SWOP’s Community Organizing Efforts Featured in NY Times


For over 10 years, the Southwest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, NM has worked hard to deliver water services to the Pajarito Mesa.  A recent NY Times article takes a look at life on the Mesa, featuring SWOP organizer Sandra Montes who gave the Times a tour of the area and explained the organizing history, which has resulted in a water filling station, mobile health clinics and other services.  SWOP is directed by Building Movement Project Team Member, Robby Rodriguez, and works primarily in low-income communities of color to gain community control of land and resources.

The NY Times article recognizes how difficult organizing can be when several departments and groups of people have to work together, as SWOP has engaged with numerous county commissioners in their efforts to bring water to the area.  A sample from the article, written by Eric Eckholm, is below, or you can read the entire piece here.

“The Pajarito Mesa community, scattered over 28 square miles, is 90 percent Hispanic and mostly poor, and includes an uncounted but large number of illegal immigrants. But they are not squatters: residents buy or rent their plots, and the owners pay property taxes, one of the many oddities of a community that is isolated in plain sight.

Access to water and electricity has been stymied by a legal mess and a lack of political power in the largely nonvoting community. The mesa was never legally subdivided, no streets or rights of way for power lines were set aside, and the area was never licensed for housing.

In a small step forward, this month the mesa will finally get its first water supply — a metered spigot at a single site where people can fill their barrels, instead of having to drive anywhere from 10 to 18 miles. Getting even this much took 10 years of organizing residents and pestering state and county officials, a campaign led by Sandra Montes, a former housewife who moved to the mesa in 1997 “without realizing how hard it was going to be,” she said.

In 2005, Ms. Montes, who now works for the Southwest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, corralled Gov. Bill Richardson during a public appearance in distant Las Cruces, describing the plight of the mesa and getting him to provide state aid for the water project.”

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