Communist “infiltration” of the UFW

The Communist “infiltration” of the UFW: 

A “short” autobiographical story 

by Scott D. Egan

No self-respecting urban Lefty in the early 1970s would have avoided participation in the picket line for the United Farm Workers union or UFW.  In Tucson, we regularly marched in front of Safeway and other stores as part of the boycott against scab lettuce and grapes and Gallo wine.  These weekly pickets saw regular and sustained support by a whole political, social, and racial mix of activists.  This included a various conglomeration of members of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and their off-shoot the Workers World Party as well as mutual enemies — not the capitalists but other Lefties, like those of us who were from (what we considered) the “real” Party — the Communist one (CPUSA), and their youth group, the Young Workers Liberation League.  In addition, there was a large assortment of union organizers, Quaker Friends, Catholic Workers, and especially “La Raza” — the social/cultural activists in the Hispanic and Indigenous communities who were personally proud of something they rightly thought was predominantly their struggle to lead.  They saw us white activists as a supporting cast, but we were dependable and consistent.

While us city folk might not be able to get out in the fields in direct support of the workers, anyone could walk a picket line in town if you could get your butt there.  (As members of the Tucson based Teatro Libertad radical street theater we did perform in the fields for the Arizona Farm Workers union, who were abandoned by the UFW — another sad and mostly untold legacy).  The plight of farmworkers was a good fight that brought many factions together.  Mao or Stalin might have been saints or demons depending on one’s own twisted perspective, but farmworkers needed everyone’s unified support, and they generally got it from a conscientious citizenry across the country, no matter what politically sectarian line anyone was grumbling on about with each other at the time.

The UFW did have one major flaw that still haunts it: the cult of personality built around Cesar Chavez.  The man certainly deserves most of the credit for making the union as successful as it was, but Chavez also deserves the blame as well for its practical demise.  Even with a dark underbelly that has since been revealed about the consequential mistakes of the union and its seriously flawed leader, the cult of “Cesar” still holds a myth-like aura even today.  

In those old days, we saw many major union victories, especially in California, where important UFW contracts were signed that directly helped scores of workers who labored under the most oppressive conditions.  Those victories were encouragement and proof to idealists like me of being on the correct path.  Those contracts are all but gone now and the “union” has become little more than a family business that cashes in on the mythic past.  Some saw its demise coming and raised concerns.  Others regarded any legitimate criticism as heresy and almost a sin against god. Or, almost worse, a crime against St. Chavez.

At the time we knew little of the palace intrigue taking place at the UFW’s cloistered HDQ at La Paz, California where Chavez became a devotee of a strange religious cult (with some origins in Tucson) but there were other early warning signs for me that not all was right in happy valley.  First, I was a bit uncomfortable with the union’s full-throated embrace of the Democratic Party, which obviously was not my party of interest.  It was explained to me and others that such alliances were part of doing business, but that the union was really very radical at its core.  “We are not as peaceful and non-violent as our image suggests,” one union rep told me once, “you should know we are militant as hell in the fields when dealing with scabs.”  While this was somewhat strangely comforting for me at the time, I always had my doubts about the leadership.  I would later learn that much of their scorn was directed at undocumented Mexican workers, who were often reported to “La Migra” by Chavez and his band.  (The Arizona Farm Workers Union, disbanded by the UFW, actually worked to organize undocumented workers in Arizona and Mexico).

Then there were the nasty splits:  as the organization grew the radical organizers were expelled and the union newspaper which had always provided a progressive perspective was inexplicably shut down.  Rumors had it that the publication was closed for not following Cesar’s line close enough.  The radical theater group, El Teatro Campesino, separated from the union over differences in the direction as well, although they always supported the movement — just not within the confines of the UFW.  And then there was Cesar Chavez fully embracing the dictator of the Philippines, Fernando Marcos.  And even more perplexing to me, his high praise for the State of Israel.  Well, I was told, there are many Filipino farmworkers, so this is Chavez’s clever way to get the farmworkers support.   These workers support Marcos, I questioned?  Really?  And on the basis of that logic, why the praise for Israel since there are many of the farmworkers are Arab?  Certainly more than Jewish ones.  Well, “we need money and support from rich liberals.”  Yeah, don’t we all.  Hard to swallow that, at least for me.

