I received a note from Fred Ross, Jr. and Mike Miller seeking support for this campaign to recognize, posthumously, Fred Ross, Senior, one of the great organizers for lower income families of all races and ethnicity, for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Over the years while I was at ACORN whenever I was asked if I was an Alinksy-organizer, I would often reply, “No, I was a Ross-organizer!” Fred Ross’s commitment to house meetings was instrumental in the role “organizing committees” played in the ACORN Model.
Below you will find the letters that Fred and Mike have helped distribute that have been signed by several Congresspeople and sent to the White House. Hopefully, you will join us in adding your name in support of this call for recognition for those who work in the vineyards of the freedom fight.
As President Barack Obama considers candidates for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I write to you today to join me in a letter that urges the President to award posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the legendary organizer, Fred Ross, Sr.
Since 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Fred Ross Sr.’s enduring legacy an organizer who built collective action, citizenship engagement, and leadership development has never been more relevant or important to our democracy.
Last year, when Dolores Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom she recognized Fred Ross Sr. as the organizer who mentored both her and Cesar Chavez. Cesar once described his relationship with Fred Ross by saying “I learned quite a bit by studying Gandhi, but the first practical steps I learned from the best organizer I know, Fred Ross Sr….he changed my life. “For nearly half a century, Fred educated, agitated and inspired people of all races and backgrounds to overcome fear, despair and cynicism. He was a pioneer who fought for racial and economic justice.
To join this letter, please contact Christina Partida (Grijalva) at Christina.Partida@mail.house.gov.
Raúl M. Grijalva George Miller Lucille Roybal-Allard
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
Dear President Obama,
We, the undersigned, are writing to ask you to award posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the legendary organizer, Fred Ross, Sr.
Last year, when Dolores Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom she recognized Fred Ross Sr. as the organizer who mentored both her and Cesar Chavez. Cesar once described his relationship with Fred Ross by saying “I learned quite a bit by studying Gandhi, but the first practical steps I learned from the best organizer I know, Fred Ross Sr….he changed my life.”
For nearly half a century, Fred educated, agitated and inspired people of all races and backgrounds to overcome fear, despair and cynicism. He was a pioneer who fought for racial and economic justice.
In the thirties and early forties, he organized “Dust Bowl” refugees in the migratory worker camps that John Steinbeck wrote about, helping them form camp councils and self-governance. In the mid-forties, he worked with Japanese Americans during World War II. He organized community support to combat wartime hysteria and prejudice. He helped newly released “internees” find employment and housing in Cleveland and San Francisco.
After WWII, in the midst of KKK activity, he organized eight Civic Unity Leagues in California’s Citrus Belt, bringing Mexican Americans and African Americans together to battle segregation in schools, skating rinks and movie theatres. In Orange County he organized parents to fight the practice of segregation in local schools and successfully integrated School Boards across the Citrus Belt through voter registration drives and civic engagement. One of the most dramatic outcomes of his work in Orange County occurred when parents sued the School Districts and prevailed. (Mendez et al vs. Westminster School District, et al. 1947), creating the legal precedent for the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education decision.
In 1947 Saul Alinsky hired Ross to organize the Community Service Organization (CSO) in Los Angeles’ Eastside Barrio. In 1949 the CSO helped elect Ed Roybal, the first Hispanic ever elected to the Los Angeles City Council.
In the early 1950s, Ross met Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. He recruited them to become fulltime organizers with the CSO and became a lifetime mentor. Together with CSO leaders across California and Arizona, they successfully overcame voter suppression efforts and passed landmark legislation on behalf of immigrants. Ross recruited and trained many other Hispanic leaders, including Cruz Reynoso who was later appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice in California, and who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. Later he recruited and trained young farm worker, Eliseo Medina, who dedicated years to the UFW, became the Secretary Treasurer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and is a leading advocate for comprehensive immigration reform today.
In 1965, as part of the “War on Poverty,” Ross worked through Syracuse University and trained many of the organizers who went on to be leaders in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the deep south.
Perhaps, Fred Ross Sr. is most remembered for his work with America’s farm workers and their struggle for justice and dignity during the 1960s and 1970s. He trained close to 2,000 grape and lettuce boycott and strike organizers in every major city in the United States and Toronto, Canada. The powerful pressure that resulted from massive collective action led to the passage of the historic California Agricultural Labor Relations Act signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown in 1975.
