Date: June 7, 2021
Key Topics: Privatization of public utilities; organizing urban poor communities; integration of service, cultural work, policy advocacy and grassroots organizing.
Presenter: Cesar Ramirez, Executive Director, Observatorio Cuidadano de Servicios Públicos, Guayaquil, Ecuador.
In his study of the organizing tradition in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, historian Charles Payne wrote about organizing as “slow and respectful work.” He quoted legendary SNCC leader Bob Moses, who was once asked how he was able to build so many meaningful relationships with community members.
“By bouncing a ball,” he answered quietly.
“You stand on a street and bounce a ball. Soon all the children come around. You keep on bouncing the ball. Before long, it runs under someone’s porch and then you meet the adults.”
We thought of Bob Moses this week while listening to Cesar Cardenas Ramirez, the founder of a local grassroots organization in the Guasmo neighborhood of Guayacil, Ecuador called Movimiento Mi Cometa (the My Kite Movement). Cesar reminded us that developing local leaders happens with the authentic building of relationships. And, in fact, Mi Cometa originates with the most humble of beginnings: Cesar recounted the story of creating a space for neighborhood kids to build kites, and in the process, the youth would share with Cesar and other community workers about challenges they were having in their homes. This prompted Cesar to go meet their families and see how he could help. It began with finding ways to offer support one family at a time, “and then it was about potholes and fixing the roads. This we did with the community.
Eventually, this effort positioned us to hold a protest at the city council and we chained ourselves to light posts around the building.” The local government called in police. “They tear gassed us. They beat us with batons. And they jailed us. But as painful as this was, it allowed people to really understand that our problems in the Guasmo might not just be about the potholes. And our problems didn’t just pertain to our area. We started making connections with other, similar neighborhoods. We visited them, held gatherings and tried to figure out how to unite. And after we formed Mi Cometa, we set certain timelines on making things better for the community.”
One of those goals included how to finally get people access to clean drinking water. Our community kept asking the same questions other places like us were asking: Why don’t we have access to an adequate water supply? We did our research and learned about the privatization of water under the contract to Bechtel. This really broadened our goals.
The lesson Cesar was conveying is that as he and others began to offer support, they realized it made sense to build a permanent organization, which could address the most local of issues, but also offer people ways to plug into what was becoming a broader national resistance.