I remember a discussion of these very issues with a particular couple who were prominent leaders of the UFW in Tucson.  We had spent countless hours together on the picket line and equally long hours resolving all the major global problems over many bottles of beers and discourse. The man was a pretty jovial intellectual and I always liked talking with him.  He was now married to a former nun after divorcing a leading Tucson Trotskyist, and they were both terrific organizers for the UFW.  I had respect for both of them and their strong and unbowed commitment to improving the human condition, as I do almost all those of a similar radical persuasion, no matter the particular flavor.  Some of the best people I ever met were such radicals.

I was not a full scale “Party” member then, but I was in the youth group called the Young Workers Liberation League (YWLL) which would eventually change back to their original title as Young Communist League (the “popular” front name fooled nobody).  From what I was learning about the world, the UFW positions on things outside of the union caused serious problems for me, having a hard time reconciling what I thought was a radical organization with what appeared to be it’s reactionary alliances.  I was around 20 years old, and sincerely just wanted to understand the contradiction, so I asked this respected couple how they reconciled all these issues.  Their responses seemed insincere and lacked any clarity to me, and I reacted with obvious dissatisfaction, stating to them: “Well, if I ever get to meet Chavez, I would like to ask him these questions directly.  Maybe he can justify all this.”

Their loud and immediate response startled me:  “Well then, we will certainly make damn sure then that YOU never, EVER get to meet Cesar,  Never!”  

Which lead me to the conclusion that there must not be any good responses to my questions and that my dear friends were talking shit they couldn’t defend.  History proved me right.  One aspect that always befuddles me is how so many humans act like they prefer to be another species — specifically: sheep.  This couple, so irate about my honest questioning, would eventually end up working with Chavez in his headquarters in La Paz.  Within a short time, they returned to Tucson with a ferocious antagonism against Chavez personally and what he was doing to the union in general.  In their eyes, Chavez seemed to be transformed from a godly saint who never did anything wrong, (and if he did commit any foibles they must be ignored for the sake of the movement) to the devil who they now denounced.  I believe this couple ended up joining The Party after I left (and then, after trashing me for questioning Chavez, disliked me more for being a heretic because I left the Party).  I suppose the CPUSA doctrinaire fit was more to their liking, as their position on Chavez changed about as sharply as the older comrades did with the Nazi-Soviet pact a few decades before.

These former friends ended up being wrong on their main contention with me as well: I did get to meet Chavez — if very briefly under somewhat amusing circumstances as I will now share with you. 

Tucson, a progressive oasis in a reactionary Arizona sea, always was a very strong hub of support for the UFW, and eventually, a planning meeting was commenced to make preparations for Chavez’s upcoming visit to a church in our town known as the Old Pueblo.  The most loyal picketers and supporters included a number of us, like me, who were affiliated with “The Party.”  We were asked if we would be willing to step up and be the local security team in charge of protecting Chavez, a job we were honored to accept (even with my reservations about Chavez and some of the union’s policies).  Plans were made, assignments given, stations determined, checklists checked, and our team was fully prepared for the job.  (On a side note, we were advised not to come armed — but I did anyway, reflecting a life-long resistance to following directions, particularly when it comes to my own self-defense. Back then I packed just a little 38 Special, which — in spite of the name — is not really that special of a pistol. I do not know if I was the only Red with a gun there, but I suspect not).

On the day of our “Cesar’s” arrival we were summoned to one last meeting before the event started with the UFW’s national security guy who wanted to meet with us and go over any last-minute issues, take any questions, and to thank us for volunteering and for all our support over the years that he had heard so much about.  I have to admit I was pretty proud of the fact that over half the local security team was made of my comrades from The Party and YWLL.  We were being acknowledged for our solidarity and being granted much-deserved respect!  I felt proud, like we were really bad-assed Reds, in charge of protecting the most important “radical” labor leader in the country.  Then, as the meeting was about to break, the lead UFW guys gives some last words of caution:

“I also want to caution you all to keep your eyes peeled for any trouble,” he announced with marked intensity.  “We have received some information that communists might be planning on attending this event tonight, and are trying to identify them.  So stay alert for any trouble!”

We looked at each other with a restrained but very bemused look of wonder.  Here we are on security detail and being instructed to watch out for ourselves!  In a twisted way, the fact that the UFW had no idea who we were proved they needed our good security!  Which we faithfully provided, no deference to the slander.  But it was very amusing to me and the other Reds.

