Thinking Locally and Globally: A powerful organizing movement of folks in Arkansas


POOR correspondent - Posted on 06 July 2010

Tony Robles/National Poverty Racism and Resistance Report (NPRRR)
Thursday, October 2, 2008;

"We'd like to take what we're doing in Arkansas to other states. It would be great if every state had a citizen's lobbying group", says Bruce Lockett, co-chair of Citizen's First Congress (CFC), a grassroots organization based in Arkansas. CFC is made up of organizers and activists from 44 different organizations working together to shape public policy and to put power in the hands of low-income and working class Arkansonians in a state where big business wields so much power.

CFC is at the forefront of issues such as prison reform, economic justice, health care, Global warming and increasing the state’s minimum wage. Lockett sees Arkansas as a state where things are moving forward. "CFC is one of the few grassroots lobbying organizations in the state. Most people don’t have the resources or ability to lobby. It takes money and lots of logistical work".

CFC practices what POOR Magazine calls interdependence, rather than the cult of independence. CFC has coalesced into a formidable organization bringing together the most important of resources --the community. CFC successfully bridges organizers and activists from different fronts of struggle and unifies their efforts to form public policy in the state legislature.

CFC is a visionary organization that is thinking both locally and globally. The organization recently brought together scientists, environmentalists and scholars to lobby the Arkansas legislature to study the effects of global warming. As a result, the state assembly created a global warming commission to look at this global phenomenon and to develop strategies to ameliorate the damage being done to our planet. The corporate power elite in the state has power to shape policy towards pollution - a policy damaging to our basic human right to water and clean air. "We have a large group of environmentalists in the CFC", says Lockett. "We pushed for environmentally friendly technology. We have a windmill plant making windmills for the Texas market right now".

Through the lobbying efforts of the diverse organizations that make up the CFC, the Arkansas Department of agriculture was formed. Small farmers are now taking advantage of the many subsidies and programs via the federal government—opportunities denied them due to non-existent state body to disburse those funds. Thanks to the efforts of the CFC, small farmers can partake in subsidies that the larger farmers monopolized.

I met Bruce at a fundraising seminar in San Francisco a few months back. He was a guy you don't meet too often at fundraising workshops and seminars - warm, down to earth - real. We connected immediately. We talked about raising money and how hard it is for organizations to make it - especially ones that do not sell their souls to the non-profit industrial complex.

I asked him about homelessness in his state. He indicated that there are problems but they are limited to the bigger cities. "Little Rock has the biggest problem when it comes to homelessness. Arkansas is primarily rural. We have a population of 2.5 million in the entire state. The majority of our people live in rural areas". He cited Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) as being at the forefront of the state's housing issues.

In 2007 the CFC lobbied the legislature to focus on HIV/AIDS. The state formed an HIV task force this year in response to the disproportionate cases of HIV/AIDS plaguing women, African-Americans and Latinos. A task force’s findings will be released next month.

Predatory lending is a problem in poor communities with check cashing establishments offering payday loans - charging exorbitant interest rates, getting rich on the backs of the poor. That day is over. "We got Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to work on predatory lending with all the high fees", said Bruce. "Pay day loans were banned and Arkansas shut down the check cashing places". Check cashing establishments were charging 371% interest on these loans - higher than the 17% the state allows.

CFC is an example of interdependence - elders, scholars, activists, youths and environmentalists working together for the overall good of the community. As Bruce Lockett says, "People see strength in numbers".

For more information, go to CFC's webisite: www.citizensfirst.org

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