The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) is an organization of institutions dedicated to developing power and leadership among citizens in order to transform the city. We work to create relational power that can build and strengthen each member institution as well as shape public policy for the common good. TMO was formed in 1980 to give a voice to people who are usually excluded from major decisions that affect their lives. TMO is a part of a larger network of organizations known as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a nationwide organizing institute with a fifty year history. TMO is also part of the West / Southwest IAF regional network and the Industrial Areas Foundation national network.

TMO believes that a truly democratic society requires the active participation of ordinary citizens. When people lack the means to connect to power and participate effectively in public life, social relationships disintegrate. Our model of relational organizing helps build real community. It generates social capital through a tight web of relationships across lines of race, ethnicity, class, faith, and geography. This social capital enables us to participate fully in public life and to become more effective actors in our communities.

Houston Interfaith Statement on Humane Immigration Reform

We call on Congress to enact humane and equitable immigration reform and commit to legislation that:

  • Upholds family unity as a priority of all immigration policies
  • Creates a process for undocumented immigrants to earn their legal status and eventual citizenship
  • Protects workers and provides efficient channels of entry for new migrant workers
  • Facilitates immigrant integration
  • Restores due process protections and reform detention policies
  • Aligns the enforcement of immigration laws with humanitarian values
  • Recognizes Immigration as a Matter of Human Rights

Enforcement is Next Task for Law on Wage Theft, New York Times (2011)

Houston Clergy, Politicians Gather for Immigration Prayer Service, Houston Chronicle (2011)

Houston's Clergy Unites to Urge Support for Immigration Reform, New York Times (2010)

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2011 News

Local religious leaders hopeful for reform, despite political climate
By Jeannie Kever Houston Chronicle
Jan. 27, 2011, 11:21PM
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, carrying papers, was among the local religious leaders attending an interfaith prayer service to renew a call for immigration reform Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, carrying papers, was among the local religious leaders attending an interfaith prayer service to renew a call for immigration reform
Just two days after President Barack Obama renewed a call for immigration reform, a group of Houston religious leaders said Thursday that despite a discouraging political climate, they see signs of change.
"I feel the people are shifting," said the Rev. Michael Rinehart, who as bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod oversees the region's Evangelical Lutheran churches.
But he and other leaders who spoke after an interfaith prayer service that was filled with symbols of unity - Iman Mustafa Yigit reading from the Quran in Arabic, Rabbi Mark Miller blowing a shofar, the Rev. Uriel Osnaya offering a prayer in Spanish - know the goal remains elusive.
"I'm not sure Washington is shifting," Rinehart said. "Politics trumps policy sometimes."
The interfaith coalition first began promoting immigration reform more than a year ago, both among their congregations and in public pronouncements.
"We know this is a long haul, and we want to maintain our focus," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. "The work needs to continue."
The local effort is part of a broader call by religious leaders nationally, who say they have seen the toll taken by current policies on their parishioners.
'Cannot be silent'
A group of evangelical leaders, including the Rev. Marcos Witt, head of the Hispanic ministry at Lakewood Church, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, joined the cause last year.
The Rev. John Ogletree, pastor of First Metropolitan Church in northwest Houston, said it is a moral issue.
"We cannot be silent or govern what we say due to the political climate," he said. "We have to say what we know is true."
Thursday's service at Christ the King Lutheran Church brought Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders together in support of policies that promote family unity, create a path for citizenship and end current detention policies.
Acknowledging that the November elections make wide-ranging reform less likely now, the leaders also asked for a limit on local laws aimed at illegal immigrants.
'Living our values'
The Rev. John Bowie, pastor of True Light Missionary Baptist Church and co-chair of The Metropolitan Organization, a coalition of congregations and other organizations that co-sponsored the prayer service, likened the voter ID law approved by the Texas Senate this week to earlier efforts to keep African-Americans from voting.
"Once you put something there as a requirement, you disenfranchise a lot of people," he said.
Rinehart, during a sermon, suggested immigration reform would even be good for Houston's erstwhile hometown airline.
"Wouldn't that be good for Continental Airlines, because people could fly back and forth freely?" he asked.
"People of faith would win, too," he said, "because we would be living our values."
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KIAH Channel 39
Local Religious Leaders Address Immigration Reform
David Solano
January 27, 2011
With a divided Congress and a divided court of public opinion, many people may think the issue of immigration reform doesn't have a "prayer." But local religious leaders turned to just that Thursday in hopes that something will get done.
The topic of immigration reform can certainly turn into a heated debate, so religious leaders from Houston said they want to encourage a calm and rational conversation about the issue.
Praying. Singing. Local religious leaders gathered Thursday to worship as they spread their message about comprehensive immigration reform.
"We cannot be silent or govern what we say due to the political climate," John Ogletree with First Metropolitan Church said as he sat with religious leaders from various religious denominations.
That's why they hope the climate in the room they were sitting in can spread to the lawmakers who may have a say in immigration reform. Calm civil prayer here, and possibly calm civil discussion on Capitol Hill.
"I see, frankly, a good sign of hope that we saw [when] Republicans and Democrats were sitting side by side at the State of the Union [Address given by President Barack Obama]. I'm hoping we can get them to cooperate beyond what is shown on the camera," said Rev. Mike Cole with New Covenant Presbytery.
Houston-area religious leaders said upholding family unity is one of their priorities for all immigration policies.
"Keeping families together, obviously, for people of faith is a really high priority," said Michael Rinehart, who's a bishop with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "And right now, we've had a situation where families are being separated by visa backlogs. It's just really an unacceptable situation and an outdated system that needs reform."
The group would like a process created so undocumented workers can gain legal status in this country.
"There ought to be a safe and legal way that we can do this so these people don't get exploited," Rinehart said.
The Metropolitan Organization said the Houston-area religious leaders want immigrants to have the means to become legal, apply for residency and learn English in hopes of gaining citizenship.
The event Thursday was part of the coalition's educational campaign

