Tag Archives: Casa de Maryland


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.


Immigration Arrests: A Sign of Tactical Shift or Desperation

o-IMMIGRATION-ACTIVISTS-ARRESTED-facebookLittle Rock  More than forty representatives of unions, community groups, and pro-immigration reform advocates were arrested for civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. for street blocking in traffic.   Those arrested included major advocates like Gustavo Torres of Casa de Maryland and Petra Falcon of Arizona, as well as leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, UFW, CWA, Center for Community Change, US Action, and others in the immigration reform coalition.  After more than four years where the dominant strategy has been “inside the beltway” pressure on Congress for immigration reform, is a move to civil disobedience a sign of a significant tactical and even strategic shift or an expression of desperation with the stalling and stalemate in the House of Representatives?

            The one thing that can be clear is that symbolic civil disobedience along these lines might be intended to put pressure on the White House, but would not put any pressure on the far right wing of the House, which is where the problem seems stuck.  Furthermore, because this was a “leadership” tactic in DC, it also probably does not signal a fundamental shift in strategy or tactics by reform advocates.  There still seems to be a consensus to accept something even gnarlier in a bill that might emerge from the House after the summer recess, and hope for the best in a conference between the Senate and House.

            But, maybe it is time for such a shift?   Over the last several years the most significant victory for reform advocates has been by the DREAMers and was absolutely accomplished by brave tactics by victims of terrible governmental policy willing to risk deportation in order to win a future.  The strength of the DREAMers’ tactics and strategies also were locally-based in communities and states around the country, rather than in Washington.  This was not an advocacy play, but a legitimate movement by participants, and it moved the needle from the White House to Congress.  A similar shift in the immigration effort from reform in Congress to the tactics and strategy more typical of a civil and human rights movement might be enough to change the playing field and political calculus sufficiently to finally open up space for more legitimate political change, rather than this climate of “negotiating with ourselves” for whatever might be available.

            At one level these arrests were simply a rock thrown at the window of Congress as they broke for summer recess, hoping Speaker Boehner, Congressman Paul Ryan, and other so-called leaders over there would get the message that advocates are united.  Unfortunately, they think they already have a louder message from their backbenchers, and until there is more movement in the streets and workplaces around the country from the twelve million who need reform most desperately, we all have to fear that we are not likely to win what we need this round or this way.