COPS
Philosophy 1301 w/ Colby Glass

(Return to background)

Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS)

"Ed Chambers, the organizer who took over as executive director of IAF in 1971... "The man kept us in touch with reality and with our anger. He insisted that our people, pastors included, should be training in organizing skills. He demanded that we research every project or issue to be addressed. And he made us practice ahead of time for every important meeting or action"" (86).

"Chambers pointed the IAF organizing network in new directions. The changes were given depth through an organizing effort called Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), which proved dramatically successful in the sprawling, impoverished Mexican barrios of San Antonio" (87).

"..town where the majority population had been excluded from political and economic power for more than one hundred years" (88).

"When Father Edmundo Rodriguez, a priest in San Antonio, asked for help from the IAF in putting together a local community group, [Enrico] Cortes returned in 1973. He brought with him the IAF emphasis on detailed attention to community concerns--before doing anything else, Cortes conducted hundreds of interviews in his first months to get a mapping of local issues. It turned out that the chief concerns were concrete problems close to home like substandard housing and the drainage system that overflowed each time it rained--not the more visible issues like racial discrimination and police brutality which Chicano militants had sought to organize around" (88-9).

Leadership in COPS shifted as they began using women "who had worked behind the scenes to keep school PTAs going, run day-to-day activities of churches, and the like" (90).

"For COPS leaders like [Janie] Gonzalez, the fusion of particular issues with values and faith [of the Catholic Church] created a potent alchemy... "..we'd talk about the pressures on families nowadays: unemployment, drugs, the media, peer pressure, alcoholism. And we'd talk about how the church should be responding." COPS provided a new vehicle for ACTING on strongly held convictions that had had no outlet" (90).

COPS "forced the city to act on drainage problems, dirt roads, and schools, and soundly beat a "Proposition 13" tax limitation initiative with a massive door-to-door campaign in 1987. Its network of affiliated Texas organizations passed landmark statewide legislation around issues of school district financing, health care, and farm safety in the mid-eighties" (90-91).

""Fundamentally, I think COPS is about METANOIA," explained Cortes, using the Greek term meaning transformation from one state of being to another. He argued that groups like COPS provided participants with "an opportunity to develop themselves as people. For a lot of them, it means getting in touch with themselves, their anger, their job, their own sense of who they are... "" (91).

""No organizer comes in from the outside and organizes," said Cortes. "All you can do in any situation is to identify those leaders who want to organize... They had already the relationships for years and years, mostly built around the churches"" (91).

"The IAF "iron rule of organizing" now is "Never do anything for people that they can do for themselves." Indeed, IAF's "iron rule," with its insistence on self-reliance and independence as a condition for self- respect, shows intriguing parallels with the step-by-step assumption of personal responsibility one finds in self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al Anon..." (92).

"In IAF, public life is seen more as a particular kind of craft, an artful way of acting in a specific setting. With such an understanding, personal vulnerability is diminished by learning the political art. And people's experience of "transformation" comes most directly from public roles, connected to feelings of power which result from lessening dependence on experts, professionals, and even organizers themselves" (92).

(Note from Colby... This is a good explanation of one result of INFO 1370.)

The following is from the IAF/COPS document, Organizing for Family and Congregation. (Huntington, NY: IAF, 1978), pp. 3, 2, 13...

If we follow where our dollars go, we will find the institutions that shape our daily lives... Our dollars end up in banks and savings and loans, in insurance companies, in oil companies, in utilities, and in the hands of major manufacturers, real estate developers, retailers, and organized criminals... They buy the second level, the politicians, lawyers, the advertisers, the media... and other professionals [who] provide the rationale and jargon to perpetuate the top power institutions and screen them from the public.

The result is a crisis in our country because "the intermediate voluntary institutions--including churches--are ineffectual in a power relationship with the powerful" (93).

The resulting value war will be fought over the "fundamental question: who will parent our children? ..How will they be taught and trained and nurtured? Will this parenting take place in a strictly secular setting where the system is said to be the solution, or time is money, or profit is the sole standard of judgment? Or will the true teachers and prophets--parents and grandparents, pastors and rabbis and lay leaders-- win this war and continue to convey the best values of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition?" (94).

(link here to homeschooling)

"In Texas, the original COPS organization had led to a network which included groups like Valley Interfaith in the Rio Grande, EPISO in El Paso, Austin Interfaith, the Metropolitan Organization in Houston, and others" (94).


Repairing the Commons

"..the prophetic role African Americans have regularly played in calling the country back to unrealized democratic promises" (102).

"For the more democratic activists in the American Revolution, widespread public schooling was seen as the indispensable bulwark against tyranny. "Where learning is confined to a few people, we always find monarchy, aristocracy, and slavery," wrote Benjamin Rush, a founding figure in American education, in 1786" (102).

