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Boosting A New Generation of Organizers

Why do people become lifetime organizers for social change? And how do they develop the skills to be most effective?

I have long pondered these questions. I offered answers in a book about the young people who joined the farmworkers movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s and spent the rest of their lives working for social justice (Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (UC Press, 2008).

Fred Ross and Dolores Huerta

Fred Ross and Dolores Huerta

Many of these young organizers, along with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, were mentored, trained and inspired by Fred Ross. Now his son Fred Ross, Jr. and documentary filmmaker Ray Telles are mobilizing support for a film on Ross that will encourage new generations of activists to become organizers.

It’s a critical mission. It’s harder than ever to attract quality people to fulltime community organizing jobs. Yet this role is pivotal for advancing social and economic justice.

ACORN’s dissolution in 2009 removed a leading entry point for young organizers. The Student PIRGS do great training but are not on many campuses. Unions prefer hiring people who have organizing experience, making these entry positions even more vital.

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Fred Ross and Cesar Chavez

Fred Ross and Cesar Chavez

Many young people organize around elections. But that is seasonal campaign work, not fulltime organizing jobs.

In this precarious moment in our country’s history, it has become urgent to recall the teachings of a man who understood that inequality leads to injustice – and that positive change only thrives if addressing injustice also includes long-term change.

The lessons learned from Fred Ross are more important than ever. This documentary is needed more than ever to inspire young people to consider careers in organizing.

You can find all the information on the group’s website, The Fred Ross Project. A lot of veteran organizers are dedicating their time to make this film happen, and after reading about the Project you might want to help out as well.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron