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Victory Stories

An Interview With Maria Gonzalez,
Worker Leader

Chicago Jobs With Justice, Chicago, IL

“In my three years working as a day laborer, packaging, assembly work, factories. I boxed clothing; I made candles. Sometimes I’d go to jobs where they didn’t give me any breaks during the day. I did all kinds of things.”

“One time, they told me I’d be paid $7/hour and I was only paid $4/hour. These are the things that motivated me to get involved with the Day Laborer Organizing Project.

I have a steady job now, but I still work with the project, helping gather day laborers to explain to aldermen and to Congresspeople exactly what we face. Politicians often don’t believe these things until they hear them straight from us. The project helps day laborers break down barriers as immigrants, to say, ‘Look, we have rights. We can defend ourselves. We can talk to other people and become leaders.”

Chicago Jobs With Justice, Chicago, IL

At the end of a long day’s work, day laborers in Chicago often receive paychecks as low as $18-20—far below minimum wage. The Day Laborer Organizing Committee (DLOC), a project of Jobs with Justice, found out that the missing wages were going into the pockets of the agencies that place day laborers. These agencies were charging for equipment, uniform rental and transportation—even for using the bathroom.

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To remedy this injustice, day laborers worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to draft a day labor bill banning transportation fees, mandating multilingual postings of workers’ rights, and establishing record keeping requirements to make it easier for workers to file complaints of discrimination or unpaid wages. As soon as the DLOC bill was introduced, Jobs with Justice mobilized local labor and community organizations to contact City Council members and the mayor to solicit their support. The mayor signed the bill into law last spring.

An Interview with Jearline Borders, Leader

Low Income Families Fighting Together, LIFFT (a project of Miami Workers’ Center), Miami, FL

"I’ve lived in the Liberty Square projects since 1954; this is where I raised six children. In early 2000, I kept seeing this meeting going on at the community building and I stopped off to find out what was going on."

"They were talking about tearing down the projects where I lived. HOPE VI was going to tear my home down and not give a guarantee for me and the other residents there to have any place to be. So I got involved to try to fight it.

We went from door to door in the Liberty Square projects, educating the people, recruiting people out of the project who wanted to struggle to save our home. We need more low-income housing, not a decrease. There’s enough people homeless already. You can’t just come into a community and interrupt it when people don’t have money to go anywhere."

Low Income Families Fighting Together, LIFFT, Miami, FL

Miami is the poorest city in America, with 32% of residents living in poverty and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Yet last year, county officials announced plans to demolish the 850-unit Liberty Square public housing complex and replace it with market-rate housing that would have reserved only 80 units for low-income residents. The county sought $35 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program to finance its plan.

Should government tear down public housing without providing an alternative?

When LIFFT members found out their home was on the chopping block, first they got mad. Then they got on the bus—50 residents in all—and drove to Washington, DC. They persuaded the head of HOPE VI to meet with them and to hear why they couldn’t afford to lose their homes. One month later, thanks to LIFFT’s tireless advocacy, HUD turned down Miami’s proposal. Liberty Square was safe. Now LIFFT members are developing their own plan to renovate the complex.


An Interview With
Andre Holder,
Youth Organizer

‘‘The first time I got locked up, I was 13 years old. It was a bad experience. I got locked up again five years later. I’m 20 years old and I’ve been working with Youth Force since I was released."

"About 40% of the people here at Youth Force have been locked up before, but that doesn’t say that you’re a bad person. If you did something in the past, we don’t hold it against you. This is how our society looks at people like me: ‘He’s not going to school. He’s never going to amount to anything when he gets older. We should just lock him up.’ Youth Force has been a great inspiration for me, letting young people come in and speak their mind. "


Last summer, during New York City’s historic budget deficit, City Hall proposed spending $64.6 million for 200 new jail beds to house youth offenders. The members of Youth Force thought this was a misguided idea. For one thing, youth crime in New York City had been dropping steadily since 1994. For another, most young people in detention are accused of minor infractions that could be better addressed through alternative programs. Moreover, Youth Force points out, minority youth face discrimination in the juvenile justice system; they are more likely than whites to be detained before trial and to receive harsher sentences.

Isn’t investing in alternatives to detention preferable to locking up more kids?

Youth Force formed the No More Youth Jails Coalition with other youth and justice organizations. They testified before the City Council, held rallies, and met with the Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. The Coalition won its campaign this year, when the city cut $55 million of the proposed funds. It is now working to redirect the remaining $11 million to youth services and alternatives to detention.




