Celebrating Hellraisers: Gary Delgado

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A founder of both the Center for Third World Organizing and the Applied Research Center (ARC), Gary Delgado has spent the past 25 years paying attention to conservative movements. Specifically, he organizes minority communities against them. Even so, he says he is awed by the right’s current political muscle–flexed most recently during the 1994 elections. “If you look at the right over the last five years,” he explains, “you’ll see they’ve opened up over 200 research institutes. They’ve built a number of grassroots organizations that use the same techniques we used in the 1960s. Look at their infrastructure, their ability to do research and develop new leaders, their ability to place people in key positions.”

Part of the right’s success can be blamed, Delgado believes, on the left’s unwillingness to take firm political stands. “I was trained in the ‘go do it’ tradition of community organizing and believed one should not be ideologically attached. That was a mistake,” he says, “because when right-wing groups blow onto the scene with a clear message, they look visionary.”

Delgado points to the 1994 passage of California’s anti- immigrant Proposition 187. “I think any community can be disrupted by the intrusion of an issue that’s been defined by the right and not discussed in community organizations.”

After seeing how effective proponents of Proposition 187 were in pitching the anti-immigrant message, even among immigrant communities, Delgado’s Oakland-based group led workshops to broaden the discussion to include economic, racial, and political perspectives.

It’s just a part of what Delgado has accomplished since 1981, when he founded ARC to help grassroots groups develop an educational infrastructure of their own. Like many think tanks on the right, ARC distills the latest academic and political research into a usable form for activists.

Delgado criticizes mainstream research groups for failing to focus on grassroots policy education. “We are going to have to get public universities accountable….Right now they do not provide information that helps a community understand how a particular policy proposal is going to affect their lives.”

Delgado would like to see universities and other research groups sharing and developing policy with community groups. “We need the benefit of not only the best thinking of the people in the community, but also information from the experts about the economic and political impact of certain kinds of decisions.”

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