Miami Here and there I had run into Gibran Perera, the director of the Miami Workers’ Center, and had heard of the operation over the years. He spoke at the Tides’ Foundation Momentum conference several years ago on the “right to the city” which held interest. Looking for a way to give ACORN Canada organizers a chance to get a glimpse at organizing in Miami during their Year End-Year Begin staff meeting held at Sunny Isles, I reached out for Perera and his associate, Quanita Toffie, who I had known as a close friend of my daughter’s for several years, to see if we could visit.
The Center itself is near ground zero in Liberty City, the historic center of the African-American community in Miami, and along with Overton Park the epicenter of the riots that broke out almost 30 years ago around police involvement in a murder of one of the young men in the area. The area right around the center was ghetto-rugged with abandoned store fronts, the worn signs in front of the old 60’s era Community Action Agency from the long abandoned “War on Poverty,” and the usual slow moving, barely surviving mom & pop stores speckled here and there. Hashim Benford, the deputy director mentioned early in his briefing that one could arguably say not much had changed since the riot. There had been promises, including large scale economic development, more housing, and business opportunities, but in fact most of this had been empty promises. In fact one ill conceived plan was going to level the area where the center was housed, but now had was in longer discussions and planning.
The Center offered some minimal services like a small meeting room and a coming computer center, but mostly this was a beehive for campaign-based advocacy in and around the core of the African-American community. More recently they had spent the last year helping found Florida New Majority in 2009 to increase civic engagement dramatically. Using targeted canvass programs in several urban areas around the state more than 15,000 had joined through that program and participated in civic activities leading to the mid-terms, thereby filling a vacuum in Florida, as Hashim mentioned, created by the dissolution of ACORN in the state. The activist core membership of around 150 dedicated people shouldering much of the work of the MWC would be interesting for the work being done in the rearguard of public housing destruction and effective advocacy for black communities in Miami, but the decision and investment in Florida New Majority makes the work much more interesting and significant for these communities and the state.
The ACORN Canada crew enjoyed the exchange, I finally felt like I had a better grasp for the outfit, and we all felt it was exciting to watch what might come out of this work in Miami in coming years by our new friends.