The politics of the Bible and floods
April 7, 2011, 12:47AM
Read more:

There was a fair amount of quoting Scripture at City Hall on Tuesday during hours of public comment on the drainage fee passed by Houston voters last November.
The most vociferous group, Houston Area Pastors' Council, is a conservative, politically active group that was not only against the fee on churches, but campaigned against the fee itself last fall.
It also campaigned against the election of Mayor Annise Parker.
In fact, their lead spokesman, Dave Welch, posted a letter to America apologizing for Parker's election after opposing her because she is a lesbian:
"I have to first of all ask forgiveness of the rest of the country on behalf of those in Houston who were entrusted with choosing godly leaders and failed to do so," Welch wrote in the wake of Parker's election. "As I have stated often, the first responders in that line are the churches who profess Christianity and adherence to the Bible as our authority. We let our position on the wall be breached by the enemy."
So it's not surprising that people who see Parker and those who voted for her as the enemy were not inclined to accept Parker's compromise offer of exempting existing churches from the fee. Not covered would be other properties owned by churches and future churches which Parker wants to be built to better drainage standards. Under the compromise their fees would be reduced or eliminated if they planned retention ponds and other environmental measures.
But other religious leaders don't see compromise as dealing with the devil.
"There's been biblical evidence that flooding should be a concern," said one City Hall insider. "As they were reading Scripture today I kept thinking what about 40 days and 40 nights."
And also "rendering onto Caesar," and that the Lord "sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
The second public speaker was the Rev. Kevin Collins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and a leader of TMO, another politically active organization made up of 30 churches, area congregations and synagogues.
The organization, which has long advocated for low-income Houstonians, has for decades supported investments in infrastructure. They've noted that while almost all of Houston is built in a bowl, poor neighborhoods tend to suffer more from flooding than affluent ones.
"Our main concern with the ordinance is that those who can least afford to pay it will be really hurt by an extra fee," said Collins. "So we asked for a fund to be set aside for people to apply for who needed help."
Parker and the council listened. The ordinance includes a $500,000 fund to assist poor property owners.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, estimates that the fee could cost the Roman Catholic Church $750,000 to $1 million a year. But he also appreciates compromise.
See translation at right
He authorized the archdiocese's general counsel, Frank Rynd, to send a letter to Parker yesterday that was as clear as many papal encyclicals.
"From our perspective, the ordinance (with the compromise) addresses the needs of our parish churches and parish schools although it does not provide an exemption for some of our other schools and for many of the charitable organizations affiliated with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston," Rynd wrote. "While the ordinance does not accomplish everything we wanted, we commend the Mayor's leadership in making a significant improvement to the initial ordinance."
Translation: Thank you very much, and we hope you understand if we ask for more.
Councilman Stephen Costello, in apparent reaction to the groups rejecting the compromise, is expected to offer an amendment today rescinding it. If the amendment passes, those groups will have, in unbiblical terms, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
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Houston Chronicle/Blog-Texas Politics-2011
May 9, 2011
Rabbi offers scripture message of Texas lawmakers
A Dallas rabbi invoked a scripture lesson from Second Samuel Thursday for modern-day Texans to ponder as they struggle over a new budget.
A rich man with a massive flock of sheep enriched himself further by taking the single, prized lamb of a poor man. King David flew into a rage when he learned of the injustice and made things right, noted Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanue-El, largest synagogue in the South.
"We need to learn from our Biblical ancestors and not take from the poor and the needy in our communities who need it most," Knight said while meeting with other religious leaders and supporters of the Industrial Areas Foundation in the state Capitol.
The groups are fighting against budget cuts for education, health care and job training. They are lamenting a budget that the Texas Senate approved this week – even though it spends about $12 billion more than the House version.
Dozens of leaders from San Antonio's COPS Metro, Houston's TMO (The Metropolitan Organization) and their affiliate organizations across Texas want lawmakers to pull more money out of the state's $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund than the slightly over $3 billion maximum endorsed by leaders including Gov. Rick Perry
"It's raining!" the Rev. John D. Ogletree, Jr. said as he opened an umbrella. "Not only is it raining, it is thundering. It's pouring."
Ogletree, founder and senior pastor of the First Metropolitan Church, is also president of the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD school board.
Many Texans are still absorbing the budget and trying to assess the impact of steep budget cuts, he said. The Senate budget would cut about $4 billion from public education; the House version would cut more than $7 billion. Massive cuts also are in the works for health care.
Ogletree speculated that "rational people" don't want to jeopardize the state's future and predicted that many Texans will respond in next year's election.
"I would hate to say, 'don't give us any more money out of the rainy day fund – see you at the election' because people are going to get hurt,'" the pastor and school board leader said.
Massive budget cuts will rally people, he said.
Several lawmakers joined the group.
"We need working families coming to the Capitol to let their views known," Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said. "We have to fight back. We have to speak out for the simple reason that (the budget) will cripple education, damage health care and risk the safety of the general public. We have the money, but we don't have political will to access those (rainy day) funds."
Rep. Dee Margo, R-El Paso, voted for the House budget bill and was the only Republican lawmaker who attended the Industrial Areas Foundation meeting.
The "only hope" of developing a better budget rests on taking money out of the rainy day fund, Margo said.
"We need to use more. That's where the debate will be. How much are we willing to use? That will be the debate for the next several weeks," said Margo, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
Last session, the Texas IAF Organizations worked with Comptroller Susan Combs and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to create the $25 million Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) Fund. This includes the $10 million Launch pad Fund for successful nonprofits such as Capital IDEA in Austin, Project QUEST in San Antonio, Project VIDA in the Rio Grande Valley, and ARRIBA in El Paso. These projects train adults earning on average $10,000 before entering the program for jobs which pay $38,000 on average after graduation.
The jobs training programs are in danger of being abolished.
That would be a dark day for Texas, said Gloria Aceves, 25, of San Antonio who will graduate next week from San Antonio College as a registered nurse thanks to the Project QUEST program. She had been earning minimum wages at a grocery store, struggling to raise her son. Now, she is close to getting a $40,000 to $50,000 a year job.
Her message to lawmakers: "Continue to invest in those (job training programs). If it wasn't for Project QUEST and JET, I wouldn't be able to do it – to find work part time and also trying to raise my son on my own."
Enforcement is Next Task for Law on Wage Theft
By HALEIGH SVOBODA copyright 2011 The New York Times, copyright 2011 Texas Tribune
October 29, 2011
HOUSTON - For two years, Diego Gala, a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally, worked five days a week cleaning a private school for less than minimum wage. His employer refused to pay him overtime even when he was forced to work on the weekends. Mr. Gala did not speak up, fearing deportation if he reported his boss.
"I couldn't say nothing because I did not have papers," Mr. Gala said. "So he was like, 'If you say something, you can just get deported. I can call immigration on you, or you can get fired.' "
Mr. Gala, who was brought to the United States as a small child, grew up not knowing his immigration status until it came time for him to find a job. Workers' rights advocates say that is not unusual; wage theft is a major problem in Texas, particularly among undocumented workers who do not push for their rightful earnings for fear of drawing the attention of immigration officials.
During the 2011 legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1024, which closed a loophole allowing employers to escape prosecution if they had paid employees only a portion of the wages owed. But now that the law is in effect, organizations and lawmakers in at least three Texas cities - Austin, El Paso and Houston - are facing a new challenge: how to ensure that wage theft prosecution is a priority.
In Austin, the Workers Defense Project, a workplace justice group, is collaborating with Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Democrat of Austin, who sponsored the bill in the House, to set up a meeting with Austin's police chief and the district and county attorneys about enforcing the wage theft law. State Senator José Rodríguez, Democrat of El Paso, who wrote the bill, set up a task force in El Paso to work on putting the measure in effect.
In Houston, the Metropolitan Organization, an interfaith social justice nonprofit group, plans to meet with local authorities and elected officials to ensure that the law is enforced.
The challenge, particularly in urban centers, supporters say, is that district attorneys and police departments may feel they have far more pressing crimes to deal with.
And law enforcement officials will face a lingering problem: that underpaid workers - many of them immigrants - will not feel brave enough to pursue charges. In construction jobs, an estimated one in five workers experiences wage theft, according to a legislative analysis of the Senate bill. Half of all day laborers are believed to have suffered wage theft.
For the Metropolitan Organization, the wage theft law is not just about employees' rights; it is a way to carry out immigration reform in the current political climate. The Rev. Kevin Collins, the organization's co-chairman, says that while illegal immigrants are less likely to report having their wages stolen than United States citizens are, they will still benefit from the reform.
"It will start to change the culture," Mr. Collins said, alluding to the employers of illegal immigrants. "They'll start to say, 'I can't get away with this like I thought I could.' "