An Interview with Esavel Moreno, President of 2922 Sherman Avenue Tenants’ Association

Central American Resource Center (Carecen), Washington, DC

"About 40 people live in my apartment building, and we are in the process of trying to buy it. Last year, a judge found 72 health code violations in our building. He gave the owner six months to make all the repairs."

"Then, in January, the owner declared bankruptcy, so we received notice from the city that the building was going to be shut down. People were afraid. We had children in schools and didn’t know where we were going to go. Then we heard of Carecen and they helped us organize ourselves. I’ll tell you why we decided to buy the building. We decided because the experience we had just had was so negative. The association believes that if anyone else buys the building, we’re going to have to live with more indignity and injustice. We hope that finally, justice will have its time and its place."


The Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, D.C. is a neighborhood in flux. It’s a place where thousands of low-income families, including many Central American immigrants, live in substandard apartment buildings where rodents, inadequate electric and gas service, and long-overdue repairs are common problems. At the same time, rising property values and rents are pushing out low-wage tenants.

Is it possible for low-income tenants to fight gentrification and win?

Over the past two years, with the help of the Central American Resource Center (Carecen), hundreds of area residents have avoided evictions and obtained needed repairs by forming tenants’ associations. Seven of these associations have successfully purchased their buildings from negligent landlords at far below market rates. Four more associations have been offered their buildings and are in the process of raising money. When the associations obtain their buildings, Carecen connects them with non-profit developers who rehabilitate the apartments—creating permanently affordable, quality housing for low-income families.


An Interview with Maria Socorro Kupps, Church Member

Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), Anaheim, CA

"OCCCO is a part of my church. They set up meetings and ask if people have issues that they can help us fight against. Me, I fractured my femur in an accident 27 years ago."

"The bone was not set right, so the leg was crooked. For the past 10 years I had been in more and more pain. I would go to doctors and hospitals to try to get it fixed; they all said I had arthritis, and that any other treatment would be too expensive and they couldn’t do it. They didn’t pay attention to me, they didn’t care.

Then I heard Rosalia speak in my church. She was a promatora with OCCCO. She saw the problems that I was having, and she put pressure on people to do something. She took me to a clinic. On February 27th, I had an emergency operation, and now my leg is almost 100% better."


It’s no secret that health care is a crisis issue for low-income families. But even the leaders of the interfaith organization OCCCO were shocked to learn the magnitude of the problem. When OCCCO conducted a community health-care survey, it revealed that 70% of the respondents lacked health insurance. And since local community clinics were closed evenings and weekends, many potential patients couldn’t get appointments.

How can low-income people get access to health care?

OCCCO took action by hiring five promatoras—health outreach workers—to help community members connect with insurance and other health services. The organization also worked with community clinics, hospitals and doctors’ associations to launch a successful ballot initiative requiring the county to spend 80% of its share of the state tobacco settlement on health care. The clinics now receive an extra $6 million a year, enabling them to expand their hours, insure an additional 1,000 children, and treat nearly 30,000 more low-income patients annually.



An Interview with Fran Godine, Member, Ohel Tzedek Steering Committee

Temple Israel, Boston, MA

"I’ve been a member of Temple Israel for 26 years. As my kids got older and didn’t need so much of my time, I started feeling that there were things that didn’t seem right in the world-- that I couldn’t make better."

"Ohel Tzedek has helped me understand how to make change. It’s been a tremendous comfort to know that I don’t have to try to figure it out on my own. This is a way of learning together how to do it effectively.

To me, this is Torah in motion. It provides a kind of hope in our modern world. The past year has been so difficult. The connection with other people and the ability to actually do some things together that have benefited people is a real antidote to the despair for me. I may not be able to bring about world peace, but we can certainly make some changes in our community."


Faith-based organizing groups are powerful tools for bringing people together across religion and class to work for social change. But it’s often a challenge to get synagogues to join and to get their members involved.

How can synagogues take social action to the next level?

Temple Israel, New England’s largest Reform synagogue, is meeting these challenges. After the congregation joined the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Rabbi Jonah Pesner and several lay leaders launched the Ohel Tzedek (Tent of Justice) initiative to create a sense of community, based on the pursuit of justice as a core value of the congregation.

Temple members held one-on-one meetings enabling over 800 congregants to get to know each other and identify the issues they felt passionate about. As new leaders emerged, action groups formed to tackle the most burning concerns. Ohel Tzedek has made Temple Israel a more effective partner in GBIO’s affordable housing work. It also has strengthened and unified the temple.

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