Category Archives: Community Organizing


Arequipa, Peru: As we made our way through sundry meetings in Arequipa, we kept hearing that in addition to the unions the other key ingredient that was vital to any successful equation in creating change in the city was AUPA.   What we heard was tantalizing.  Somehow AUPA was an organization stitched together across the pueblos jovenos as they were called in Peru – the shantytowns or favelas or whatever one might call lower income neighborhoods.  This sounded good.  This sounded more like ACORN than anything we had found here or elsewhere.  This meeting was a must. 

 The calendar was quickly not becoming our friend, because we were running out of hours in the day.  We had a meeting scheduled, then we didn’t, then we did, then we couldn’t confirm, but finally we got a call that said the president of AUPA could meet with us, if we came right now, so at 5:30 in the gathering darkness, we jumped into the mini-cabs and headed for the AUPA headquarters, a building not far from the center of Arequipa.

 The headquarters was a sturdy two-story affair with signs on the 2nd floor about computer classes.  It turned out that AUPA owned the building and rented out space to several tenants in order to hold on to the property.

 We met the newly elected president only ten months into his two-year term, Leondro Castaneda Pena, a man in his late 30’s or early 40’s, worked as a guitar maker during the day and ran a mass movement every other hour it seemed.

 AUPA, as he described it, was an a voluntary organization composed of affiliated neighborhood groups in 500 pueblos jovenos throughout Arequipa, which composed about 70% of the population of the city.  There was no paid staff.  Decisions were made at weekly delegate meetings every Wednesday night at 8:00 PM which were attended by between 100 and 300 delegates per week.  At these meetings the direction and actions of the organization were hashed out, representations and presentations from other organizations are made, and the program was communicated out to the troops.  They used to have dues at a minimal level, but during the economic crises had been forced to suspend the dues program, so they were now working on the thinnest margin.

 Drummond Pike of the Tides Foundation asked Leo if they ran social services through the organization.  The answer was classic and on target.  He said that they stuck to what they knew how to do – push and protest for change from government and other entities and institutions.  This was ACORN old school all the way.  I asked Leo where AUPA got its power, and in an equally telling fashion, he answered that their ability to put up to 60000 of their members on the street and to act independently was critical.

 AUPA was also non-partisan and this is indeed a rarity in the politicized nature of Peruvian politics.  In fact Leo shared with us that the efforts, particularly by some of his newly elected board to get the organization to ally with APRI, long the largest party in Peru, had led to bitter conflict and the forced resignation of several of the board who had tried to pursue this policy.  AUPA had been building this grassroots organization for almost 45 years it seemed and had been able to survive intact even through the Fujimori years. 

 He confirmed that he also knew of no other organization in Peru like AUPA, which had also been our experience in Lima, where we had found organizations in some of the pueblos jovenos but nothing that pulled everything together.  Leo said there was currently an effort to build something similar in Cusco, and he was going down there to a meeting soon to help them along, but that it had also been tried before and failed, so one could only hope that this effort would find success.

 We understood now more fully why the privatization of electricity could have been blocked with AUPA members piling into the plaza day after day in such numbers and why in fact the privatization of water could also be difficult with this alliance in place.  FENTAP’s affiliate in Arequipa has some 300 members out of more than 600 permanent employees who work for the water system.  Alone they would not have stood a chance, really.  FOTA made a difference but its capacity was also limited, no matter it’s enthusiasm in backing one of its federation in a fight for survival.  AUPA was the missing heart of the equation in Arequipa.  Like ACORN, a rare flower growing in this desert that needs to spread everywhere.

 There had been a crowd of people leaving Leo’s office when we first came in and now there was a larger and growing crowd of 50 or more, sitting and standing about in the waiting area and front of the building.  It was pushing 7 PM now, and there was a delegate assembly that night in an hour, so we had to settle with the happiness of having found AUPA.  Leo had more important business to do and many people to see and much to hear and do before the weekly assembly.  AUPA had to keep moving and get the job done.  I took a look in their large, downstairs meeting hall with its rough benches and quickly counted the capacity.   AUPA was something very real and very special.  We wished Leo luck and went back into night.

Wade Rathke, Leo Castenda Pena, the president of AUPA, and Drummond Pike, President, Tides Foundation in San Francisco, in the AUPA offices beneath of picture of some of their heroes.

A week in Toronto

Toronto: The Community Leadership Centre ( reassembled our organizer trainees in Toronto to have them debrief from their first dozen weeks in the field and do some intensive training on campaign mechanics before their second stint of field assignments.  We were a smaller, but hardier crew as we pulled into Victoria College on the University of Toronto campus for these sessions.  Two of our number had not survived the community placement, so the three that remained were more confident for the experience and new conviction in their own skills and discipline.  If it were easy, it would not be organizing. 