In 1983 Fred Ross Sr. joined his son, Fred Ross Jr., and trained organizers to defeat the unfair Recall election of San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein who had been targeted because of her support for tough gun control regulation in the aftermath of the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Fred Ross Sr.’s house meeting method was instrumental in recruiting the hundreds of volunteers who turned out to defeat the Recall by an 80% margin.
In the mid-1980s, Fred Ross Sr. joined his son, Fred, to train yet another generation of organizers to challenge the Reagan foreign policy in Central America. He died in 1992 at the age of 82.
On the occasion of his 80th birthday, Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Fred Ross Senior left a legacy of good works that have given many the courage of their convictions, the powers of their ideals, and the strength to do heroic deeds on behalf of the common person.”
Jerry Cohen, former UFW General Counsel stated, “Fred fought more fights and trained more organizers and planted more seeds of righteous indignation against social injustice than anyone we’re ever likely to see again.”
That Fred remains an unsung hero, despite decades of unselfish work and achievements, is largely his own fault. Carey McWilliams may have put it best when he wrote: “(Fred) is a man of exasperating modesty, the kind that never steps forward to claim his fair share of credit for any enterprise in which he is involved.”
The late Los Angeles Times Associate Editor, Frank del Olmo, called Ross “one of a small cadre of underappreciated people who saw the potential in the Mexican American community long before anyone else did, literally generations before anyone else did, and helped nurture it and bring it along at a time when there was really no certainty that the potential they saw would ever come to fruition. I’m enough of an historian to believe that this kind of quiet heroism should not be forgotten.”
Fred Ross Sr.’s enduring legacy an organizer who built collective action, citizenship engagement, and leadership development has never been more relevant or important to our democracy.
In recognition of this unsung hero we urge you to confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously upon Fred Ross, Sr. This recognition would be a beacon of hope for living and future organizers committed to social justice.
Members of Congress
After eleven (11) years of fascinating visits and dialogues around the world, the Organizers’ Forum, its board, participants, and consistent institutional stakeholders are having a dialogue of their own about the next 10 years of programmatic dialogues around the world. The discussion is tilting towards two emerging themes that have been products of past dialogues becoming alternate offerings of the Organizers’ Forum.
One consistent focus has been to visit countries in transition to better understand both what is happening and the role of mass-based organizations, social movements, labor unions, community organizations, and non-profits in driving or adapting to these transitions. Along this line we were in Brazil on the eve of the seminal election sweeping Lula and the Workers’ Party into power, we visited South Africa 10 years after the end of apartheid, we were in Egypt last year within months of the revolution and overthrow of Mubarak, and most recently Bolivia to understand the role and relationship between social movements and Evo Morales, the country’s first president to have come from the ranks of the majority indigenous population and social movement participation with the Water Wars and the cocaleros. Similar points could be made about our explorations in Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Turkey, as we tried to understand democratic claims, the role of Islam, the participation of women, and the conflicts between state economies and political experience.
Another consistent theme in many of these same countries as well as in our Australian dialogue has been our attempts to better understand the role of migration and immigration and its impact on the country. A closely connected and related theme of these dialogues has often the treatment, tensions, and cultural conflicts in these countries and how they dealt with minorities, ethnic, and religious groups, whether Roma in Turkey, Karin refugees in Mae Sot on the Thai border, Coptic’s in Cairo, non-Muslims in Indonesia, and others. For example during this last dialogue, while in Cochabamba, one of the participants made a fascinating proposal for a future dialogue in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, for example, so that organizers working with immigrant communities in various areas of the North America might better understand the economic, cultural, and organizational roots of populations in their home areas. We like the idea but believe it will take significant commitment and organizational assistance from some of our partners to realize fully.
At this point as a placeholder we are looking at the following likely International Dialogue venues to try and combine these themes and interests, while allowing various proposals for the future to surface and season.
