Community organizer Yvonna Cazares
By Aurora Saldivar, Coachella Unincorporated
In the midst of social and economic disparity, community organizer Yvonna Cazares says her job is to “look at root causes of why people are poor and how we can address that.”
“It all starts with listening to folks,” she says. “As an organizer you leave your personal ideology at the door.”
Cazares is a community organizer for Inland Congregations United for Change, based in the Coachella Valley. Coalition building, she says, is the key to sustainable reform. According to Cazares, the common goal of community organizers – which have included the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Barack Obama — is to give people within communities the “tools to go toe to toe with city officials.”
Cazares grew up in the Coachella Valley and learned from personal experience what type of life is available when there is a lack opportunity. She says she went to college to make “myself, family and community proud.” She has returned home to work as a community organizer, building on the community service she did while in college.
From the Civil Rights Movement to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, community organizing has played a role in braining people in communities together. Organizers have been employing tactics rooted in Latin America’s liberation theology that has reached its way now into the heart of communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Community organizers take up issues ranging from towing of illegal immigrants’ cars to environmental injustice to renovating city parks. The job of community organizers spreads far beyond the confines of an office and on to city streets and church pews.
“It starts with a conversation, one on one, and people listening to each other,” says Cazares. From there, she says the concerns and pressures of the people can be compiled and presented to city officials.
Cazares doesn’t mind having her work utilized as a tool for communities. She describes the job a community organizer as being “a thermometer” for the city, taking into account the social climate from among the masses.
When asked why she chose the job of community organizer, Cazares responds as perhaps many of her colleagues would.
“Who else, if not me?”