Periferia and Global NGOs


Brussels    Leaving Grenoble we jumped on the tram to then take the train to Paris, once there hopped onto the Metro to switch between the Lyon station and the Paris North station, grabbed another train to Brussels, disembarked to a local tram near the station until our directions said turn right at the corner when we saw the Lidl grocery store sign and walk until we found the address in this suburb of Molenbeek, made famous last year through the televised images of a street-by-street police search in this diverse community for terrorists.   What we found instead were the offices of Periferia, an interesting international non-profit where Adrien Roux of the Alliance Citoyenne/ACORN and myself were warmly greeted and almost immediately stepped into a meeting with them, one of their colleagues — the director — on Skype in northern Brazil, and several representatives from CIDSE, a global coordinator of religious donors, including Misereor.

I was inclined to like Periferia almost from the time we sat down when I opened a short pamphlet they had produced in French about community organizing.  Regardless of my language deficiency, when I counted five pictures of our French affiliate the Alliance Citoyenne in the tract as well as a lead picture from the ACORN Chicago convention and an excerpt from Lee Staples, Roots to Power, where he reprises an ACORN doorknocking rap, I might be sitting in Brussels, but I knew I was at home among friends.  Periferia is also sponsoring several days of community organizer training that we are doing in Brussels for local organizations as well as colleagues from Germany and the Netherlands.  Besides promoting community organizing, they have worked extensively on participatory budgeting projects pioneered in Porto Allegre, Brazil.  In fact, the name of the nonprofit comes from their Brazilian experience at working on the periphery in marginal communities and then transferring the lessons learned back to Belgium and the European context.

We talked less about that than the fact that Periferia’s staff also acted as a consultant to Misereor, the German Catholic NGO that distributes resources from the government as part of the German foreign aid program and historically has been a key funder of organizing and social action projects.  Patrick Bodart was preparing to tour a number of countries in Latin America to evaluate Misereor projects and also described an exchange they had facilitated between several Brazilians and several activists from Mozambique involved in fighting land grabbing and how that had worked.  One thing led to another with our CIDSE friends as well as Adrien and me once we got to talking about land grabbing, squatting, land trusts, and all manner of projects involving peoples’ struggles with land ownership and occupancy in both urban and rural settings.

Adrien and I learned a lot and shared out opinions frankly.  We wanted the funders to do more, especially in supporting grassroots community organizing and direct action.  There was a great, healthy exchange.

And, then we ate apple crisp, as my mother and grandmother used to call my absolutely favorite of all times dessert – ok, next to maybe jam cake, but that’s only for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  When you’re eating apple crisp and drinking coffee after a three-hour meeting, what’s not to like about Brussels and the Belgians!


ACORN Tenants Taking Charge, Running for Seats on the Board in France

Grenoble         Every four years social housing tenants in France have the opportunity to run for seats on the board of their city’s housing authority.  Admittedly, the seats allotted for tenant representation are a minority of the board positions, because in France, as elsewhere, a voice for tenants is preferable to allowing real power for tenants.  From conversations with organizers, leaders, and members of ACORN’s French affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne, in Grenoble and the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers, that may be about to change.  Members of the Alliance have put forth slates of candidates in three different housing districts, two in Grenoble and one in Paris and have begun to campaign in earnest.

In various meetings throughout the week the plan has shaped up.  In Grenoble where the voting pool is 17000 families, we have been wrestling with the mechanics of the election.  There is a voting period of roughly two weeks in which tenants have to return mail ballots to be counted in the election.  A list of tenants is available as well as a map of all buildings in the system, but the exact time of their availability is still uncertain, making it difficult to make a comprehensive week-by-week plan.  Nonetheless, Alliance candidates have an advantage simply because they are running as a team, backed by the organization, and in some cases partnered with a local union as well, but that advantage only works if we are all able to come to consensus on a plan and then do the hard work of campaigning for the almost eight weeks until the voting closes in December.

After conference calls throughout the week, I attended a meeting of the candidates, organizers, and key organizing committee members in a common space meeting room in one of the housing projects of Grenoble Habitat, where over potato chips and apple juice the plans were being hashed out.  Like all campaigns and organizing the focus was first on lists and building an organizing committee.  Regardless of when – or if – a list is supplied by the housing authority, the key first topic on the agenda of the meeting was how to use the list we have and how to build it larger in advance of the election.  In the smaller election, we have 800 names and in the larger one we have closer to 1500.  There was agreement that the committee would divide up the list, report on daily progress, and commit individually to spending 10 hours on the phones to contact all 2300 names in order to reach 800 to 1000.  The objective was to use the calls to identify building representatives as organizing committee members in as many buildings as possible.  Those campaign representatives would commit to circulating the literature, building a list of building tenants, joining the candidates in doorknocking in their building, and organizing a building wide meeting to meet the candidates between now and the election.

The literature drop would be in the following week, and staff and the planning committee committed to developing a week-by-week plan until the election to be discussed and decided on at the regular weekly meeting.  There was agreement that the concentration would first be on identifying and turning out our base to vote before trying to expand to buildings in the suburbs and elsewhere that we had not previously organized.  These elections are decided by only one or two thousand votes, so the GOTV and multiple “touches” to make sure the ballots are filled our correctly and mailed is central to victory.

This is the first time the organization has embarked on an election campaign of any kind, so it’s exciting and heady stuff.  The one thing that is certain is that the leadership and organization will be stronger once the votes are counted, win, lose or draw.  The other thing that is clear will be that if the Alliance/ACORN members are elected, change is coming to housing authorities in Grenoble and Aubervilliers as tenants join their voices together to create power on the boards that will not be denied.


Please enjoy Southern State of Mine by Sugarcane Jane.

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles’ Get as Gone Can Get.

Thanks to KABF.