I worked as a volunteer with an organization called Causta Justa Just Cause. The organization belongs to a wide network of civil society organizations which operate in San Francisco and Oakland. Its main objective is to build leadership and power at the grassroots level and mobilize low-income earners to form strong, just, and equitable communities (“Causta Justa: Opportunities” par 1). According to information posted on its website, the vision of the organization is based on the following pillars:
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- Equal rights for people of color, immigrants, women, and all oppressed and exploited people (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 2)
- End to racism (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 3)
- A society based on self-determination, social justice, and solidarity (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 3)
- A future without displacement through real estate speculation and forced migration (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 4)
- A society where housing is a human right and where all families thrive (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 5)
- A future where corporate control is replaced by an economy run by the people and for the people (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 5)
- Political power in the hands of those who need change the most (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 6)
- A restoration of balance between humans and nature (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 6)
- End to ecological plunder (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 6)
- Bringing together Black and Latino people to build a multi-racial people’s movement in the United States (US) that contributes to a global movement for liberation (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 6).
The organization was formed in 2010 following the merger of two organizations namely Just Cause Oakland and St. Peter’s housing committee (“Causta Justa: About us” par 2). The reason for the merger was that the two organizations had similar objectives and as a result, they merged to join efforts to fight for the rights of the African-Americans and Latinos in the US. Since its formation, the organization has expanded and intensified its campaigns to all corners of Oakland and San Francisco. For instance, over the last five years, the organization has achieved the following:
- It has brought together thousands of Latino and Black residents to fight for their housing and immigration rights (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 7)
- It has successfully passed over a dozen tenants’ rights ordinances in Oakland and San Francisco (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 7)
- It has fought the deportation of Black and Latino people (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 7)
- It has established tenants’ rights clinics which have served more than 1,000 tenants (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 8)
- It has stopped several illegal evictions of Latino and Black people (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 9)
- It has prevented rent increase (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 9)
- It has forced landlords to do the needed renovations and repairs of their houses (“Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History” par 9).
As a volunteer, I was engaged in two major projects namely the proposed Oakland coliseum city and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. In addition, I attended two meetings at the Causta Justa Just Cause office in Oakland as well as the Oakland city hall hearing which took place on March 4th, 2015. During the hearing, representatives of many organizations were in attendance. Examples include the Siena Club, SEIU, Plunkett, Clean energy for Jobs, and the Oakland raiders.
During the hearing, the planning commission allowed 57 stakeholders to present their views. All the stakeholders argued that the people in Oakland and San Francisco needed good paying jobs, affordable houses, new houses, clean air, parks that could improve their health, accessible transit, and stores which offered affordable prices of goods and services.
On March 17th 2015, I also attended the community meeting for the BRT project in Oakland as a member of Causa Justa Just Cause. The 9.5 mile BRT line would provide fast, frequent, and reliable transit services between the 20th street in down Oakland and San Leandro, primarily along international Boulevard and East 14th street. The people in the meeting expressed the following concerns in regard to the BRT project
- They wanted the BRT project to take care of the health of the people along the proposed routes
- They wanted the BRT project to be implemented without displacement of people
- They wanted the local people to be employed in that project
- They demanded for free bus passes for some category of people.
Even though these projects are not completed, I was happy to be a member of the organization’s campaign team that enabled community members to voice their concerns. The campaign which I participated in can be analyzed using the following class framework:
The goal of the campaign was to ensure that development projects did not lead to the displacement of the low-income earners. While it is a good thing to implement development projects, they should be implemented with care so that they benefit those who need them. In many cases, development projects end up benefiting the wrong people. For example, in the case of the BTR and the Oakland coliseum city projects, it was easy for the poor people to be displaced so that the projects could be implemented. However, it was not a must for them to be displaced. The reason is that displacing them could have created a housing crisis and as a result, the projects could have created problems instead of leading to development. In other words, development which does not take into account the social welfare of the people is not development at all.