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Answers Needed on Proposition for Drainage, Roads

Roy Yeager and Reverend John Bowie weigh in on a proposition for drainage and roads with the following:

The Metropolitan Organization agrees with Charles Wheelan, who in his book Naked Economics observes that "information matters, particularly when we don't have all that we need." Proposition 1 on the Nov. 2 ballot is a case in point. Proposition 1, if approved by the voters, would amend the Houston City Charter to establish a dedicated pay-as-you-go funding source to repair Houston streets and drainage infrastructure. At the Sept. 29 City Council meeting, Mayor Annise Parker presented the principles that the city would use to guide implementation of Proposition 1...

Full Article, Houston Chronicle

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2010 News


Congress to consider bill to help graduates


Sept. 20, 2010, 7:48PM

Congress is now considering the very important Dream Act, which would enable undocumented young people to obtain permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship. To be eligible for residency under the act, individuals must have entered the United States before turning 16 years of age and must have been in the United States for at least five years without interruption. They must be continually enrolled in an institution of higher learning and finish a degree within a certain time frame. The individual must also demonstrate the ability to speak English. There are numerous other requirements that must be met, so it's no free ride.

The Dream Act makes humanitarian and economic sense.

Under present law an undocumented young person may graduate with honors from high school, go to a first-rate college, graduate and even do post-graduate work, but be unable to get a job or join the military because he or she has no documentation.

The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) urges Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and the Harris County congressional delegation to support this very important bill.

In a time when we need educated young people to fill the highly technical new jobs being created and the jobs that are being vacated by older workers, excluding qualified but undocumented young people from the work force seems a waste of resources. The bill would also allow these young persons to serve in the military.

We personally know of young college graduates who have finished school and stayed out of trouble who have been denied the opportunity to use their education in the U.S. or to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Their only alternative is to go back to their country of origin and apply for re-entry and then wait for up to 10 years for readmission.

For the past few years, many members of our organization have mentored at local schools where the majority of the students are Hispanic. Near the end of the school year we have a dinner and the mentors each bring a college T-shirt to give to the kids. The University of Texas and Texas A&M are the most popular, with a smattering of Notre Dame and University of Houston fans thrown in.

At a certain point in the evening, each student in turn goes up and selects a shirt and when everyone has made a selection, a group picture is taken. Everyone is so excited and the message that we're trying to impart to these kids through our mentoring is that they can, with hard work and a good education, achieve the American Dream. But the happiness instilled by their beaming faces is tinged with sadness. At least half of these youngsters were not born in the U.S. and are undocumented.

As we watched our mentees at the last end-of-year event, with their eyes full of hope, we wondered if they would fulfill their own dreams - to obtain a good education, be productive members of society and become proud American citizens, where even the most disadvantaged can fulfill their dreams.

We would hate for them to wake up one morning and realize that all of our statements of encouragement and support were just empty words and that the American Dream was not available to them, no matter how hard they had worked.

We urge Congress to pass the Dream Act as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

Olson and Collins are members of the executive committee of The Metropolitan Organization







New York Times

By: James C. McKinley Jr.

