Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Power Politics

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Project MUSE - Cold Anger

We can see this crisis as an opportunity to do some strategic planning or thinking and ask some fundamental questions about the nature of the real crisis. Then, Cortes becomes more deliberate. The freight train returns to the fast track of his destination. Politics, not in the electoral sense, not in the sense of electing men and women to public office, not the kind of politics that we have in this country which is not really politics. Every four years we have an electronic plebiscite, which does not have anything at all to do with politics.

The audience is rapt.

Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Power Politics

Cortes continues, his tone more serious, his voice dropping in range. Aristotle talks about politics as public discourse which enables and ennobles a spirit because it allows you to cross the boundary between public and private and move beyond self-centeredness into relationship with other people and engage them and bargain with them, fight and ultimately compromise with them.

That's politics. What we have every four years are these plebiscites which are about media, ad men, marketing techniques, pollsters. So we've totally trivialized our politics, made them superficial and somewhat distorted and deformed. As a result, people are in revolt against politics. They think all politicians are phonies. They think of all politicians as lacking in substance. They see politicians as being self-centered and egotistical. And unfortunately, in eight out of 10 cases they're right.

Real politics offers an opportunity to engage people at the core of their values, their vision, their imagination. It begins to offer them some possibilities for change, for transformation of self and of community by beginning to deal with some fundamental issues which affect families. No organizer ever organizes a community. What an organizer does is identify, test out, and develop leadership. And the leadership builds the relationships and the networks and following that does the organizing. What I do, if I'm smart, is try to find out what's your interest. What are your dreams? I try to kindle your imagination, stir the possibilities, and then propose some ways in which you can act on those dreams and act on those values and act on your own visions.

You've got to be the owner. Otherwise, it's my cause, my organization.

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You've got nothing! Five hundred miles south of Dallas is La Meza, Texas. A desolate little stop on a back road, La Meza is a Rio Grande Valley colonia, a neighborhood of 65 Hispanic families, perhaps people in all. It is just outside of Mercedes, which has a population of 12, in the county of Hidalgo at the southern tip of Texas where the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Here, the world seems to dwindle.

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Even the low, wide horizon, the orange groves, and the patchwork fields of onions, cabbage, or carrots cannot stop the feeling that you are in a land that shrinks its people, forcing them inward, isolating them from their nearest neighbors, from the rest of America, and perhaps even from themselves. La Meza is directly across the road from the Sunrise Hill Park, a public park with picnic tables, playground equipment, and a sweeping sprinkler system to keep the grass a bright winter green.

But unlike the park, La Meza's people, mostly migrant farmworkers, have no green grass. They have no water. Or sewers. Or paved streets. To drink, they must take a water jug to the Sunset Drive-In Grocery where the paved road by the park begins. At the grocery store, they pay the owner 25 cents to use an ordinary outdoor spigot to fill their water jugs. To wash their clothes or dishes or faces, they cannot afford the tap water and so they fill their barrels from pools of water in the irrigation drainage ditches that hold the runoff from nearby vegetable fields.

The ditches are full of pesticides and herbicides, and the people of La Meza know that water in the ditches is bad for them, but what else can they do? Water is water. And, sometimes, life itself. Young couples with sniffling children are waiting. One woman holds a little girl of about 2 whose left eye is encrusted with a blackened tumor the size of a lemon.

Several older men and women are in the crowd, the men in work clothes standing back and a little apart from the group, their wrinkles and calluses granting them rights to a certain skepticism that they wear on their faces like translucent masks. A boy of 6 holds a small sign, its message hand-lettered in red paint: "Help us Ann Richards. We need water to drink. On this warm day in February, Texas Treasurer Ann Richards and a small group of state officials come to La Meza on a "fact-finding" mission.

Richards, the witty and attractive grandmother who had made her mark both in Texas and nationally, had been invited to tour the colonias by Valley Interfaith, a coalition of 40 Rio Grande Valley churches representing about 55, people who were waging a campaign to call national attention to the plight of people in the colonias.

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Perhaps Richards' ties to the financial networks in Texas and New York could help. But first, she wanted the facts. Statistically, the four counties of the Rio Grande Valley contain the poorest people in the United States—the highest unemployment and the lowest per capita income in the nation. Almost , people live in the Valley colonias, the plus unincorporated rural communities unique to the mile Texas-Mexican border. Colonia is a Spanish word for neighborhood, and along the Texas border, the colonias have come to signify a particular kind of rural slum with conditions more akin to Nicaragua or Honduras than the United States of America.

More facts: open sewer ditches, unpaved streets, no running water, and in some cases, no electricity. Clapboard houses often have dirt floors and wall-to-wall beds for growing families. Children have chronic dysentery, skin rashes, lice, and hepatitis; dark yellow stains mark their teeth from the chemical-laden drinking water. The Valley has the highest incidence of parasitic intestinal diseases outside of the Third World. Shallow water wells are frequently polluted by overflowing septic tanks. After heavy rains, people in the colonias literally drink their own sewage. It is a public health nightmare.

But because fly-by-night developers established these unregulated subdivisions in rural areas outside of any Texas governmental jurisdiction, the water and sewer problems are suspended in a bureaucratic swamp that most politicians hesitate to enter.


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Bocanegra, 60ish, small, and serious in her turquoise cotton pants suit, calls the group together, makes polite introductions, and tells the state officials about the problems of La Meza. She has the facts they want. There is a water main along the county road a few hundred yards from the homes of La Meza. She has the figures they need. She has questions. The church was joining with Valley Interfaith in this quest for water and good sense.

A powerful endorsement. Bocanegra and the residents of La Meza the tools to act. Tools that allow Mrs. Bocanegra to confront the officials before her. She does not shrink from the encounter. In fact, Mrs. Bocanegra seems to expand as she speaks. Her voice gains strength. The E-mail Address es field is required. Please enter recipient e-mail address es. The E-mail Address es you entered is are not in a valid format. Please re-enter recipient e-mail address es. You may send this item to up to five recipients.

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