Community Organizing

Silver Spring, Maryland    A decade ago, I spent a week a month for more than six months working with what was then known as CASA de Maryland to develop a membership program for the organization.  CASA was at the heart of the push for immigration reform on the eve of the Obama presidency.  Its roots were in service-delivery through worker centers, health programs, and other immigrant assistance efforts from ESL to citizenship classes, mostly delivered in Spanish.  The vision of its longtime, brilliant director, Gustavo Torres, and his team, was to supplement the huge impact they had in services by building a parallel organization, CASA Action, as a c4, that could engage in direct organizing, action, and advocacy.  My mission was to work with Gustavo and his team to transition some of the existing staff and develop others as community organizers into a local formation with a grassroots-based membership program that could activate people coming through the service doors of CASA and recruit additional thousands of members into the collective effort through direct recruitment and activate them in the overall struggle.

CASA organizers role play doorknocking

I had been in their huge headquarters when it was still a construction site, so it was exciting to be in the basement working with Elizabeth Alex, who then was running the Baltimore operation for CASA, but was now the overall organizing director, to run a doorknocking and membership recruitment workshop again for twenty of the CASA organizers, who were now working not only in the Maryland counties of Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George, but also in the DC suburbs of Virginia and central Pennsylvania around Harrisburg and Lancaster.  From the fledgling beginnings then, they had now welded together a membership of 100,000 with huge accomplishments won locally and in Annapolis.

We covered the fundamentals in the structure of a recruitment rap first.  The organizers had a lot of experience and were a feisty group, so we pushed and pulled our way through the exercises by challenging some bad habits and applauding good ones.  It was great fun, and we had a ball!  The role plays were enthusiastic and when several brave teams showed off their skills, the points made by others were constructive and indicated some potential breakthroughs.  We also covered tabling or “stalls,” as they call them in the United Kingdom, which added our own version of transnational fertilization to the CASA organizing methodology.  Talking about how to recruit at events and open meetings was also instructive, since CASA does much of that.

In the evening I ended up as a fly on the wall in Virginia’s Prince William County listening to the leadership interview primary candidates for Commonwealth attorney and other local races from 5:30 to 10:00 PM.  It was impossible in watching the candidates come into the interviews not to note the fundamental changes that are coming to the area and to marvel at the progress the organization and its leaders have made in the last decade.

Candidates walked down a hallway with pictures of CASA members and mass rallies with CASA members.  The slogan on buttons and t-shirts everywhere said, “We Are CASA!”  Me, too! How about you!

CASA putting together the organization in Virginia


Please enjoy Keith Richards’ Big Town Playboy.

Thanks to KABF.