Published: July 4, 2010


HOUSTON - The Rev. John W. Bowie knows it is hard to sell the people in his neighborhood on the idea that they should support changing immigration laws to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. His church lies in one of the oldest black settlements in the city, where unemployment is high and many people see immigrants as competitors for jobs.


Yet there he was in the pulpit at True Light Missionary Baptist Church on the Fourth of July, with a full choir behind him, urging his flock to support an overhaul of immigration laws that "lets the undocumented come out of the shadows."

"All 13 colonies were made up of illegal aliens because they had not gotten permission from the residents here, who were the Indians," he said. "Then a few years later, they brought us here and made us illegal, too. These immigrants, we immigrants, have built the greatest nation in the world, coming from everywhere, all over, because, you see, nobody owns this world except God."

All over Houston, in an unusual display of ecumenical solidarity on an explosive issue, scores of pastors, priests, rabbis and ministers used their sermons on Independence Day to promote the cause of fixing a broken immigration system.

The coordinated effort was part of a broad-based campaign begun in January by an interfaith group, the Metropolitan Organization, to lobby Congress to pass an immigration overhaul package this year. The group has collected 12,000 signatures to be sent to lawmakers and has organized workshops to persuade churchgoers to support their effort.

On June 22, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, made a strong appeal in a letter to the priests in all 150 parishes to address the question in their sermons this weekend. Later, the leaders of the Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran Churches made similar requests of their ministers. Some Jewish leaders have also joined the campaign.

Many clergy members say they face an uphill battle with their congregations, some of which tend to be conservative on social issues and regard immigrants without visas as lawbreakers. Their effort has also drawn fire from right-wing talk radio hosts.

"It's not like preaching to the choir, so to speak," said the Rev. James Bankston, the senior minister at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Houston, a classical stone and stained-glass church with a vaulted roof and a full pipe organ.

Facing a packed church of mostly white faces, Mr. Bankston urged them to try to "find an immigration policy that will fix what is wrong."

"Knowing how to live with neighbors in our world is never easy," he said.

Outside after the service, few church members disagreed openly with their minister, though some said the issue was complicated for them. "Obviously, in a church this large, there are diverse feelings," said Dr. Thomas Leffler, an orthopedic surgeon. "I think there needs to be something changed. It's not working. The border is basically open."

His wife, Sandy, chimed in: "Our country has been bad, historically, in encouraging them to come in, for their labor."

The issue has divided some congregations, as immigrants have begun to worship side by side with members with deep roots in Texas. St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Sugar Land, a Houston suburb, has a large number of Mexican, Nigerian and Filipino parishioners, who now share the pews with white families who once dominated the area.

Like many involved in the campaign, Sam Dunning, a deacon, said his hope was "to remove the sharpness from the debate" and remind people of their religious obligation to welcome strangers.

"There is an argument today that those who immigrate or reside here illegally do not deserve to be here because 'they are breaking the law,' " Mr. Dunning said from the altar on Sunday as he looked out at more than 100 people. "While we, too, wish to live in a society ordered by law, it is an unfortunate reality that current immigration policy encourages its very violation."

How successful the campaign in Houston will be is uncertain. In recent decades, it has become an increasingly diverse city, with whites now barely making up half the population and one in four people foreign born. Yet on the western end and in the suburbs, some of the most conservative and white Congressional districts in the country, politicians win votes with vocal opposition to efforts to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants.

In black communities, there is similar skepticism. Some members at True Light said improving schools and cracking down on crime were much higher priorities than overhauling immigration. Others said the foreign workers were driving down wages and taking jobs working-class citizens needed. "I feel like they are just taking away from us Americans," said Sherrel Justrice, 49, who attended Sunday's service.

Mr. Bowie said it would take months to begin to build grass-roots support for an immigration overhaul. A single sermon would not counter what he sees as anti-immigrant rhetoric on the right, he said.

"They are told, 'They are taking your jobs, they are clogging up your emergency rooms,' " he said. "The perception is that this is a Latino problem, not a black problem."

Daniel Cadis contributed reporting from Sugar Land, Tex.



Preachers use topic of American heritage in sermons on immigration



July 5, 2010, 9:55AM

Pastor Robert McGee knew he had a special opportunity Sunday - the Fourth of July rarely falls on the week's holiest day.

The leader of Trinity United Methodist Church, located in Houston's Third Ward, said he took extra care preparing his sermon.

After immersing himself in the Word and plenty of prayer, he crafted a message integrating biblical teachings with a variety of issues facing America today: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Gulf oil spill, the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan and, most notably, immigration.

"We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters because all of us here are immigrants," he preached, quoting portions of the Declaration of Independence. "All of us are in pursuit of the impossible dream."

TMO effort to change laws

Across Houston, dozens of preachers like McGee used the holiday, not just to remind their congregations about America's struggle for independence and birth but to push for immigration reform. Part of a coordinated effort by The Metropolitan Organization, a local group that is organizing churches to pressure government to change immigration laws, more than 50 churches took part Sunday.

That included sermons at Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches and spanned congregations from primarily Hispanic to African-American and Anglo.

It was a way, pastors said, to show that immigrants are a part of the American Dream and also give new meaning to a holiday that sometimes seems more about fun and fireworks than contemplating what makes us Americans.

Though it was clear TMO and participating pastors were pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, most of the ministers were careful to avoid explicitly discussing the topic of illegal immigration, opting for a softer approach and talking about the immigration experience and its role in shaping America.

At the True Light Missionary Baptist Church in the 7100 block of North Main, the Rev. John William Bowie gave a sermon entitled "A Declaration of Our Independence." He told congregants not to fear immigrant job seekers and said all are dependent on God in the end.

At the True Light Missionary Baptist Church in the 7100 block of North Main, the Rev. John William Bowie gave a sermon entitled "A Declaration of Our Independence." He told congregants not to fear immigrant job seekers and said all are dependent on God in the end.

At St. Paul's United Methodist Church at 5501 Main, the Rev. James Bankston preached that all immigrants deserve to be treated with dignity.