At one point a few minutes before the event began I was directed to do something or other and I walked into a room in the back of the church with a dozen people standing around Chavez.  He was standing by a table, and he looked straight at me as I entered the room.  I smiled and nodded to him, and he nodded, expressionless.  He looked tired.  

I remember as I walked through and past him of being incredibly tempted to grab the opportunity by the gonads and say something like: “As a commie who is working on your security detail, I gotta ask ya:  what the fuck is it with you and that fascist fuck Fernando Marcos?”  But of course, I didn’t.  Perhaps I was so mesmerized by his spiritual exuberance that I was left completely speechless.  (Those who  know me you would know that it is a bad joke, of which I am known for many).  I knew I was there because I was being asked to protect him, not confront him, and passed on my way without a word.

In any case, the event went off without a hitch.

But I did get to at least be in close presence of the man, in spite of being loudly and most resolutely assured by my ex-friends that I never would.  

And I was even packing at the time.

Hail Cesar!

[For more info on the rise and fall of the United Farmworkers, see the works of Miriam Pawel, a Pulitzer Prize wining editor and reporter, whose books include “The Union of Their Dreams” and “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez.”  Also see:  https://nacla.org/news/2014/1/14/boycott-legend-sacrifices-movement-cesar-chavez-and-renewed-case-radical-democracy with a review of “Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers” by Frank Bardacke and Joseph Nevins.

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A passionate quotation presented from the Bogg:

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions. 

Their lives a mimicry. Their passions a quotation.” 

— Oscar Wilde

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“No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and the hopes, the loves and the hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement, it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude.”

— James Connolly

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RELIGIOUS POETRY:  “Song of the Cheerful but slightly Sarcastic Jesus”  

(written by James Joyce, who pilfered some of the lyrics from Oliver St. John Gogarty)

     John Gogarty said: of these words I am guilty, 

     But hats off to James Joyce and his mastery…

     No one attributes the verses to me, 

     Though he quotes them all quite accurately… 

“I’m the queerest young fellow that ever was heard

My mother’s a Jew my fathers a Bird

With Joseph the Jointer I cannot agree

So here’s to Disciples and Calvary.

If anyone thinks that I ain’t divine   

He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine

But have to drink water and wish it were plain   

That I make when the wine becomes water again.

My methods are new & are causing surprise   

To make the blind see I throw dust in their eyes

To signify merely there must be a cod    

If the Commons will enter the Kingdom of God.

You know I don’t swim & you know I don’t skate   

I came down to the ferry one day and was late.

So I walked on he water and all cried in faith   

For a Jew man it’s better than having to bathe.

Whenever I enter in triumph & pass 

You will find that my triumph is due to an ass

& public support is a grand sinecure  

 When you once get the public to pity the poor.

Then give up your cabin and ask them for bread   

And they’ll give you a stone habitation instead

With fine grounds to walk in and raincoat to wear   

And the Sheep will be naked before you go bare.

                                                                                                

The more men are wretched the more you will rule

But thunder our “Sinner!” to each bloody fool

For the Kingdom of God that’s within you begins   

When you once make a fellow acknowledge his sins.

Rebellion anticipates timely by “Hope”  

And stories of Judas and Peter the Pope

You’ll find that you’ll never be left in the lurch   

By children of Sorrows — and Mother the Church.

Goodbye now goodbye, you are sure to be fed   

You will come on My Grave when I rise from the Dead

What’s bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly 

& Olivers breezy goodby goodbye.

Bye-bye, now write down all I‘ve said  

And tell Tom Dick and Harry that I rose from the dead

Yeah What’s bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly   

And Olivers breezy goodby — now goodbye.”

— from Ulysses by James Joyce

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These written dispatches are the rantings of Scott D. Egan: a former chief aide to two Tucson City Council members (Bruce Wheeler and Mike Haggerty) and chief of staff to a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors (Ray Carroll), as well as former Chairman and Grand Marshall of the Tucson St. Patrick’s Day Parade, along with being  one of the founding member of a number of groups including Teatro Libertad of Tucson (a radical bi-lingual street theatre), the Hooligan’s (traditional Irish music band), and the Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association.  He has also been a life-long supporter of Irish Republicanism and the unification of Ireland “from the center to the sea.”  He describes his current political philosophy as “Anarcho-cynicism” — a rejection of government imposed authority combined with a cynical but evidence-based assumption that humankind is too afraid of achieving real freedom (a tongue-in-cheek take on the Anarcho-syndicalism of America’s greatest union: the I.W.W.).

