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Case #346

Latina activist grows along with her neighborhood organization


Virginia Ramirez's frustration at the needless death of an elderly neighbor moved her life in a new direction. Twenty years later, Ramirez and her neighbors have transformed a neglected barrio into a place of promise. Ramirez has spent almost twenty years volunteering with COPS (Communities Organized for Public Services), a grassroots group that has literally transformed the streets - along with schools, parks, and thousands of lives in the poorest neighborhoods of the city.

Growing out of a network established by Saul Alinsky, who often is called the godfather of modern community organizing, COPS began by working through churches to organize San Antonio's desperately poor Latinos in grassroots efforts and innovative protests. Ramirez at first thought that the group was too radical but became involved by holding a neighborhood meeting at her house. "It was hard to stand up to politicians and tell them what we wanted," says Ramirez, "because it's been embedded in my mind to be nice to everybody. But I began to understand the importance of holding people accountable for what they promise." She also learned other skills: how to research, negotiate, articulate her point of view, analyze her community's needs, and channel her anger so it didn't overwhelm her. Gradually, she got more involved.

Her courage led her to get her degree, and gave Ramirez the credentials to secure a new job - training and supervising 300 health education outreach volunteers in low income neighborhoods. During her seventeen years with COPS, she's moved up in the organization, first training people in her parish, then working with other local churches to develop new local leaders. She's learned to negotiate with the mayor and with bank presidents on major community development projects, to pressure local corporations for decent jobs, and to help COPS pass a local living-wage bill and an education partnership where B average high school grads with 95 percent attendance get college scholarships.

Making change, Ramirez discovered, meant working for the long haul and learning to celebrate every victory.


The COPS program could be transferred to other neighborhoods looking for economic development and a betterment of the people who live there. Tracing the personal growth of one woman demonstrates how much difference one person can make in initiating social and economic change. As Virginia Rameriz says, however, "Testifying before Congress (about an innovative COPS job program pushing for public investment in adult job training, children's health care, pre-school education, and quality after-school programs), I thought about how you can't do anything by yourself, but with other people you can change things. I also thought about how this process has changed me, developed potential I'd never have dreamed of. I tell people I learned all my talents and confidence at the University of COPS. The people there found some spark in me. I never knew I had it."

Location: San Antonio, Texas, US
Action: Political, Building, Economic/Business
Setting: Developed World, Urban
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Worker Rights, Community Building
Outcome successful for now
Source: Hope, Summer, 2001, p. 35


Prepared By: sl 1/02
Rating: 1
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