Rights and responsibilities

And at the Iglesia Episcopal Santa Maria Virgen in southwest Houston, Father Uriel Osnaya told his primarily immigrant audience that, along with rights, everyone has key responsibilities.

They include being good citizens, volunteering and staying involved in children's lives at school, he said.

"Let's celebrate this Independence Day for the opportunity we have to live in this country," said Osnaya, speaking in Spanish. "Our culture is a culture of immigrants, and this we have to remember today."

Afterward, the congregation sang America the Beautiful.

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June 7, 2010, 6:18AM


Local religious leaders urged their followers on Sunday to keep up hope for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, despite signs that Congress likely won't act on major immigration legislation this year.

"We have a Congress that is very timid," the Rev. Kevin Collins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, told the 1,500 who attended an interfaith service. "Reform will not come quickly. We have our work cut out for us, brothers and sisters. We have to keep working at it."

Collins also warned the faithful at the Catholic Charismatic Center outside downtown Houston to watch state lawmakers to ensure Texas does not pass a law similar to Arizona's, which made it a state crime to lack legal immigration papers.

"We need to start organizing now to educate them and show them there are voters who don't want Arizona-type laws," Collins said.

In January, a coalition of interfaith leaders - including Houston Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo - launched a campaign in support of an immigration reform bill that would include a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. The campaign, organized by Houston's non-partisan The Metropolitan Organization, has collected more than 10,000 postcards directed to Texas politicians and has helped educate religious leaders on the need for reform, organizers said.

Organizers now plan to have priests, pastors, reverends and rabbis all preach to their faithful on July 4 in support of immigration reform.

But the prospects for a major immigration bill passing the Senate this year appear to be slim, immigration experts and pundits said, citing the bitter battle over health care reform, the fallout from passage of Arizona's controversial law, and the upcoming Congressional elections.

"People are afraid," said the Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, during the service. "They are afraid of the changing demographics, of economic anxiety, of border violence. The system is broken."

He said the fears are similar to those faced by earlier waves of immigrants.

"God has never asked his people to act out of fear," he said. "God has always asked us to act on behalf of the newcomer, the stranger."

Maria Del Carmen Yupe, a 55-year-old from Guatemala who has lived in the U.S. without papers for 16 years, said she believes the time has come for reform.

"We have waited long enough for the opportunity to come out of the shadows and walk into the light," she said.

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Engineers go where politicos fear on flooding


May 30, 2010, 6:42PM


The political mail piece came in Thursday's post. The robocall telling my wife and me to expect it didn't come until that night.

Who says the U.S. Postal Service is inefficient?

Even more stunning is that the impressively designed mail piece asked us to sign a petition to raise our taxes.

Obviously it didn't come from a politician. It came from a group of engineers who have formed a group called Renew Houston.

The engineers want us to sign a petition to put on the November ballot a city charter amendment that would create a fund dedicated solely to drainage projects and street repairs.

Don't be cynical.

Sure, engineers stand to make money off of the proposed billions of dollars worth of drainage projects and street work over the next 30 years.

And my dentist stands to make money if I take his advice and see him twice a year.

But it's good advice.

Houston is built in a bowl. There are neighborhoods that flood during higher-than-normal humidity. Large swaths of the city go underwater during any substantial rain.

So even if the engineers will make money, it's good advice for us to do flood control.

I'll say this for the engineers: They put out a handy mailing.

It included a tear-off petition form that already had our names, dates of birth, address and voter registration numbers pre-printed.

All that was needed was our signatures and the date. No postage necessary.

"We were trying to make it easy for you, knowing how busy you are," said Kathryn McNiel, a political consultant who is helping run the campaign.

Nifty timing?

She also wanted me to know it isn't a tax they're proposing. It's a fee, based on the size of your lot. Maybe she's right.

If people in Sunnyside who own a lot worth $10,000 pay the same as people in River Oaks who own a lot the same size that's worth $1.5 million, then maybe we shouldn't call it a tax. Maybe they'll fix that.

But I digress. I was expressing my admiration for the engineers who would ask us to raise our taxes to lower our waters. I asked McNiel if it was true that the engineers carefully timed the campaign so that the vote would take place after what scientists predict will be a very active storm season because of higher-than-normal Gulf water temperatures.

The more flooding between now and November, the better the chances voters will approve the plan.

I figured the backstage campaign motto would be, "Any storm in a port."

"I think there's an urgency because there's such a big problem," McNiel said earnestly. "Some would argue we needed to have this conversation 10 years ago."

White backers favorable

But she also said the group had a concern that two other charter amendments may be on the ballot - one revising Houston's term limits and the other outlawing red-light cameras - and if either passes another charter, change would be prohibited for two years.

They also did a poll that showed that people who like former Mayor Bill White, who happens to be on the ballot in November's governor's race, were favorable toward this sort of a plan.

"They trust government more and they appreciate that this is a dedicated fund, that they know where the money will go," she said.

I didn't conduct a poll, but I did check with leaders at TMO, a church-based community organization that has been working on flooding issues for three decades.

"I don't think we're taking a position yet," said Roy Yeager, a member of Memorial Methodist Church and co-chair of the organization. "We're disappointed there wasn't more input from the public stakeholders. We didn't become aware of the wording (of the ballot measure) until it was a fait accompli."

Happy for movement

Father Kevin Collins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, agreed.

"We're glad there's some movement on dealing with the drainage problem," he said. "We wish they would be more clear about exactly how the city will use this power once they get it. We believe in investing in infrastructure, but not in a regressive manner with the poor paying more."

"The devil," said the priest, "is in the details."

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kuhfhouston public radio news Houston, Texas


May 6, 2010
by: Melissa Galvez

While people across the country debate Arizona's recent immigration law, a coalition of local religious groups has been quietly talking about the issue since early January. Prospects for federal immigration reform are uncertain, but they intend to keep pushing-even if means working until next year or beyond. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has more.

Early on Saturday morning, about 30 people gather in a classroom at Christ Church Presbyterian in Bellaire. Before the session begins, Rev. Mark Cooper leads the group in prayer.

