The creation of a "Chavista Congress" has long been a dream of the Cesar Chavez Service Clubs and in 2019 it finally became a reality. The vision was to have the elected representatives from each Chavez Club come together as a "Congress" and plan joint social justice projects on topics and issues that are of interest to all of our clubs and Chavistas.
The first meeting of the Chavista Congress held on November 9th, 2019 at Hoover High School. The turnout was amazing for the first ever Congress with 65 elected officers attending, representing every Chavez Club. Members of the Congress heard presentations from new Crawford HS Principal Dr. Froylan Villanueva (a graduate of Hoover and several City Heights Schools), and Ken Msemaji, Chavez Clubs Board President and co-founder of the United Domestic Workers (trained by Cesar).
Following the opening presentations, the Chavista representatives broke into small groups focused on creating the Constitution for the Congress and identifying major projects that would unite all the Clubs. At the end of the meeting, the Congress established both a Constitution and Projects Committee, charged with meeting twice before the next full Congress meeting in February 2020, and reporting back to the full Congress with recommendations. Despite the additional commitment of two Saturday morning meetings, more than 20 Chavistas signed up to serve on these committees. Linda and Carlos presented each member with a copy of Axioms for Organizers by Fred Ross Sr - who recruited and trained Cesar Chavez.
Each committee then met on December 14th at Wilson Middle School. The Constitution Committee took on the role of preparing a document that would live on well past their time as Chavistas - debating questions such as whether decisions should be made by a vote of individual members or clubs; whether elementary and middle school members should be eligible to run for Congressional office; how to remove a member; and what dues structure would be fair.The debates have been both spirited and respectful, as the voices of experienced high school members have at times been challenged by fourth and fifth graders. One point of unanimous agreement so far - the preamble to the Constitution should include the 10 Chavista Values. After a second meeting on January 11th, the Constitution Committee plans to meet one more time on February 1st, before sharing its draft document with the full Congress on February 8th.
Likewise, the Projects Committee has now met twice, and will meet again once more before making its recommendations to the full Congress on February 8th. The Committee first established criteria for any project that the Congress would take on - the project should be consistent with the Chavista Values, it should address an issue or issues that affect all the Clubs and their surrounding communities, it should make lasting impact, it should be feasible, and it should continue through the end of one school year and into the next. Committee members at the December meeting narrowed their focus to addressing: homelessness, public transportation and the environment, and funding for schools.
At the January meeting, Committee members had a chance to listen to and engage local leaders on their focus issues. Mark Olson from the Metropolitan Transit System presented his agency's plans to put a measure before voters that would raise sales taxes to fund additional bus routes, trolley lines and free youth transit passes. Steve Russell from the San Diego Housing Federation discussed the root causes of homelessness and presented a plan for a ballot measure to raise property taxes to fund affordable housing for families. Chis Wilson from Alliance San Diego talked about the Schools and Communities First statewide ballot measure to increase commercial property taxes to fund public schools and community services.
After listening to the presentations, our Chavistas asked some insightful and detailed questions; Who will pay the new taxes? What if voters believe negative stereotypes about homeless people? What would schools do with more money? Committee members then broke into small groups to further discuss their ideas.
At the end of the meeting, individual Chavistas stood and made arguments for each of the issues - Mecklin Montgomery from Wilson Middle argued that improved public transportation would cut air pollution and help the environment. Alondra de la Torre from Bell Middle School argued that schools and communities need more money, and it would be fair to raise taxes on big businesses. Edison President Angel Arroyo stood and argued that some people are unfair to homeless individuals and families and we should stand up for them.
At the end of the meeting, the full Committee decided that we should take on all three issues this year. Members had a healthy debate about stretching ourselves too thin, but that we could take on all three issues if we work to get many people involved - just like Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King were able to do.