Known as “The Bogman” due to an epithet cast which appropriately stuck, Egan has lived in Tucson’s westside Barrio Hollywood with his wife Pernela and a ’49 Chevy pick-up truck for most of his adult (?) life.  The opinions expressed here are his and his alone, so don’t blame his family or his friends for anything he says or does.  OK?  Hey!!!  OK ???

This is what is hoped to be the first of many editions of “Notes From the Bog.”  

Til next time, Slán…

PS:  Happy Birthday P.J.!

An Open Letter To A Neighbor: Why I Am Not Voting For Regina Romero

An Open Letter To my Neighbor:

Why I Am Not Voting for Regina Romero and Why She Doesn’t Deserve Your Vote

by Scott D. Egan

Barrio Hollywood, Tucson

“It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.”

  — H. L. Mencken

I write this in response to you because you are a neighbor who has put a “Regina Romero for Mayor” sign in your yard.  I appreciate your right to express yourself in public about your political preferences.  I am choosing to do the same with this letter.  

You might be wondering why there are no other signs up for Romero here in Barrio Hollywood (at least I haven’t seen any), and and I would like to share my reasons as to why I think this particular candidate would be a terrible Mayor and does not deserve your, or anyone else’s, vote.

Hailing herself as “the” progressive choice for Tucson and attempting to exploit the welcome trend to support young Latina leadership which has captured the aspirations of many of us who long for real change in our political and cultural institutions, Regina Romero is running for Mayor of Tucson after three terms on the City Council.  Surface appearances aside, Romero is certainly no A.O.C.  All voters need to look past the glossy images and into the facts of her record to determine if she warrants your support. 

Let’s look at Romero’s claims versus reality:

  1. Qualifications.  Romero has spent many years in government, both working for Pima County and, for the last 12 years, on the city council.  She claims to have graduated “from the U of A and the Harvard School of Government.”  While this sounds impressive, she actually did not “graduate” from Harvard University, but only attended some classes in a program designed for politicians who can then say they went to “Harvard.”  Based on her track record in public office we are about to examine, one must wonder what is actually taught at that particular “School of Government.”
  1. Cleanliness.”  Romero is proud to distinguish herself from the other candidates because she is the only one to sign on for “clean elections” — allowing her to get extra money from the taxpayers to match the fundraising of her opponents (who chose not to use government support to run their campaigns).  Romero asserts that “money from corporations is the problem in our political system,” which few can deny.  However, Romero clearly had no qualms about taking such money for her past council elections, where her largest contributors include the largest “Ricos” in the region.  This includes maximum contributions from the top echelons of the development industry, including many who profited from subsidies and favors granted to them from policies Romero promoted on the City Council. A review of her strongest donors includes names like Diamond, Goldstein, Lopez, Dabdoub, Stiteler, Wadlund, Silvyn, and Swain, and realtors from Holualoa, Town West, HSL, Gadsden, Vantana, and Broadway Realty & Trust.  Such ritzy supporters guarantee a very responsive office holder — for them, but not for the rest of us.
  1. Accountability.  Listening to Romero’s criticisms of city policy and practices one would first assume she is a new candidate running for change and will clean it all up once in charge.  The fact is that after 12 years of being in the seat of power she has very little to brag about.  A glaring example can be found in her campaign brochure, which asserts that “gentrification downtown is causing centers to lose children, streets to lose parking and small mom-and-pop stores to close”  Well, who caused that gentrification and displacement downtown in the last decade or so?  Romero not only contributed to it, but she also helped to lead it with the consistent support of her corporate backers.  Why would anyone think she will do anything different as Mayor than as a council member?
  1. Honesty.  There is no issue that highlights the proven dishonesty of Regina Romero more than the political fiasco perpetrated in her attempted giveaway/sale of 114 acres of publicly owned, urban green space known as the Trini Alvarez El Rio Golf Course for development.  While insisting that residents should “believe me! that the property was not for sale, she was simultaneously secretly trying to rush the very deal through that she was publicly denying.  As the Arizona Daily Star reported (5/29/13), Romero was “one of the key proponents” who pushed for the sale behind closed doors.  She readily admitted that “when they [the developers] asked us what site, we offered them the El Rio Golf Course … a prime location.”  Due to the fierce resistance of a united community coalition, it was announced that “Grand Canyon University has backed off building a new campus in Tucson.” [A.D.S. 6/30/13] Yet Romero, who actually made the initial motion to begin negotiating the sale while boasting it as a “really great opportunity!”— now is claiming that she is the one who stopped the sale!  As another council member remarked at the time, her deal “just stinks… it was a big mistake going into negotiations…this should have been above board …” 
  1. Transparency.  There can be no accountability in government without transparency, and Romero vehemently avoids both.  When she and the city refused to turn over documents that were supposed to be legally accessed by the public, the people took the city to court and eventually won.  Mysteriously at that time, Romero claimed that someone broke into her office and stole her computer’s hard drive with all her files.  No alarm went off, there were no signs of a break-in, and nothing else was stolen from the entire office. A unique robbery, indeed.  Maybe some of the missing records could explain who directed the city-hired appraiser to grossly undervalue the El Rio Golf Course by appraising it as if it was an empty dirt lot to make it a sweeter deal for the developers (in violation of the spirit of the law preventing special “gifts” from government to private business).  Her hard drive is still missing.  Perhaps O.J. can help her find it.
  1. Respect.  After the city lost in its attempt to destroy the historic El Rio Golf Course, the neighborhood that primarily lead the charge was subjected to political retribution from the City of Tucson.  Barrio Hollywood, in keeping with the city rules and regulations, attempted to change their membership qualifications, removing the stipulation of property ownership.  Some of the business owners in the neighborhood had supported the sale of El Rio for their commercial interests, and there was a sudden take-over, almost a coup, of the neighborhood association by them and some residents who supported Romero.  (Most of them were never seen before or after the neighborhood election).  While Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association was threatened by the city with being denied recognition or any cooperation regarding various city services if the bylaw changes were enacted, the members defied the city and proceeded to make membership based on residence and not property owners, and the residents of the neighborhood regained the control of the organization.  The city backed down after being challenged by a united community (as they did on the golf course). Romero publicly played a “hands-off” role on the issue, allowing city staff to try to impose undemocratic policies on the neighborhood.  To make her sentiments clear to the residents however, Romero appointed to the city’s golf commission an individual who was a main promoter of the sale of the golf course to the developers.  Romero has never expressed any regret about trying to wipe out this historically and culturally treasured urban green space, and continually refused to meet with those who opposed her plans in spite of her constant calls to start a “conversation” about every issue.  Nor has she ever attempted to rescind her vote on the sale, which still stands as a 5-2 vote to sell the land even today.  The lack of respect between her and many of her constituents on the west side is certainly mutual.
  1. Consistency.  Romero claims she supports “improving core services like the police and fire departments.  Yet it would be hard to find a cop or paramedic who believes that assertion, which is why both the police and fire unions endorsed her opponent.  While claiming she supports education, it is her opponent who was endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers.  While assuring the public that she cares about city employees, the city bus drivers clearly don’t seem to see it that way, which is why the Teamsters Union is also a union that endorsed her opponent.  Although she claims she is “progressive” and from an immigrant family, she refuses to support Sanctuary City designation for Tucson as other candidates have.  Currently employed by a local environmental organization to “work with the Latino communities on … protecting public lands” she has instead worked to wipe out 114 acres of urban green space in a predominantly working-class Latino community.  While claiming she is an advocate for affordable housing she supported the displacement of 130 seniors at Armory Park in favor of a developer’s plan from Chicago.  Those who have actually dealt with her know full well that Regina Romero’s words consistently do not match her deeds.

In the last city election that Romero ran in, a council member from the east side received more votes from residents in Romero’s ward than she received from her own constituents.   Maybe the voters in the ward know something that the rest of the city can learn from.  I believe if you peel away the shiny image, and you will see someone who should not be Tucson’s next Mayor.  

I have done my best to explain to you why, as one of her constituents, I will not vote for Regina Romero for Mayor, and have perhaps shared some of the many reasons there are so few of your neighbors are supporting her. I appreciate that you have taken enough of an interest in the upcoming city election to express yourself with a yard sign. Voters like you and I will be the ultimate judge of how much support should be rendered for her dishonesty, lack of transparency, and disrespect for her fellow citizens.  The choice, as always, will be ours.