"We thank you, oh God, for how you have continued to look, not to the rich and the powerful but to those at the bottom, those who are wandering."

The workshop is one of a series being run at over 30 religious congregations across the Houston area. It's part of a campaign spearheaded by The Metropolitan Organization, a consortium of churches and synagogues that work together on social issues. Today, the group will hear from Rabbi Mark Miller of Congregation Beth Israel, on the Bible and migration.

"There's a major theme of wandering to be found in the Bible, all the way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, which starts a life of wandering, Abraham leaves his home on a journey, the Exodus. Over and over this theme of leaving home and going somewhere else."

"So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to till the soil from which he was taken."
Both clergy understand that using the Bible to talk about policy can be controversial. But Rev. Cooper says that the Bible is a good starting place for talking about the moral and human effects of immigration. Rabbi Miller says that religion gives people a way to think about the issue, without demanding they vote one way or another.

"Religion doesn't have the answer on these issues, religion gives us a background and a way to think about it."

"More than 36 times in the Torah, we are commanded to include, protect, support, and even love the stranger in our midst."

Following the lead of many national religious bodies, the local heads of several denominations, Christian and Jewish, have signed the Houston Interfaith Statement on Immigration Reform, which calls for creating a legalization process for undocumented immigrants, among other principles. The TMO congregations have held workshops, collected signatures, and met with legislators. Christ Church congregant Amy Gremillion came to the workshop because she supports this effort.

"We have to start demanding immigration reform, because our leadership is not going to take it on themselves. And I think that's kind of what we're trying to do here, in build grassroots support."

But not everyone does agree with that reading of the Bible.

"The way I look at it is, those comments apply to people who are sojourning throughout society who belong there."

John Varvaro is a parishioner at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Meyerland area. He's one of the few in his congregation who is openly questioning the Church's teaching on immigration.

"You can look at other verses in the Bible that will, in my mind, shed light on the reality of what's going on. You don't just have people just do whatever they want, and disregard the people's laws where they're at."

Deacon Ed Stoessel of St. Thomas More believes that congregants like Varvaro should be allowed to express their views. But he cautions that they should deeply evaluate their position.

"If you disagree with the Church on an issue like this, then you really need to spend some time trying to understand that."

Regardless of what happens with federal legislation this year, the TMO congregations intend to keep educating voters and encouraging them to call their congressmen on the issue. They see this as a long term battle over values and morals, as well as facts and figures.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.







March 14, 2010, 6:24PM


When U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his aides walked into Cardinal Daniel DiNardo's conference room at the Catholic Chancery one afternoon three weeks ago to talk about immigration reform, they were greeted by the archbishop, Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart and a dozen rabbis and clergy members from a variety of denominations.

They were also greeted by about 6,000 postcards piled in stacks on the large conference table around which the group would sit.

The men of the cloth wanted to talk to him about what they see as the biblical and moral imperative of immigration reform. But they also wanted to send a practical political message.

At a time when anger is the currency of the political realm, much of it aimed at illegal immigrants, the religious leaders were saying to Cornyn that they will have his back if he risks becoming a target of that anger by helping craft and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The meeting and the postcards are part of a number of organized movements bubbling up around the country, a stirring that led President Barack Obama this week to hold meetings with two senators, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some immigration activist groups to reassert his commitment to reform.

The church- and synagogue-based community organization TMO has been working with churches in the area for more than a year to educate members on the painful realities of immigration. Presentations include experts like veteran immigration attorney Charles Foster, who was working with President George W. Bush on an immigration reform law when 9/11 doomed it.

Foster is fond of explaining to people that to tell illegal immigrants to go home and get in line doesn't deal with the fact that about 10 million of them would be getting into a line that moves at a pace of 5,000 a year, many leaving citizen spouses and children here as they did so.

Cornyn told DiNardo and the other religious leaders, as he has repeatedly said in public, that it is up to Obama to make immigration reform a priority. He also noted that he had expected to hear from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on crafting a bill.

At that point members of the group, who were impressed with Cornyn's grasp of immigration issues, decided to challenge him. Why should a senator from Texas be waiting on New York and South Carolina to craft a bill?

"We appealed to his Texas pride," said Rinehart.

After all, Texas has the longest border with Mexico and a great deal of experience and accumulated wisdom from dealing with immigrants from the south.

What's more, Cornyn is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee.

Could he initiate a meeting with Schumer and Graham?

It wasn't much to ask, and Cornyn met with Schumer about a week later. He wanted to see the draft language Schumer and Graham had worked up.

According to a Cornyn staffer, he learned that there is no draft yet.

But Cornyn had already warned the group that a bill would not be passed this year.

That was set when Graham announced after meeting with Obama that efforts on immigration were dead if the president insisted on passing health care reform by a simple majority in the Senate.

But several of the religious leaders who met with Cornyn said they were glad to see the conversation begin in Washington again. And they plan to keep it going in their churches, building an ever larger constituency for reform.

"It's a Bible witness," said Rinehart. "You shall love the stranger and treat him like a citizen."

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Houston Chronicle/Viewpoints, Outlook

Jan. 30, 2010, 4:18PM


On Jan. 11, more than 300 clergy from dozens of religious denominations came from the far reaches of the Houston region in support of a critical moral issue, humane immigration reform.

The local heads of several major religious denominations, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Catholic archbishop of Galveston-Houston; Bishop

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Houston Clergy Takes Immigration Reform to the Pews

The clergy of Houston organized a prayer service with over 1,500 participants in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Judicatory leaders from each major religious denomination urged their clergy to participate in this effort, with widespread results. Since then, TMO leaders committed to turning out 51,000 voters in support of a nonpartisan family-oriented agenda that included immigration reform.

