November 22, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 15
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What’s wrong with Boston’s Latino progressive movement?

It seems that the other shoe has fallen for Boston’s fledgling Latino progressive movement (“Activists look to future after Arroyo’s defeat,” Nov. 15, 2007), led by the erstwhile organization ¿Oíste?.

First, they took a pass on the early resignation of Angel Amy Moreno, the only Latino on the Boston School Committee. Then came the landslide loss of City Councilor Felix Arroyo. Other Latino candidates also took a shellacking during this year’s low-turnout primary and general election. In East Boston, ¿Oíste?-endorsed candidate Gloribell Mota lost the primary for state representative. This past September, Worcester’s only two Latino candidates were eliminated in the city’s primary — one swore never to run again because of a perceived lack of community support. And in Chelsea, 11 positions were contested but only three Latino candidates ran — two of whom won.

So what’s wrong with this picture? On the surface, nothing. ¿Oíste? seeks “to create an educated and actively engaged Massachusetts’ Latino civic base through grassroots organizing and civic education efforts,” according to its mission statement. This approach is consistent with the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, dedicated to giving a diverse community of individuals the resources and training necessary to become political leaders.

But a major problem with ¿Oíste?’s approach is its lack of an organizing strategy. Sure, developing new leadership from the ground up is important, as is engaging new leaders and creating leadership networks to establish a base for political action.

While these tactics work in the short run, they are divorced from any realistic strategy for organizing communities. There is a real disconnect between these “bedrock” tactics of progressive politics and the development of a base of organized people as a long-term strategy for political action. Without an organized political base, you cannot elect your people or advance a progressive agenda conducive to community building. Those progressive candidates who dare to run will lose to better-funded and more organized interests.

Another problem with ¿Oíste?’s model is its funding paradigm. Supported primarily by foundations and private entities, ¿Oíste? needs to be perceived as a highly visible and at times controversial operation to attract further funding. This means an emphasis on short-term and high publicity tactics to convince their funders, the media and themselves that what they are doing is grassroots organizing.

These weak ties are unlikely to produce deep connection and support of ¿Oíste?’s overall mission. Without an organizing strategy, even the very best tactic executed to perfection is likely to be ineffective in altering the political balance of power in Massachusetts.

Jaime Bautista
East Boston

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