Sincerely and respectfully,  your neighbor,

Scott Egan

Niagara Street

Barrio Hollywood, Tucson

Tucson’s neighborhood associations poison pill

The Poison Pill in Tucson’s Neighborhood Association Bylaws

Like many other residents who have formed a neighborhood association, those of us who created the Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association back in 1989 used a template provided by the City of Tucson to formulate our bylaws.  We wanted to follow as closely as possible the guidelines the City was looking for to get approval as an officially listed neighborhood association.  

Why is official city recognition needed?  Obviously, it is good to be listed with the city so that we can receive official notices of information of interest that can be shared with residents, such as the Brush and Bulky program or other beneficial programs or city-sponsored events.  Back 30 years ago, having an official city listing meant that monthly neighborhood notices to residents were paid for by the city bulk mailing system.  As we know, the neighborhood mailing notices are now only sponsored once a year, yet it is still an important cost-free way to notify our fellow residents about the association and available services (and minimal support is better than none).  We have just recently been informed that the City also is discontinuing mailing notices to remind residents when to put out their stuff for Brush and Bulky.

Just a few years ago (2013-14) the City of Tucson threatened to un-register Barrio Hollywood from the public rolls, denying us mailing privileges or any cooperation with us on Brush and Bulky and other neighborhood programs.  We fought and gaining the right to keep our listing, but it is important for other neighborhoods to understand why we were being threatened, as such threats could be used against other when the City disapproves of what neighborhood associations might engage in for the benefit of fellow residents.  This is especially relevant to inner-city residents who may feel the need to fight city hall on issues like gentrification — which was the cause of the City’s conflict with our association.

The attempted de-registration of Hollywood is important to understand in context.  Our neighborhood is situation in a strategically important location for future development, gentrification, and displacement.  We are between Pima College West and the Downtown Campus, close to downtown and not too far from the U.A.  Our eastern boundary is the I-10 freeway, an important transportation access point off of Speedway, while Pima County developed the beautiful Santa Cruz Riverpark for bicyclist and pedestrians.  We have a host of great mom and pop type restaurants on Grande Avenue as well as St. Mary’s Road, and available community resources at the El Rio Neighborhood Center for seniors and day care needs.  Uniquely, we are also across the street from over 110 acres of critical urban green recreation space at the Trini Alvarez El Rio Golf Course, the targeted area for what was planned to be a major effort for extreme gentrification for the area.

In 2012, the Mayor and City Council were conducting secret negotiations to sell those 100+ acres to a private company: Grand Canyon University (or GCU), while publicly claiming that no such deal was in the works.  They tried to rush the agreement though on a last-minute council agenda, but the area residents were already informed of the deal and mobilized against it.  The Council still voted for the deal (with only council members Fimbres and Kozachik in opposition), but the community was outraged enough to launch an aggressive campaign against the plan and with the help of some (free) lawyerly services we acquired some of the public documents — the ones that had not been “lost” by the city attorney’s office — and revealed how bad the plan was, not just for westside residents but for every taxpayer in Tucson.  

Eventually, the attempt to sell this critically valued public land (at below market value) for the benefit of the developers and to the detriment of the citizens fell through.  But the collapse of the deal did not happen because the Mayor and Council saw the evil of their ways, grew a conscience, and reversed their vote.  Rather, it was the public pressure on GCU that skewered the deal, and they withdrew from the offer (of lucrative public subsidies) and bought some private land for their new campus in another part of Tucson.  It was from this loss that the City turned it’s attention to Barrio Hollywood and our neighborhood association which — along with a number of other neighborhoods who stood in solidarity with us — lead the resistance against the city plans.

It is critically important for neighborhood activists to understand what happened next in the power games that emanate from city hall.  Some business owner in the hood, many of whom we had worked productively with in the past, were angry that a development that could bring them enormous financial benefits was derailed by the residents.  They were told, after all, that up to 7,000 students would flood into the area.  How great is that for business?  Think of all the hot dogs that could be sold!  There are probably similar arguments being made wherever the city plans for more gentrification.  From their perspective they are right:  redevelopment can provide more tax revenue than a golf course.  Or a park.  Or a library.  But in our neighborhood we like those public things, and believe they are worth fighting for.

