Big Hearted Texas Support for India Organizing

IMG_1230Austin Brad Rockwell was a rarity.  An environmental lawyer in Austin with a law firm that gave sabbaticals, he reached out and chose to spend two months helping ACORN International’s program in India working with our team in Delhi on organizing the ITO community, green informal workers, and our India FDI Watch Campaign.  When he got back to Austin he still had the fire and suggested that he and a buddy, Joy Sablatura, wanted to do a party with an India theme and see if we couldn’t raise some money to support the organizing.  In theory this sounded like a fantastic idea, but in practice I wondered if we would make back the gas money to get there, but…in for a penny in for a pound, I had volunteered to help, and help I would by at least showing up and lending a voice to the affair and putting my knees to the ground and appealing for support.  I hedged the bet by hustling off to Houston for a day and more on union business, so here we go.

Doug Young, ACORN International’s erstwhile and long suffering attorney, comrade, and boon companion, and I looked around for the house in all the wrong places until we stumbled through the front door of a mansion in downtown Austin.  A local Indian restaurant had donated food, and we could smell it from the door.  Samosas were coming.  Kingfisher beer had been given as well and 20 or more bags of ice were chilling in down to suitable Texas drinking temperature.  Sitar players were opening up their instruments.   Wow!  Something big was happening here.  At one point Joy whispered to me, “there’s going to be 150 people here,” and at this point I was a believer.   Whether we raised any money or not, who would know, but clearly the folks in Austin knew how to put together the donations for a great party!

I wish there was a way to write a model for this kind of event and duplicate it in cities all over the world.  Joy showed slides of her time in India with the famous hugging swami.  Brad showed other slides as well and held people’s attention with colorful stories of the Delhi monkeys and dogs interspersed with firm and clear advocacy for the work being done by ACORN India’s Dharmendra Kumar and his team on a number of issues.  Since multi-media was part of the advertised attractions a tech savior helped me navigate an X-box (a 1st!) and show a great You-Tube clip from our friend, Parasher’s documentary, “Waste,” about our ragpicker organizing and the way it works in Dharavi in Mumbai.  I added a couple of quick remarks on our work in India and around the world and mentioned the Remittance Justice Campaign.

And, bam, did the remittances issue hit home to my new Texas friends hugging the Mexican border.  Once the talk ended I was buttonholed by a dozen folks wanting to know more, confessing that they hadn’t realized or thought about the predatory cost lurking behind remittances, and offering helpful suggestions.  By 1030 PM when Doug and I dragged ourselves back to his place and opened the donations box the stars were out over Texas as we reflected on the generosity and good spirits all around us.

Once a skeptic and now a believer, I’ll spend a long drive back to New Orleans trying to figure out how to bottle up what Brad and Joy did in Austin and see how this show can go on the road!  Texas is a state of mind, and I need to see what it takes to make it contagious.

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