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The motivation of the organization was the unity of the people of Oakland and San Francisco. Even though the people had low-income, they were able to come together to fight for their rights. The unity of the people of Oakland and San Francisco mirrors the unity of the Filipino grape workers, who united and went into strike to protest harassment and poor working conditions (Ganz 28). This type of motivation also mirrors the old analogy of Goliath versus David. According to this analogy, David was small and less experienced on matters of war. On the other hand, Goliath was huge, strong, and energetic. However, the story goes that David was able to eliminate Goliath using a single stone which hit Goliath on the head killing him on the spot (Ganz 30). The moral of the story is that the size of a person does not matter as much as the determination to pursue a certain course of action to its logical conclusion. Motivation also comes with a strong conviction on something. David had the conviction that despite his small size, he was capable of killing Goliath (Ganz 33).
The relationship between the low-income earners of Oakland and San Francisco can be illustrated using Marxism. Marxism is a method of social inquiry which looks at economic, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical aspects of a society. In its attempt to explain social change, the method relies on the concept of historical materialism, the rise and development of capitalism as a mode of production, and the study of opposites (dialectical view). Marxism was founded by two Germany scholars namely Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1900 and remained popular until1950 when other concepts emerged. However, the concept is still relevant in contemporary societies. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels rejected the ideas of realism and liberalism and focused on class struggle as the basis of social change.
From the available literature, Karl Marx was the most influential in the foundation and development of Marxism and thus the name Marxism. Marx was mostly interested in the study of society in terms of what he referred to as class struggle, which he argued was responsible for social change. On his part, Friedrich Engels based his argument on the study of opposites, arguing that social change was as a result of conflicting ideas which influence the actions of people in the society, the argument being that the idea which is more dominant than other ideas shapes social change within a given society (Marx 87).
Karl Marx sees people as producers and products of the society in which they live. According to him, society is made up of different parts which influence each other but the economic part has the greatest influence. He argues that the history of human society is the history of tension and conflict. As per the manifesto written by him and Friedrich Engels in 1848, ‘the history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle, that of free men and slaves, lords and serfs, who stand in a relationship of an oppressor and oppressed and thus are always in constant opposition to one another’(Marx 87).
The conflict between the oppressor and oppressed is sometimes hidden or open war and at the end, they always have a reconstituted society. In the manifesto, Marx stated that ‘you do not have to be poor, nobody was born poor but the conditions that made man poor were created by man himself, and therefore can be changed by man’. Karl Marx gave more attention to the economy. According to him, the economy forms the base of society while the superstructure which comprises things like culture, religion, social life, and media are a reflection of the economic mode of production of the society (Tormey 82).
Karl Marx presented two class models of society namely the bourgeoisie and the workers. The bourgeoisie are the capitalists who are few in number and are the owners of capital. They are also rich, powerful, oppressors, exploiters, and they always win elections in democratic countries. On the other hand, the workers are the owners of labor, and they are the majority but are powerless since they are oppressed and exploited by the rich. The workers always lose in elections in democratic nations due to lack of influence. The workers can be described as ‘a class in itself’ in the sense that they share the same objectives and relationships to the means of production, that is, they are laborers who are paid in wages.
The two classes are always in conflict with each other because their interests are not compatible. While the bourgeoisie have the interests of maintaining the status quo which ensures their dominance, the workers are interested in changing the status quo which deprives them of good life. However, the two classes are not aware of the nature of the circumstances which they live in but they assume that the situations which they find themselves in are natural and nothing can be done to change them, a situation which Karl Marx calls false class consciousness (Wallerstein 14).
The bourgeoisie are not aware that they are the exploiters while the workers are not aware that they are exploited or oppressed. The workers are also not aware that they are poor but they assume that they are naturally supposed to be poor. However; when the workers become aware of the reality, that is, when they know that they are exploited by the bourgeoisie, what follows is a revolution. Marx argues that the Russian revolution of 1917 was as a result of the realization by the workers that they were being oppressed by the bourgeoisie.
