Conference Re-Examines Role of Chicano Pioneers

LA JOLLA, Calif.,

 In a year when the phrase community organizer has taken become a buzzword in the presidential campaign that just ended, activists and scholars will gather Nov. 16 to 18 to document and discuss one of the earliest, most significant community organizing efforts in California history.

The Community Service Organization (CSO) was founded in 1947 to empower Mexican-Americans to fight a system that denied them civil rights.

Veterans of CSO will meet with leading scholars and activists at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, Calif., site of the first national CSO conference held in 1954. “The Leadership Lessons of the CSO” is the theme of the conference hosted by the CSO Project, which is run by former members, with the help of the University of California/San Diego Extension.

“Until now, the history of the CSO has gone largely untold, even in academia, where the importance of CSO is well established,” says Gretchen Laue of UC San Diego Extension, a member of the organizing committee. “The story of CSO is about the ways the organization changed the lives of its members, and the way their actions in turn changed life for thousands of others.”

According to organizers, CSO became the vanguard of the Latino civil-rights movement through its voter-registration and citizenship drives, English classes, lawsuits, lobbying campaigns and hundreds of small organizing meetings.

Conference organizers credit the organization for launching the careers of dozens of organizers and leaders — including Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, U.S. Rep. Edward Roybal and California Supreme Court Judge Cruz Reynoso.

The CSO Project has been in a race against time to record 41 in-depth, videotaped interviews with the pioneers. Those videos — along with a tribute to CSO founder and legendary organizer Fred Ross, Sr. — will be on display at the conference.

For more information, log on to http://www.csoproject.org/ or contact Gretchen Laue at UC San Diego Extension at 858-964-1344.

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