[Photo Credit: Michael Stravato, New York Times]

Houston's Clergy Unites to Urge Support for Immigration Reform, New York Times

Houston Religious Leaders Push for Immigration Reform, Houston Chronicle

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Parker Right to Pursue Coordination of Police

Franklin Olson and Rev. Kevin A. Collins weigh in on Mayor Anise Parker's proposal regarding public safety:

The Metropolitan Organization is heartened by Mayor Annise Parker's proposal that the closest available police officer, whether it be an officer from the Houston Police Department or officers from one of the other 58 policing entities in Harris County, be sent to the scene of emergency calls.

Full Article, Houston Chronicle

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This Pastor Does Not Back Brown

The Rev. John Bowie's True Light Missionary Baptist Church in Independence Heights is a welcoming congregation, so when mayoral candidate Peter Brown showed up for services a few Sundays ago, the reverend handled it like he always does with distinguished guests.

"I recognized him and told the congregation he was a candidate for mayor," Bowie said.

But Bowie didn't invite Brown to say a few words at the pulpit, as some preachers do...

Full Article, Houston Chronicle

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A Cheeky Request For City Funds?


It takes a lot of nerve to ask mayoral hopefuls to commit money to a new program these days, but that's what will happen Sunday when the major candidates face hundreds of citizens at an "accountability session" staged by The Metropolitan Organization.


TMO, a church-based community organization, wants $1 million over the next three years for a new job-training program...

Full Article, Houston Chronicle

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Protesters Need More Saul Alinsky

"I went to U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's "town hall meeting" on health care Tuesday expecting to see rude behavior. I did.

And some of it was from strident opponents of the health care plan under construction in Congress. But my "takeaway lesson" from the event was this: If you're an elected official who begins her town hall meeting by insisting you are here to listen to people's concerns, don't talk on your cell phone while a lady is telling hers...

Full Article, Houston Chronicle

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2009 News

Few disagreements in TMO 'accountability session'

By MIKE TOLSON Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

Nov. 30, 2009, 10:18PM

Mayoral candidates Gene Locke and Annise Parker took turns making promises Monday night to a local community activist group that presented them with its wish list of priorities for the next administration.

The Metropolitan Organization touched on four areas in its "accountability session," asking each candidate for agreement or disagreement with its stated positions. There was only slight disagreement between Locke and Parker, and none with the TMO concerns.

Each candidate agreed that Houston police officers should not be used to enforce immigration laws, that more police officers need to be trained to replace an aging force, that street construction is hampered by a cumbersome capital improvements program, and that the city should support a job training project for low-income and underemployed adults developed by one of TMO's sister organizations in Austin.

Locke said the training program, which will require $1 million in city funds in its initial phase, would be a priority in his administration.

"Even in hard times, you have to invest in yourself," Locke said. "It is part of our civic responsibility."

Parker said she supported the Capital IDEA program but would not commit to it unless she knows the money is available to pay for it.

"It's a great program and would be excellent for the city of Houston," Parker said at the event held at Trinity United Metropolitan Church in the Third Ward. "But I can't say now that we would be able to fund it for its full cycle."

Locke and Parker disagreed on whether the Houston Police Department should allow recruits trained under a Houston Community College program to be accepted as fledgling officers. Locke said HPD should train all its own cadets because it has higher standards and longer sessions. Parker said the other training programs produce properly trained cadets who receive the same state certification as those from the HPD academy.

Both candidates agreed that public safety would be improved by more joint policing - using officers from other agencies to handle some calls and patrol some areas now handled by HPD.

Parker said flood control improvements would be a cornerstone of her administration. She said many of TMO's concerns over poor streets and needed capital improvements, including additional greenspace, would be addressed as a matter of course by reworking infrastructure to minimize flooding. Locke said that more parks and recreational amenities were essential for giving residents the quality of life that a great city should possess.

Both candidates agreed that illegal dumping and compliance with city codes concerning vacant lots and buildings were major issues that needed to be tackled. Locke said the city should work in partnership with civic groups and citizen patrols to identify the most urgent needs, arguing that "the city can only do so much" on its own. Parker said the Neighborhood Protection Division of HPD has become forgotten in recent years and needs "to be raised up and re-emphasized" to get rid of eyesores before they become threats to public safety.

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Mayor hopefuls agree on job training program



Oct. 11, 2009, 9:09PM

Houston's four leading mayoral candidates agreed Sunday that a job training program supported by community activists was worthwhile, but City Controller Annise Parker said the city couldn't afford to invest local tax funds in the program.

During an "accountability session" attended by more than 1,000 members of The Metropolitan Organization, the mayoral contenders and candidates for the City Council, controller and the Houston school board agreed to support most elements of the nonprofit organization's agenda.

Harris County Department of Education trustee Roy Morales, however, distanced himself from his three mayoral rivals on local enforcement of immigration laws. Morales said he would change a police policy prohibiting officers from asking citizens outside the jail about their immigration status and supported screening inmates in local jails to identify illegal immigrants.

Parker, Councilman Peter Brown and former City Attorney Gene Locke said they supported jail screening but would retain the order preventing police from asking people in the community about immigration status.

TMO's primary focus was on developing a local job training program for low-income and underemployed residents. The group's leaders said they had obtained commitments of $270,000 from local institutions and $250,000 from the state, and they asked the city candidates to commit $1 million in city funding over three years.

All the candidates expressed support for the program, which TMO said would return $5 in economic benefits for every dollar spent. "It's not a lot of money over three years," Brown said of the requested city investment.

Parker, however, said shrinking local revenues would make it impossible to support the program through the city's general fund. Using federal funds could require cutting other program, she said.

All the candidates agreed to work for better cooperation among local law enforcement agencies and to strengthen community policing strategies. And most agreed with TMO's requests to spend more on streets and drainage, neighborhood improvements, expanded library hours and materials and after-school programs, but didn't specify how to pay for these services.

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A cheeky request for city funds?

By RICK CASEY Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

Oct. 9, 2009, 12:02AM

It takes a lot of nerve to ask mayoral hopefuls to commit money to a new program these days, but that's what will happen Sunday when the major candidates face hundreds of citizens at an "accountability session" staged by The Metropolitan Organization.