According to Karl Marx, the defining features of social class are the ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production. He argued that those who owned the means of production were able to exploit those who did not own them. Marx was of the view that both labor and capital were essential in the stability of the economy. The reason is that the capital cannot transform itself into wealth without the labor while the labor cannot create wealth without the capital. It therefore follows that the bourgeoisie and the workers must work together because none can exist independently of the other. What this means is that both the bourgeoisie and the workers are equal shareholders in the wealth which is created through their interaction. However, it is not always the case. The reason is that at the end of the production process, the sharing of the profits is not fair since the supply value is more appropriated by the bourgeoisie at the expense of the workers.
According to Karl Marx therefore, the profits made by organizations is inversely proportional to the level of exploitation of the workers. That is, the more the companies make profits, the higher the levels of exploitation and vice versa. Unfortunately, the workers are not aware of this fact and they even go to the extent of celebrating when they hear that the companies which they work for have made significant increment in the amounts of profits.
In the context of my work as a volunteer at Causta Justa Just Cause, the low-income earners represent the workers while the companies which were to implement the two projects represent the bourgeoisie. While the interest of the low-income earners is to have their welfare taken care of, the interest of the companies is to displace the low-income earners so as to implement the projects. The interest of the companies is based on the perception that the low-income earners do not have any value and therefore should not act as an obstacle to the implementation of the projects.
The whole idea is to ensure that the projects end up benefiting the rich, who would be in a position to purchase the land near the project sites and build expensive houses which are not affordable to the low-income earners. The unity of the low-income earners can be compared to the revolution explained by Marx. The reason is that low-income earners, with the support of Causta Justa Just Cause were able to resist any attempts to displace them so that the projects could be implemented. The resistance is an indication that at sometimes, the social and economic status of people may not always determine how development is undertaken and thus the argument that ‘David may sometimes win’ (Ganz 34).
The organization used the strategy of stakeholder involvement in its campaign.
Stakeholder involvement refers to the critical evaluation of all stakeholders of an organization and their relationships with the organization. It plays a crucial role in helping an organization to identify partners who are essential for its success. Once an organization identifies such partners, it invests in building good rapport and creates a symbiotic relationship which enables both the organization and the partners to gain from the relationship (Galbraith 20).
The main stakeholder of Causta Justa is the community. The organization ensured that it did a good analysis of the community to understand the forces which drive oppression of the low-income earners. That is why it engaged them and empowered them with information on how to stand for their rights and resist any attempts to displace them for the projects to be implemented. It also educated them that it was possible for the development projects to be implemented without their displacement (Cummings and Christopher 43).
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This strategy is not only effective but it is also sustainable. The reason is that once the community is empowered with information, it would be able to unite and resist any form of discrimination and harassment not only by the companies implementing the two projects but also other companies which would implement other development projects in the future. While the people remained united, the organization helped them with the technical aspects of the campaign to force the companies to undertake development without displacing them.
The following are the tactics used by the organization in the campaign:
- Merging of two organizations with similar objectives
- Mobilization of the community
- Sensitization of the people about their rights
- Selection of 57 representatives to speak during the Oakland city hall hearing
- Educating the community on the benefits of being fully involved in the proposed projects
- Fighting apathy among the community members
- Creating a state of discontentment with the state of affairs among the community members
- Informing the community members that they should resist any harassment, intimidation, and discrimination on grounds of color and economic status
- Giving incentives to the community members to actively participate in community meetings
- Highlighting the consequences of displacing the low-income earners
- Educating the public on the dangers of complacency
- Sensitizing the public about the need to have development which is integrated with respect of human rights.
Causta Justa: About us 2015. Web.
Causta Justa: Mission, Vision and History 2015. Web.
Causta Justa: Opportunities 2015. Web.
Cummings, Thomas, and Worley, Christopher. Organization Development and Change, Farmington: Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.
Galbraith, Jay. Designing the Customer-Centric Organization: A Guide to Strategy, Structure, and Process, San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2013. Print.
Garlichs, Moritz.The Concept of Strategic Fit, Hamburg: Diplomica, 2011. Print.
Ganz, Marshall. Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Marx, Karl. Theories of Surplus Value Vols. 1-3, Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2000. Print.
Tormey, Simon. Anticapitalism: A Beginner’s Guide, Oxford: Oneworld Beginners’Guides, 2004.Print.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. Geopolitics and Geoculture: Essays on the Changing World-System, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.