2013 International Dialogue: Burma from Sunday, September 29th through October 4th
The “opening” of Burma or Myanmar in the last year or so has been breathtaking and has included signs from the United States of relaxing restraints, the end of house arrest and then election to the Parliament of Nobel Prize winner and pro-democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other signs that the military rule has ended. What created this opening at this time? What were the role of struggles along the border, pressure from the opposition and the Buddhist monks and adherents? How will the economy be improved? How will relationships with the scores of ethnic and linguistic minorities be resolved? What will be the impact on the region? There are a lot of questions worth exploration as well as coming to understand once again how revolutionary change happens in real time and learn from it. Dates for the dialogue are scheduled for Sunday, September 29, through October 4th.
2014 International Dialogue: Nicaragua from Sunday, September 29 through October 3rd
Nicaragua is a country caught in contemporary contradictions. There is no question that there are mass organizations. Certainly in the first stage of the Sandinista Revolution in the 1980’s there were dramatic reports and scholarly works on the importance of community organizations in creating new forms of participation in society and government, particularly in lower income areas. Other social movements impacted women, labor, and ethnic minorities along the Coast. In the last battles of the Cold War, heavily supported by the Regan Administration in the United States, the contras were involved in a controversial shooting war an eventually Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas were pushed out. More recently there has been another chapter to this story. After a series of electoral defeats at the ballot box, the Sandinistas have returned to power and Ortega is now serving a second consecutive term, having been re-elected successfully. What happened here? Is there a democracy? Has there been real reform? Is this a case where a government is still moving progressively or is there now simply a consolidation of power behind the ruling party? What are the role of social movements, women, campesinos, community organizations, and unions now? Are they free and autonomous? Why is Nicaragua reportedly the poorest country in Latin America? We would to answer these and other questions from Sunday, September 28, through Friday, October 3rd.
In line with our other emphasis, the following chart contains a list of the 25 areas within the United States for example which have the highest totals of Nicaraguan immigrants. Many as you can see are in Florida, California, Louisiana, and Texas (source: Wikipedia).
US communities with largest population of people of Nicaraguan ancestry
The top 25 US communities with the highest populations of Nicaraguans (Source: Census 2010)
May 31, 2012
To: Friends of the Organizers’ Forum
Fr: Wade Rathke, Chair
Re: 2012 International Dialogue in Bolivia
An International Dialogue in Bolivia!
September 23, 2012 to September 28, 2012 – Sunday through Friday
Our fall 2011 International Dialogue in Cairo, Egypt couldn’t have been much more exciting and educational for everyone. We had a large delegation that came away with a life changing experience that was part exhilaration, exhaustion, and perhaps even depression. In other words, it was a typical Organizers’ Forum International Dialogue!
We debated going right back to the Middle East, but instead decided to let some of the dust settle there so that in future years we can more accurately assess the impact and legacy of the Arab Spring. Having not been to Latin America since our inaugural international dialogue in Brazil where we were able to watch the thrilling run up to Lula’s and the Workers’ Party historic victory, we decided its time to go south rather than east this year.
Bolivia is not only one of the poorer countries in South America but one of the more fascinating in recent years as it goes through historic changes of its own. The election of Evo Morales was a game changer in that country for the population in the same way that Obama’s was in the USA, and he and his allies have brought their own kinds of changes and controversies to government more attuned to indigenous concerns. More recently his nationalization of oil companies has attracted attention and the unique position they have carved out in the “drug wars” as coca farmers yet not cocaine exporters is something worth our delegation also trying to determine.
The trip is still in the planning stages, and we will post updates as soon as we have them. La Paz is our primary destination though there is possibility we may wander from the high altitude capital and take a closer look at the “water wars” that have been fought against water privatization throughout the country as well. Rest assured, this will be a great experience for community and labor organizers!
We plan to travel with approximately 10-15 participants, and we will strive to have a mix of both community and labor organizers/leaders from a variety of community organizations and unions. We look for participants to meet in La Paz, pay their own travel and visa costs in addition to a program fee. The Organizers Forum will pay for food, lodging, and ground transportation. We will do our best to get a sense of how the city and the country move as always.
If you are interested in applying to attend this dialogue, we invite you to apply by sending an email of interest to Wade Rathke firstname.lastname@example.org Organizers’ Forum. Please respond as early as possible, and certainly no later than August 1st because there are a limited number of spaces.