 We had an excellent three days because we benefited hugely from colleagues in the Toronto area sharing their experiences with various campaigns.

 We started the sessions with Keith Stewart, Smog & Climate Control Campaign Coordinator for the Toronto Environmental Alliance (  Keith had been referred by John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Labor Council, who called him the “best campaigner” in the area.  This reputation sprang from a long fight to prevent the privatization of the electric utility capacity under the Harris government, and Keith detailed the fight and the larger alliance constructed with CUPE Local 1 and others with both insight and humor.   We asked at one point what climate control was?  Was this global warming or something?  Yes, in fact that turned out to be exactly the case, but he related the fact that in Canada they had to change the message.  If he were talking to Canadians about global warming, most of them pretty readily said, “right on!” and felt it was a great idea.  Climate control quickly became the euphemism so they could get any support for their message!

 It was like that throughout the week. 

 Mike Fraser, Director of UFCW – Canada ( ), spent several hours with us catching us up in great detail with the organizing efforts throughout the country on five or six different Wal-Mart stores over the last 12 months.  There was great commitment to a strategy of seeking to win certification in one of the provinces on a Wal-Mart store, which is certainly a goal that has eluded the labor movement in the States and elsewhere.  Brother Fraser also surprised us with the stories of the UFCW’s campaign to organize agricultural workers and migrant workers in Ontario, who have been denied the right to unionization since the Harris government as well.  The UFCW runs three farm worker centers in Ontario and two in Quebec to support this organizing, and has assumed the mantel that one would have presumed the UFW would have had.

 John Young, the Executive Director of ACORN-Canada ( reprised his experience directing the British Columbia Public Power Campaign with the OPEIU to prevent the privatization of that utility system.  Later in the week Jon Kest, Head Organizer of New York ACORN ( , shared analysis and results of affordable housing and housing development efforts in New York City over the last twenty years, and how that might compare to similar issues and campaigns in Vancouver and Toronto and lessons that were learned. 

 Cliff Andstein, Executive Assistant to President Ken Georgetti, Canadian Labour Congress (, opened everyone’s eyes when he discussed the shear volume and variety of the campaigns nationally that the CLC administered.  Clarity of objectives was Brother Andstein’s message over and over as he marched us through a number of campaigns, particularly the long twenty year struggles to prevent privatization of the liquor stores in British Columbia and Ontario. 

 Karen Dick of TOFFE, the Toronto Organization for Fair Employment (, in a similar way was able to weave together the long struggles their organization had waged to get back pay for workers in the area against big name companies like Rogers Communications and others.  We were disappointed to be missing a Bad Boss Tour that TOFFE was leading within days to a half-dozen sites of big name employers who were literally ripping off largely immigrant work forces in the GTA for thousands of dollars in back pay.  We all felt we were completely on the inside track when we read an op-ed in the Toronto Star by one of TOFFE’s staff during the week indicating that back pay was owed to 60000 workers in Ontario.

 Tim Dramin, Executive Director of Tides Canada (, was gracious enough to confront the issue of resources for organizing campaigns head on without pulling any punches and walk the organizers step by step across the difficult minefields of external fundraising in Canada to be able to build the future campaigns that would fall on their shoulders.  It was disappointing to hear how challenging foundations would be, and encouraging that unions and churches might be sources.  The hard work on resources was undeniable though, but clearer thanks to Tim’s advice.

 It was jam packed.  The organizers spent time looking at the elements of campaigns, trying to imagine tactics that fit strategy, and taking sides as they read Thucydides on the hard bargaining between the Melians and the Athenians.   Having sharpened their skills and shored up their knowledge, one organizer went to assignment with the UFCW-Canada and within days would be on a blitz in Toronto on a Wal-Mart and then on to support a drive for 1200 workers in Brooks, Alberta across the country.  Another would head back to British Columbia to work with Check Your Head ( on a project called “Get Your Vote On!” to come up with a strategy and implementation program on registering younger voters.  Another would go back to SEIU 2028 in San Diego and at the end of community drive training begin work on support a drive to organize 5000 home childcare workers in San Diego County. 

 They all faced the future with a mixture of fear, determination, confidence, and curiosity as they took yet another step in the journey that will decide their future as organizers.

Keith Stewart of TEA discussing campaigns against electric privatization while Daniel Sorenson, a Centre organizer listens