San Miguel de Allede The two groups that assembled to hear me speak about Citizen Wealth and ACORN International’s organizing and campaigns at the Workers University of Mexico (Universidad Obrera de Mexico) less than a kilometer from the Zocalo in Mexico City and then last night in the patio of the Center for Global Justice in San Miguel could not have been more different. The crowd at UOM included ACORN Mexico leaders and dozens of old labor activists grizzled from decades of debate and struggle in the plants and streets who were looking for ways to do some things different, while the 50 folks that packed into the patio were largely expatriates from all over the USA and Canada with stories of Minnesota, Winnepeg, Vermont, and Hamilton who were trying to put their arms around a lifetime of liberalism and sometimes long, hard activism finding it difficult to believe the new world of division and conservative clawbacks in both countries could possibly be real.
Had both of these presentations and all of these people been thrown in the same bag and jostled together the lack of connections with each other, the divisions of experience, language, analysis, and wealth would have been stark and unsettling to both. But, amazingly, standing at the point of their questions and feeling the huge good will and earnest searching from both crowds made me feel there was a powerful spirit of unfathomable and resilient hope that still ran deeply through both of them. There was disappointment. There was recognition in each of these crowds that they still wanted to believe that there were miles to be run in the race and victory was still possible, though we were skeptical when we looked at the facts. Many battles had been won which sustained everyone, but there was a feeling that the war was somehow being lost.
The difference in both of these frankly, older crowds was passion. At the UOM during the questions occasionally someone would stand and talk about the need to continue to push for justice in Honduras. Many were starkly critical of the United States and its policies in dealing with Mexico. There was a lot of love, but no sugar in the coffee. Anger beat deeply in the breast of many of these old warriors.
At San Miguel curiosity, commitment, good feeling, strong support, all of these were there in full measure. One after another from Vancouver or Toronto or Texas would come up and tell me their stories and wish me well and good luck with heartfelt thanks. A man from Houston told of working with Orell Fitzsimmons of Local 100 there and feeding him information in the on-going fight to hold ARA Services accountable within the school district food service. Anne Lewis introduced herself to me and told me her son, Chris, who had been ACORN’s legislative whiz in DC on tough fights around housing for several years, had “ordered her” to attend giving me a chance to personally thank her for her late husband’s behind the scenes help and the tremendous job Chris had done. An architect, Bill Peters, who had volunteered for ACORN in the early 70’s while dating one of our staff came by having sent the local notice, just to say hello and lend support. A couple from Winnipeg put the hard sell on me about the need for ACORN to organize in Winnipeg and wouldn’t take “no” and later for an answer, even when I played the “Judy Duncan is from the Peg” trump card. A couple from Vancouver wanted to know exactly where we were organizing there and what they could do to help. It was moving. It was rewarding. I can hardly wait to come back to San Miguel, but the passion and anger was not there when most of these new and old friends talked about the countries where they still had other homes, family, friends, and past lives.
It turns out that I’m just the guy to call on to “fill a patio” for you, but I’m hardly the “good humor ice cream man.” Nonetheless, I found myself feeling obligated to try and remind both audiences why there was hope and why it was so essential to keep pushing forward. In San Miguel I quoted Eugene Debs that “victory was as inevitable as the rising of the sun.” I wanted my friends in San Miguel to keep their sense of humor and the huge assets of their open hands and warm hearts ready and able to help.
By the end of the evening, I had convinced myself that in the smallness of the world and its vast interconnectedness perhaps there were bridges to be built that could unite so many around the globe in moving for change. I crossed my fingers that I had left some hope and commitment with folks on this journey.