This has been a momentous year for the 99 percent in the Rio Grande Valley. From colonia residents finally winning relief for damages caused by Hurricane Dolly to fighting off anti-immigrant legislation, the organizing efforts led by working people have paid off big.
These victories have come largely as a result of people and organizations of different sectors joining together. While we might not always agree on everything, when we join forces to work for the things we do agree on, we are stronger for it. “Juntos pero no revueltos,” as leader Ramona Casas, of colonia organization ARISE says. That doesn’t mean we are mixed up or uniform. We have our differences and, used the right way, they make us stronger.
These victories are not in any specific order.
1. Colonia residents win streetlights for 10 Hidalgo County colonias. La Union del Pueblo Entero and ARISE
The vast majority of the Rio Grande Valley’s unincorporated neighborhoods are left in the dark nightly. This is beginning to change as colonia residents organize for safer, healthier communities, demanding streetlights be installed by their Hidalgo County Precinct officials. Thanks to these efforts, 10 colonias will see streetlights installed next year.
2. $14 million for drainage projects in Hidalgo County colonias. Equal Voice Network, Texas Low Income Housing and Texas Apple Seed
Hidalgo County Commissioners agreed to devote at least $14 million of Hurricane Dolly Disaster Recovery funds to colonias last month. The victory came as a result of the work of ARISE, LUPE, TOP, Proyecto Azteca and the rest of the Equal Voice Network’s housing and drainage team, who have organized with colonia residents whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Dolly. Colonia residents’ demand that disaster recovery funds go to colonias was backed by Texas Low Income Housing and Texas Apple Seed, who insisted that funding colonias was an absolute requirement for use of the federal funds.
3. RGV residents help fight off over 100 anti-immigrant bills in the 2011 Texas Legislative Session. RITA, Houston Unido, Equal Voice Network and many, many more
Texas joined a short but prestigious list of states able to fight off Arizona-style, fascist legislation targeting Latino and immigrant communities proposed in this year’s legislative session. In Texas, the victory was brought about by a multi-sector approach, with immigrant communities leading the charge and inviting law inforcment officials, small business owners, educators and more to join their oppositional voices. Immigrant-led organizations, including the statewide Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, Houston Unido, and the Equal Voice Network’s Immigration Working Groups ensured that the fight remained immigrant-led throughout.
4. Low income residents win $122 million to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Dolly. Equal Voice Network
Thanks to an organized effort from colonia residents, along with LUPE and the Equal Voice Network, colonia residents from across the Rio Grande Valley will receive assistance for housing damage repair caused by hurricane Dolly in 2008. The federal government disaster recovery program is distributing $122 million to help residents. The EVN won the prioritizing of the lowest income families when those funds are distributed.
5. Wage theft bill passed in Texas Legislature as wage theft clinics spread in RGV. Build a Better Texas Campaign and Fuerza del Valle
Thanks to a coordinated statewide effort, workers suffering from wage theft won additional muscle to reclaim their unpaid wages. The Build a Better Texas Campaign, led by Workers Defense Project, won the passage of legislation that closes a loophole in wage theft cases, whereby bosses could avoid paying the full amount of owed wages by making a partial payment.
Meanwhile, the RGV’s new workers center Fuerza del Valle expanded their fight against wage theft, training workers in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties to fight their wage theft cases, in some cases even representing themselves against their bosses in small claims court. Recently, two workers from Tortilleria Monterrey in Brownsville won $3600 in unpaid overtime thanks to organizing and a lawsuit by Fuerza del Valle.
6. Occupy McAllen inspires new activism, OWS broadens political discourse on economic and social inequality. Occupy McAllen and Occupy Wall Street
Inspired by Wall Street occupiers, RGV residents began Occupy McAllen to protest rising economic inequality, endemic corruption and systemic poverty in local, national and international politics. The protests have inspired a new wave of activism and organizing, refocusing the dialog on the structural causes of inequality, including the role of money in politics, the inherently flawed monetary system, and market-based economics. Keep up with the group on the Occupy McAllen facebook page.
7. Immigrant rights advocates granted $50,000 for border enforcement abuse documentation system. Equal Voice Network and ACLU of Texas
The Four Freedoms Fund has awarded the Immigration Working Group of the Equal Voice Network a grant of $50,000 to support the working group’s activities to counter border enforcement abuses, as well as seek enforcement administrative and policy reforms. The Abuse Documentation Project is a border-wide effort to systematically record and analyze abuses suffered at the hands of the Border Patrol and Immigration officials, and support organizing efforts aimed at changing border enforcement policy.
8. SPI bans plastic bags at point of sale.
South Padre Island City Council unanimously voted yes on a proposed plastic bag ban making South Padre Island the second city in Texas to pass such an ordinance. The ordinance prohibits the point of sale distribution of non-compostable plastic bags and allows for the use of reusable bags, recyclable paper bags that are not made from old growth trees and are composed of at least 40% post consumer recycled content and compostable plastic bags.
9. Move to block the for-profit takeover of Weslaco’s Knapp Medical Center
The city of Weslaco has thrown it’s hat into the ring to stop the sale of Knapp Medical Center to corporate medical care interests. While not quite a victory (at least not yet), the fact that the city of Weslaco is standing up against privatization of the Knapp Medical Center is remarkable in RGV politics, where the interests of corporations and compadres usually trump those of residents. Let’s hope this the beginning of an ultimately successful battle to save the hospital from falling under control of the predatory private medical care industry.
10. Workers standing up for their rights and the community. National Nurses United, Postal Workers Union, Weslaco Fire Fighters Union, and Teachers Unions
Again, not exactly a victory but certainly a reason for celebration, local organized labor has begun to raise its long stifled voice this year after facing a number of attacks. Postal workers stood up against the closing of the McAllen Post Office, making sure a major city like McAllen maintains its centrality for mail for the Valley. Nurses in Weslaco began to fight to keep the Knapp Medical Center as a community health center. Meanwhile in McAllen, nurses organizing with National Nurses United have raised their voices against under-staffing at Rio Grande Regional. Fire fighters stood up against the City of Weslaco for community safe issues, protesting the underfunding of their department. The cuts resulted in a 30% decrease in personnel, as well as a decrease in public safety resulting from inadequate coverage. Teachers raised their voices for quality public education and against privatization & corporate profits in the face of major state funding cuts. We hope workers will continue to raise their voices in the new year.
We look forward to many more victories in the new year.
Compiled by Occupy McAllen. Thanks to John-Michael Torres, Erik Carlos Torren, Sopphy Vance, Rahul Varshney, Jose Chapa, Rigoberto Muñoz, Hector Guzman, and Michael Seifert for input.