In the nineteenth century, schools were primarily for "training in the skills and attitudes ween as desirable. Thus schools became objects of sharp struggle over control, and urban elites most often emerged victorious from the fray. The result was that schools, in the main, sought to inculcate middle-class values of discipline, control, and deference to authority that would be useful in producing a tractable work force and citizenry" (103).

"The educator Horace Mann argued "that education functioned as a "balance wheel" protecting the existing order" (93).

In addition, "measures like centralized administration, graded schools, and formal teacher training.. represented a significant expansion of state power over the lives of individuals and the values of communities" (93).

"As industrialization reshaped the nation, schools came increasingly to be understood as the handmaiden of the emerging corporations. U.S. Commissioner of Education William Harris put it briskly at the turn of the century in his argument that graded schools represented the instrument for "training in the social habits... regularity, punctuality, orderly concerted action and self-restraint" (104).

"Finally, there was pressure for schools themselves increasingly to RESEMBLE factories in the emerging industrial, urban order. Teachers functioned as "line workers," whose work process was tightly regimented and divided into relatively narrow tasks. Students became the "product," stamped with the mark of homogenized and routinized learning of a given body of "facts"" (105).

By the 1970s public schools began to resemble "prisons, where poor and black populations were consigned to dramatically inferior education.." (105-6).

"By the early 1980, such accumulating problems resulted in a widespread sense of crisis, captured in the 1983 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation At Risk... [It] reflected the views of.. Ronald Reagan. It proposed.. further centralization of power in school systems: new focus on discipline... central core curriculum and standardized testing. Its approach came to be known as the "Accountability Movement"" (106).

"... Graf [was the] lead organizer at San Antonio COPS after Cortes.. " (115).

"Arnie Graf, white, Jewish, soft-spoken... In 1976, he followed Ernie Cortes as the lead organizer of COPS in San Antonio. Graf's own work to encourage community leaders' exploration of their Mexican and religious cultural traditions contributed considerably to the developing IAF approach" (116).

Reverend Grady Yeargin: "One day it will be said that in the city of Baltimore in the last quarter of the twentieth century, strange and unusual things began to happen. Well-known somebodies with something from someplace began to meet with little-known nobodies from noplace. The upper crust began to meet with the middle crust and with those who have no crust at all. It was a peculiar people. A strange and unusual coalition that negotiated and fought and worked together" (114).

BUILD=Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.


The Larger Lessons

"The tradition of practical political theory portrayed by writers like Machiavelli, Tocqueville, and, in our day, Arendt conveys this turbulent, diverse, variegated understanding of the public as an arena with its own specific dynamics, distinct from those of personal life" (133).

(see In Defense of Politics, by Bernard Crick... it "is a favority of IAF staff")

"..the dominant view of power as inexorably controlling and one-directional in its operation is as wrong as it is widespread today... Groups of people in society are never simply "powerless": there are always resources, stratagems, and social and cultural maneuvers available... " (135).

"There is "habit," the unthinking acquiescence in "the way things are" that comes from privatist withdrawal from public affairs... they argue that habit often produces the greatest injustices" (136).

"The IAF trainers contrast these sorts of one-directional power with the sort of reconstructed power dynamic they see as their aim, based on "informed consent" and "relational" operations" (136).

The "free spaces" of daily life like the church, club, and family against the force of the modern age--conservatives have argued that communal institutions are the bulwark of liberty against large institutions, preeminently government" (139).

"The black church, for instance, historically has played this role as an occasion for free space" (140).


Commonwealth in the Information Age

"Myths tell a story of how a people "came to be." In populist movements and prophetic utterance, they also take on a utopian dimension, drawing on the reservoir of common cultural symbols and images in the service of a "critique of the present." They challenge the present in the name of certain fundamental themes and values which, it is argued, are being violated. They also point toward an alternative future" (144).

"No democratic initiative.. continues forever--and the problem with powerful citizen initiatives like Pettus's in recent decades has been the absence of ways to reflect self-consciously upon their lessons" (147).

"IAF's greatest contribution may ultimately prove to be the constant process of self-reflection and evaluation of its efforts which takes place throughout its network... it generates a sustained process of collective memory and learning.." (147).

"...it is possible to generalize several basic principles. Specifically, the themes of these renewals in the commonwealth tradition highlight the ways citizens are reenfranchised through a process of education for public life that teaches new and more communal ways of looking at information about issues, that conveys a series of skills specific to a dynamic public arena, and that reembeds the objects of struggle and action once again in culture and a sense of human agency. The three vital components of such citizen education might be called information, knowledge, and wisdom" (147-8).

INFORMATION --"... there is no such thing as strictly "neutral" information:


Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

Return to Philosophy Homepage