Book Salon.

bigbrother April 15th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to Wade Rathke @ 70

I think Bill Black can be quite helpful in the utilities scam matter. Great book Salon thank you Wade, Bev and John. And congrats to Bev on the nuptials.

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