May 02, 2018

Getting locals involved in community organizing

Christian Miramontes (left) and Joseph Norton (right) erect a sound wall of sub-standard material on I-80 and the Jordan River in February. The location is I-80 at the Jordan River (about 1200 West.)  Photo by Michael Clára|||| Christian Miramontes (left) and Joseph Norton (right) erect a sound wall of sub-standard material on I-80 and the Jordan River in February. The location is I-80 at the Jordan River (about 1200 West.) Photo by Michael Clára|||| ||||

By Michael Clára

Established in 1966, Crossroads Urban Center is a multi-faith, community-based nonprofit that addresses poverty and social injustice in Utah. Crossroads is well known for initiating and developing new service organizations, such as Utahns Against Hunger and Wasatch Community Gardens, with the intent of giving Utahns “new eyes” to have the vision to recognize that as neighbors, in each other’s welfare we find our own.

As a full-time community organizer for Crossroads Urban Center, I have been tasked with the responsibility to assist residents living within the boundaries of Poplar Grove (900 South to North Temple, west of I-15), to organize and build the capacity needed to work towards breaking cycles of poverty and address social justice disparities that impact the west side of Salt Lake City.

“Community Organizing” is an umbrella term for a field of practice in which residents collaboratively investigate and take action regarding social issues of mutual concern. My role as a community organizer precludes me from acting as an advocate, activist or mobilizer. The success of this endeavor will be measured by how many more residents have taken citizen ownership of the politics that shape the space that we all share.

In an effort to better facilitate participation in the public square, neighbors recently organized under the banner of the Poplar Grove Neighborhood Alliance which includes individual residents as well as churches and other nonprofits.

Over the past several months, those participating in the alliance have learned that involvement in politics through the “community organizing” process is bonded together by common elements which include: research, action and evaluation. Moreover, they have discovered that generating public “action” is no easy matter and throws up many difficult situations that must be navigated and negotiated. These range from questions of how best to deploy strategic incivility to managing tensions generated by the “action” itself. The final step is to evaluate the benefits of provocation in the public square. Then repeat the process for the next issue.

One example is how neighbors successfully worked with Senator Escamilla, Representative Hollins and Representative Romero to secure funding from the legislature and commitment from UDOT to complete the sound wall along I-80 (between Redwood Rd. and the Jordan River). This was a yearlong process that included neighbors staging an “action” designed to generate “tension” in order to make their point. One Saturday morning in February, residents gathered and began to build the unfinished sound-wall themselves, using substandard material. They posted this unique form of protest on social media.

Other issues that residents have organized around: SLC civic engagement methods, SLC allowing the installation of a cell tower in violation of zoning ordinances, unsafe 900 West/Road-Diet, unsafe school crosswalk, impacts of Operation Rio Grande, missing sidewalks, missing railroad quiet zones, trains blocking intersections and blaring horns and a spike in gang violence, etc. We hold monthly “accountability sessions” with officials. To get involved, look us up on Facebook: Poplar Grove Neighborhood Alliance.

Crossroads recently opened a new Westside Food Pantry on 1358 West Indiana Avenue, across the street from its long-established thrift store. The pantry offers free food and is open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Call 801-935-4079 for more information.

People in need (with a voucher) may obtain clothing and small household items for free or very low cost at Crossroads Thrift Store, located at 1385 West Indiana Avenue. The Thrift Store is open from Tuesday-Friday between 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Call 801-359-8837 for more information.