Effective activism’s a long-haul process, not “save the Earth in 30 days, ask me how.” But there are some principles that seem to reoccur for people addressing every kind of challenge from the Gulf Oil spill to inadequate funding for urban schools to how to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq. They give us clues on how to reach out to engage our fellow citizens and help us get past our own barriers, not to mention burnout and disappointment. When I was updating my Soul of a Citizen book on citizen activism, an activist rabbi who was teaching the book at a Florida university suggested I gather together a Ten Commandments for effective citizen engagement. Calling them Commandments seemed presumptuous, but I did draw together ten suggestions that can make engagement more fruitful. Some I’ve already explored in various Soul of a Citizen excerpts. I’ll flesh out others in coming weeks. But pulling them together in one place seemed useful.
Tag: Saul Alinsky
Jun 18 2010
May 14 2010
Too many of us hold back from community involvement because we think we don’t know enough to act on our beliefs, or don’t have the standing or confidence to take a public stand. When we see a woman who begins with no money, no power, no education and no status in the community, and then becomes a powerful voice for change, it should inspire us all.
Virginia Ramirez, of San Antonio, Texas, could easily have lived out her days without ever discovering her ability to speak out. She left school after eighth grade to get married. “That was what most Hispanic women in my generation did. My husband, who drives a taxicab, went to work after sixth grade.” Although dropping out seemed normal at the time, she felt frustrated when she couldn’t help her five children with their homework.
When Virginia was forty-five, she realized that an elderly neighbor was getting sick every winter. The neighbor was a widow who lived in a house so dilapidated that it couldn’t retain heat. “She was one of those people who always paid her taxes on time, always faithfully making out her little money orders. But she couldn’t afford to repair her house, and everyone around here was just as poor. So I went with her to city agencies trying to get help. They kept sending us from place to place, from department to department. Finally she died of pneumonia. The paramedics said she’d never have died if her house hadn’t been so freezing cold.
“I’d never been so angry in my life,” Virginia recalls. “This woman had done everything she was supposed to, and now she was dead because no one could help her fix her house. Someone said there’s this community organization called COPS, and maybe they could help.”