Helping community members realize they have power is at the heart of Miguel Rodriguez’s job description as a Community Organizer for CAUSE. Over the years, he has mobilized Latino residents of Ventura’s Westside to win a much-needed park, expand bus services, and halt City officials from repealing a policy requiring affordable homes in future developments.
“I reach out to low-income residents and people of color so they can make a difference on issues that are relevant to them,” Miguel says.
Conducting “one-on-ones” — personal meetings with residents to hear their concerns and interests, and also learn about their life experiences is an indispensable practice that organizers like Miguel use. These informal meetings develop trust and help organizers identify leadership roles that residents can step into. “I may ask what motivated them to come to this country, and then encourage them to apply that same energy to future goals,” Miguel says.
Asking the City of Ventura to purchase land for a park in the densely populated Westside neighborhood was a tall order given tight budgets. Miguel said residents came to understand that the only way it was going to happen was if they mobilized to make it a reality. And they did. Three years of petitions, community meetings, candidate forums, flash mobs, and robust turnouts at City Council meetings compelled officials to purchase land for Kellogg Park.
Before CAUSE’s organizing work, mono-lingual Spanish speakers were not seen nor heard at City Hall. With Miguel to coach residents and stand at their side to interpret their public testimonies, residents spoke up with confidence.
“It’s a powerful moment when people recognize the potential they have within. You notice how Council members zoom in and pay attention to what they have to say, it makes me very proud,” Miguel says.
And just as satisfying, several grassroots leaders have claimed important seats at the decision-making table. One Latino father who become involved in the park campaign was later elected to the neighborhood council. A mom who was initially skeptical that residents could make major changes now chairs the Heal Zone – a multi-agency project to improve health outcomes in West Ventura.
“When you develop strong leaders, you can step aside,” Miguel says.