TMO, a church-based community organization, wants $1 million over the next three years for a new job-training program.

My bet is that most, if not all, of the candidates will take the pledge, or at least agree to try to find the money.

Outrageous? Maybe not.

The Legislature this year overwhelmingly passed and the governor signed a bill authorizing $25 million over the next two years to encourage exactly such programs.

The legislation was sought by Republican State Comptroller Susan Combs in a study she issued last December showing a vital need to train workers for technical jobs that don't require college degrees. The Texas economy, the report said, could suffer if such training doesn't take place.

The study indicated community colleges are effective at such training.

The TMO proposal would recruit low-wage workers and give them intensive support as they go through community college training programs. The program differs from others in some key ways.

- The workers, often single parents who are struggling to stay afloat, meet regularly with a counselor and a support group. Issues of day care for their children, help with transportation and other causes of high dropout rates in standard job-training programs are dealt with.

- The program will work with the community colleges to develop special, intensive, five-day-a-week courses designed to get participants up to speed with math, reading comprehension and writing skills needed before they can succeed in college courses.

- Area employers will help students know what fields the jobs are in.

All good in theory, but can it work?

The answer is that it already does. Sister organizations of TMO established successful programs years ago and have graduated thousands of participants.

Back in 1996 Paul Osterman, a labor economist at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, published a study funded by the Ford Foundation showing the San Antonio program, Project Quest, more than doubled the average participant's income after two years or less in the program.

The result was that taxpayers received a rapid return on their investment. Participants not only started paying more taxes, but needed less in food stamps and other forms of support. What's more, the prospects for their children jumped markedly.

A national expert on job- training programs, Osterman said Thursday that the San Antonio project and Capital IDEA, an Austin program based on it, "are among the best, if not the very best, in the country."

"It's a proven model," he said. "It's not like they're taking a risk."

The highly regarded Aspen Institute is in the process of evaluating the Austin program, but lead researcher Maureen Conway, who has studied job training programs for more than a decade, says she's already seen enough to be impressed.

"They're phenomenal," she said of Austin's Capital IDEA. "The way they use their resources, invest in their staff, use technology."

TMO has already sold some key Houston players on the plan. The United Way has agreed to put up $50,000 in matching funds. Lone Star College has pledged $30,000 in scholarships and $16,000 in staff time for developing curriculum. And federally funded Workforce Solutions has promised $124,000 for child care and other services.

So is it unmitigated gall to ask for a few hundred thousand a year from the city for the next three years?

The leading candidates all support tax breaks for companies willing to move here. If that's a good investment, isn't it wise to invest in workers who would take those jobs?

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Protesters lack predecessors' style CASEY: Cynicism not needed

Rick Casey Houston Chronicle

Wed 08/12/2009 Houston Chronicle, Section B, Page 1, 3 STAR R.O. Edition


I went to U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's "town hall meeting" on health care Tuesday expecting to see rude behavior.

I did.

And some of it was from strident opponents of the health care plan under construction in Congress.

But my "takeaway lesson" from the event was this: If you're an elected official who begins her town hall meeting by insisting you are here to listen to people's concerns, don't talk on your cell phone while a lady is telling hers.

Jackson Lee explained that she wasn't being rude. In Washington, she said, you had to be able to "multi-task" in order to be effective.

Maybe so, but back home in Texas it is still rude for a hostess to answer her cell without apology while someone is addressing her.

Other than that, the meeting wasn't bad. A dozen or so people who bitterly oppose government health care reform made their points, sometimes with considerable volume. Others among the 150 or so present voiced their support or their concerns.

But the meeting wasn't what some conservative leaders are saying it was.

Proud of the irony, men such as Adam Brandon are describing the uprisings as the application of the techniques of the late Saul Alinsky, sometimes called the father of community organizing and author of a book called Rules for Radicals.

Brandon is vice president for communications for FreedomWorks, an organization headed by former Texas congressman and now Washington super-lobbyist Dick Armey. The group has skillfully used the Internet to arm protesters with town meeting schedules, talking points and tactics for putting representatives on the defensive.

Knowing when to be rude

The meetings, it is suggested, are a version of "accountability sessions" famously employed by Alinsky-style community organizations.

These conservatives understand one thing about Alinsky: His tactics could be rude. But they differed from the current outbreaks in two ways.

First, they were much more creative than just yelling at politicians.

Second, organizations in the Alinsky network got truly rude only when it was the only way to get to the table.

Alinsky, a longtime union organizer, understood that rich people had only to ask quietly. Working-class people had to be more creative.

How to get a meeting

The first Alinsky organization in Texas was San Antonio's Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS). When they couldn't get powerful banker Tom Frost to meet with them back in the mid-1970s, they formed long lines to change dollars into change, then returned to the lines to turn the change back into dollars.

They got their meeting.

It's been some time since Texas members of Alinsky's coalition, the Industrial Area Foundation, have had to be rude to get to the table.

"I've been with the organization over 10 years, and I've never seen us do anything like this," said Father Kevin Collins, pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and a leader of Houston's The Metropolitan Organization.

Alinsky's mission was to teach powerless people how to win at politics.

With the help of a trained organizer, members of TMO hold hundreds of house meetings to hear concerns of their members. They decide what issues can be addressed with political action. Then they come up with proposals, sometimes with expert help.

Then they meet with business and political leaders to build support for the plan.

By the time they have an "accountability session" in which hundreds of their members face a stage full of elected officials, most of the officials are usually on board.

When to polarize

At Jackson Lee's town hall meeting, one of the protesters shouted, "Government can't do anything right!"

But Alinsky organizations are not so cynical. They know that government will do right by those who exercise power. If the people don't, the money will.

One of Alinsky's mottos was "No permanent allies, no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests."

"We will teach people that sometimes it is necessary to polarize," said one veteran organizer. "But you have to de-polarize."

Remember San Antonio banker Tom Frost? He is now honorary chairman of the board of Project Quest, a tax-funded job training program won by COPS with his assistance.

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