Alliance building is not just a hypothetical exercise. Throughout the social justice movement grassroots groups are engaging in innovative alliances, and with good results. Here are two success stories:
Rural Organizing Project (ROP) and Oregon’s Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAUSA)
Progressive gay rights activists and the political voice of Latino immigrants join forces in Oregon
ROP is a network of rural, volunteer-based human dignity groups composed largely of white, educated, middle and working class gays and lesbians. CAUSA is a coalition of Latino and immigrant rights organizations. They joined forces for the first time in 1992, when the pre-cursor of CAUSA (PCUN) provided support for ROP in marching against an anti-gay ballot measure. Later, CAUSA engaged ROP in dialogue about working together on statewide organizing around immigrant rights.
Since then the ROP/CAUSA alliance has racked up impressive victories. In 1998 both groups jointly mobilized local Latinos and much of the white progressive community to defeat the proposed Smith/Wyden “New Bracero” worker legislation bill. In 2000 they defeated Oregon’s Proposition 9, which prohibited teachers and school employees from talking about homosexuality on school premises. ROP provided training, materials and talking points for CAUSA organizers to use in Latino communities to encourage voting against the initiative.
Underlying shared values :
Social justice, participatory democracy and an aim to fight discrimination of all kinds. Understanding the importance of uniting with other interests to take on the political Right.
To defend the rights of Latinos, immigrants, gays and lesbians, the poor, workers and others who face discrimination.
The organizations’ social, cultural and economic differences have posed challenges in terms of their understanding of each other’s struggles. Social conservatism of some of CAUSA’s constituents and related homophonic tendencies led several groups to leave the alliance.
Long-term collaboration depends not only on interaction among members but also on important structural connections. For example, in 1991 CAUSA asked that a representative of ROP sit on its board of directors. A key factor in the success of ROP/CAUSA was the initial collaboration, common values and interest in alliance building on the part of both groups’ leaders.
The United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO)
Working across racial and religious communities to develop a shared human rights agenda, build power and win together
The United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) was formed in late 2005 with a commitment to engage in a sustained alliance and develop trust to jointly tackle human rights issues. Its members represent most of the marginalized communities in the Chicago area including the TARGET Area Development Corporation, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and the Albany Park Neighborhood Council representing immigrant communities. Over time UCCRO has grown into an international network.
From its beginning the UCCRO alliance was built on the premise of different communities developing relationships and exploring joint opportunities in five critical areas: health, education, employment, wealth building and safety. Although it’s still relatively young, UCCRO is a powerful vehicle at the municipal, state and national level in these five areas. Already it has made significant achievements:
In 2008, UCCRO began a bilingual Racial Justice and Policy Lived Experience series, which brings together thousands to learn about issues that are relevant to the area’s African American, Latino, Muslim and other immigrant communities. Across its member organizations UCCRO has won employment for 500 youth in a summer jobs program, which led to the first comprehensive human rights training series, the Summer Youth Leadership Initiative. training sessions to prepare for its first collective advocacy effort. In February, UCCRO took 300 leaders to the state capitol to promote a joint platform of racial equality policies including the nation’s first legislation to provide treatment instead of incarceration for low-level drug offenders.
In October, UCCRO adopted its first foundational document, the People’s Platform for Equity and Justice and convened a three-day event that drew 400 leaders to talk about race.
Underlying Shared Values:
A commitment to the process of dialogue between various racial and ethnic groups to cultivate deep foundational trust as the basic for alliance activities.
To impact policy prioritizing in its five priority areas.
UCCRO’s initiatives tapped into a degree of distrust and lack of connection between communities and impeded action on social justice issues.
The UCCRO alliance has effectively overcome broad racial and ethnic divisions and built relationships around shared social change agenda within a framework of human rights.