In our specific case, the land that the city was trying to give away— where the El Rio Golf Course  is located — has an important significance in the history of Tucson’s barrios.  That rich history is not the subject here, but suffice to say that those who are aware of struggle over that land are also those who want to preserve the fabric of our neighborhood community.  This might mean that on occasion local residents may not place as their highest priority the financial needs of the business community.  That does not mean we are anti-business.  But that is what we were labeled as, and worse.* 

[*Because GCU is a “Christian” for-profit educational institution our opponents claimed we were anti-religious and wanted to drive the churches out of Hollywood because someone raised the issue of GCU’s anti-gay policies!]  

One important fact we uncovered, after we took the city to court and won our public records request, was how the city tried to fix the assessed value of the land to give the developers an even juicier deal.    The appraiser that was hired was directed to value the land as if it were a dirt lot — without electricity, water, a clubhouse, an a virtual urban forest of trees.  We can only wonder how many other such deals they city engages in to the detriment of long-term residents.  If you can’t afford a lawyer or get on for free you will probably never know.

With the project killed many there was lots of talk about letting “the healing begin” and the need to reconcile with the few business folks who were most irate about losing potential future profits.

And then came our neighborhood election.

Although our residents won the battle to preserve the park, our neighborhood was soon to realize that the war was far from over.  The next Barrio Hollywood election saw a slew of individuals, many whom we had never seen before, who showed up to vote for new candidates.  Since the neighborhood association bylaws allowed voting by any resident and any business owner, certain business people showed up along with family members — who all claimed owned part of the “family” business and therefore demanding a right to vote!  The new slate won by three (questionable) votes and successfully changed the entire leadership of the association, a leadership that should be noted had spent many years working in the association.  But new folks took over, even if under questionable voting irregularities. 

Those who had opposed the sale for development were now out.  Those friendly with city who lead the fight for gentrification won.  The new “business and church friendly leadership” (!) was awarded by the city with appointments to various city committee’s and commissions — including a seat on the “Greens” committee charged with looking at the privatization of city golf courses, the very essence of the excuse for the sale of the public property we opposed.

Our members were outraged, not only by the secret deal to sell off public land but also at city interference in our neighborhood election — a virtual coup.  

A majority of residents then made a move to change Barrio Hollywood’s bylaws which would restrict elections to residents only.  Under the proposed new rules, those who but did not live in the neighborhood would not be given a vote on whom would represent those who do live in the neighborhood.  Residents, and residents only, should have the power to vote — “just like only city residents can vote in city council elections” some said.  It seemed logical.  But it turned confrontational.

In response to the threat of democracy, the new neighborhood association board, in conjunction with city staff, claimed that neighborhood associations had no right to change their own bylaws if that would exclude those who did not live in the neighborhood from voting in neighborhood elections.   

We were threatened that if we dared to change the bylaws — restricting voting to residents only — that our official city recognition of Barrio Hollywood would be stripped and we would be denied access to city services.  

We were told that there would no longer be any cooperation with residents on neighborhood clean ups, brush and bulky programs would be eliminated , and any other city resources would be prevented for use by Barrio Hollywood. 

In the face of these threats, in spite of these threats, the overwhelming majority of Barrio Hollywood residents voted for the new bylaws.  In reaction to this defiance the city retracted its own position and acknowledge our right to change our bylaws for the benefit of our residents.  

Then, after successfully changing our bylaws to prevent outsider from voting the entire Barrio Hollywood board was taken back by the residents.  While we have some new leadership we can feel confident that our association is run by residents and for residents.

And now we come to the point:  why is all this important to you?

And the answer is that any of this could happen to your association.  

Like Barrio Hollywood, your bylaws probably state that residents AND business owners can vote in your elections.  If so, you should consider changing them.  You may not think anyone from the outside can come in and take over your board, but that is what we thought. What would happen if the city was pushing something you didn’t support, and then they took over your association by using your own bylaws against you?

In our case, related family members of the business owners showed up to vote against the residents, claiming they as family all had a stake in the one business in our hood.  Do you bylaws clearly indicate only one vote for each business?  Or can it be interpreted by the city attorney’s office in a different way?  How do you determine legally who can vote?  

Neighborhood associations have an important part to play in our city.  We need to value our independence, especially as the City of Tucson’s economic priorities run into conflict with neighborhood values.   

Protect yourself.T