Techo, Tagging, and Finding Another Way

Community Organizing International Organizers Forum

Dallas   Sometimes if you can’t be good at least hope you’re lucky.  Once we were on the ground in Paraguay, we were hustling to fill up the dance card of our agenda with meetings.  We had heard the name of a group that was called Techo that was involved in housing.  Ok, sounds good, and finally we were able to schedule them as our very last meeting before flying out of the country, but on our third day in the country, my excitement about the meeting changed dramatically.

We were in a cab going from the Fundacion Bertoni to our next meeting, and suddenly we had seen some young people “tagging!”  Darned, if they didn’t have on white-and-blue t-shirts that said “Techo” on them.  A young woman even put her head in the window with a clipboard, and we told her we were going to meet with Techo in a couple of days.  Andrew Marciniak, ACORN Toronto head organizer, and one of our intrepid team that made it through the Brazilian visa process to see the amazing Igazu Falls, reported to me that he had seen a bunch of Techo folks doing the same thing at the border.  I was excited now:  these were my kind of people!

If you are an organizer and you have never been part of a tagging operation, I’m not sure you’ve really lived.  Tagging is the epitome of street fundraising.  ACORN’s tagging operation, originally pioneered in Columbus, Ohio by Fred Brooks, and then picked up in a number of offices, most spectacularly in New Orleans by ACORN and Local 100 United Labor Unions, involved getting old tennis ball cans, putting an ACORN slogan on the outside, taping the can with a slot for money, and putting largely teens and sometimes staff and members on the busiest streets in the cities with the longest stoplights to go car to car to raise money for the organization.  Devised initially by firefighters hitting the streets asking for donations into their boots and then giving people a “tag” saying thanks, it was repurposed as a grassroots fundraiser.   Don’t scoff either.  New Orleans would regularly net more than $1000 on a Saturday in the 1980s.  When Cecile Richards, most recently head of Planned Parenthood of America, spoke at an ACORN Year End / Year Beginning Meeting she rightly bragged to the crowd about how great a tagger she was!

Meeting Bruno Lopez, the General Manager of Techo Paraguay, and his management team at their amazing headquarters in a donated, rambling house and property in the city, he told us that we had witnessed their annual fundraiser, and though they were still counting, they expected to raise $400,000 USD from their tagging operation, accounting for almost half of their budget.  Techo turned out to work in more than twenty Latin American countries and to have its roots in organizing largely young volunteers to build small scale emergency housing for lower income and displaced people after disasters.  The housing can last up to 10 years!

This is still a huge part of their program, but they have been reaching out and expanding their focus.  Sofia, their operations manager, described their emerging organizing “model,” which had many close parallels to the ACORN Organizing Model substituting volunteers for members, adding dues, and other items.  Bruno and his team were reflective.  They were thinking about making changes and pushing the envelope past the history of their organization and its operations, and were most curious about lessons we might have learned in doing so as well.

Luckily, we all felt as we walked away from our last meeting in Asuncion that we had some how saved the best for last!