Quito Erlyn Perez, the head organizer in Tegucigalpa, Suyapa Amador, the head organizer and sparkplug of San Pedro Sula, Marcos Gomez, ACORN Canada’s campaign director, and I spent 3 hours trying to get our arms around the great progress of ACORN Honduras in the last several years, as well as the difficult question of whether or not the organization could survive long term in what might be a gold standard definition in organizing of a bittersweet conversation. The work is critical, the membership is now over 3500 in both cities, the victories are local and concrete, but the nuts and bolts of building sustainable membership-based community organizations means that even with great success, we are forced to constantly evaluate whether we can survive.
Looking at San Pedro Sula is almost a case study. We have seven community organizations in the city and the communities that abut the city, especially Choloma where we have worked the longest. Recently we have won some commitments from the Mayor of San Pedro Sula to make repairs on Street 27 there which has been almost impassable in some areas. More needs to be done and 300 homeowners along the street have organized with us to withhold their tax payments and pay them simultaneously when the Mayor agrees to finish the work. An interesting tactic! In some cases there’s just no money, no matter how hard we press. In Choloma where we have been in one campaign after another around potable water, we are now working with our members to put together the pieces to change the water collection system by building three cistern-style rainwater collection depots that will benefit 850 families. In San Manual, we have finally gotten support from the mayor and city officials around a public education campaign to stop the forced migration of children and gang recruitment. It’s good work with clear progress.
But even with 2400 members in San Pedro Sula, Suyapa reports only 380 are paying dues regularly on a monthly basis, and that’s at 20 lempiras monthly which is hardly 10 cents US or $334.00 roughly per month. Another $100 to $120 per month comes into support the office by selling coffee to allies, universities, and labor unions in the area for a cooperative in Marcala, which is affiliated to ACORN Honduras. $450 in US dollars per month goes farther in Honduras, but not quite far enough. ACORN International chips in $800 per month, split between the two organizers to keep things going from its own efforts, which aren’t easy either. It’s hard to raise the dues because membership projects like the water system in Choloma mean more business and family donations. In Tegucigalpa the story is much the same with the addition of a youth group that we’ve organized to stop migration chipping in more for the office there and free workspace in a community center we won in a neighborhood. The Mennonites recently decided to provide a grant to Honduras ACORN for the work that impacts migration, but that $10,000 has to get us closer to sustainability as well as almost an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So, all good this minute, but our conversation in Quito was where would we be in 2 years, in 5, in 10? When would ACORN in Honduras be able to completely stand on the shoulders of its members in Honduras? What would happen if ACORN International couldn’t subsidize the organizers, where would we be and how would the members respond?
This is hard work done by great organizers with amazingly deep commitments from them and from leaders and members, but hard discussions even over pinchos, can’t be escaped, and require clear eyes about the future even as we twist the nuts and bolts into shape.