There might be no better symbol of Downwinders’ transformation from a local clean air group to Something More than our successful College of Constructive Hell-Raising. We just began our fourth year with a class of 22 students that will push the number of alumni to over 50 at this May’s graduation. Seven of our 12 current board members are graduates.Unlike other seminars for political activists that examine electoral strategies or specific skills like public speaking or fundraising, the College enables its participants to “think like an organizer.” Its sessions are a combination of the same principles taught to professional organizers at the nation’s oldest schools of community organizing and the local history of effective social change as told by the people who made it.
Environmentalism is not its focus. Rather it’s a deep dive into the mechanics of how “Davids” beat “Goliaths.”
Per custom, original Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizer Peter Johnson was the semester’s lead-off guest speaker. As someone who knew MLK Jr. on a first name basis, Peter instantly brings history down from the pedestal many of us want to put it on. Other guest lecturers include John Fullinwider, Changa Higgins, Mavis Belisle, Sister Patricia Ridgley, Kim Batchelor, Luis Selpulveda, Patti Fink, Don Madison, Colette McCadden and Meagan Green.
As impressive as our speaker line-up is, it’s also the diversity of students who’ve fueled the success of the class – urban aggies, animal rights and police brutality activists, peace and immigration activists, LGBT, transit rights and anti-gentrification activists. We’re growing a network of relationships that transcend single-issue silos and making new friends that connect us to larger struggles.
Interested? Another class begins January 2021 with enrollment beginning in September. You can put your name on a waiting list to get an early heads-up here, and follow the College on FaceBook here.
Downwinders is happy to announce our 2019 College of Constructive Hell-Raising Class
is completely full and the largest ever at 20 students. Circumstances may change however, so we’re creating a stand-by list just in case there are any drops. Let us know if you’re interested thru our email@example.com address.
Besides being the most sizable, the class of ’19 looks to be one of our most diverse in terms of background, experience, and interests. We’re excited to share the semester with them.
Class of 2019
Applications for Texas’ only “grassroots school for change”
now being accepted: CLICK HERE
Class begins January 15th.
Former Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt will take what she’s learned over the last 20 years of public service and teach a lesson in “Real World Civics” as part of the third-year curriculum of The College of Constructive Hell-Raising.
At 33, Hunt was the youngest person ever elected to the Dallas City Council in 2005 and served eight years representing District 14. She’s best known for her lengthy and successful opposition to the Trinity Toll Road, as well as being a New Urbanism pioneer. She’ll use her unique insight taking on the Dallas Establishment to discuss the difference between what we’re often taught about how government should work versus how it actually does.
Hunt will join other well-known troublemakers as a Guest Lecturer at the College, including civil rights icons Peter Johnson, Patti Fink, and John Fullinwider, environmental justice legend Luis Sepulveda, well-known police brutality organizer Sara Mokuria, lifelong anti-nuclear and immigration movement stalwarts Mavis Belisle, Kim Batchelor, and Sister Patricia Ridgley, and Megan Green and Colette McCadden, the two toxic avengers who closed the last lead smelter in Texas.
Complete with crest and Latin motto (“Parva Cumulaverunt”), the College of Constructive Hell-Raising combines traditional community organizing principles with firsthand frontline accounts of local DFW social justice battles. It aims to teach activists of all kinds “to think like an organizer” and approach their fights more strategically. Described as “a school for grassroots change,” it’s the only course of its kind in Texas, and one of the few in nation. It’s a project of DFW-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk.
A growing list of College alumni hold positions at a variety of DFW social change groups, including Texas Campaign for the Environment, Color Of Change, Democratic Socialists of America, and Sierra Coal/Beyond Coal. Part of the mission of the College is to build a new support network for paid and volunteer social justice workers in DFW.
Applications for the 2019 class are being taken online on the Downwinders at Risk web site now through December 15th. Class begins on January 15th and ends May 21st. Classes meet at the Meadows Conference Center at 2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas. Tuition is $150 but early birders who sign-up in the next two months will only pay $90. Some scholarships are available. There’s a maximum enrollment of 20 students in the seminar-type course, so the interested are encouraged to apply early.
You might not think of Rap when you hear the name Downwinders, but the first two students enrolled in our 2018 College of Constructive Hell-Raising includes a local-Rhymensaurous-made-good who came home to do good for his Pleasant Grove neighborhood, and his longtime running buddy who aspires to build a new grassroots Southern Dallas constituency for change.
25 year-old Rikki Blu (on the right) has bounced around the nation following a musical career, including a recent stint on the West Coast where Sprite and SoundCloud featured tunes from his 2015 debut EP, Pleasant Grove.
But he moved back home to the Grove to raise a family and maybe, with some luck, organize a new group of South Dallas residents like himself who want more to see more progress made south of I-30. Joining him in this mission is his friend Marcellus George, an outspoken advocate for shaking-up the status quo. Together, they want to remake South Dallas politics with their non-profit Neighborhood Interest Committee.
They think the College of Constructive Hell-Raising can help them. “It’s a way to understand how not only to improve our own lives but others as well” said George.
He’s right. The College is North Texas’ only school devoted to teaching the principles of community organizing that can help whole neighborhoods better themselves. But it also helps its students think less like “activists” and more like “organizers,” encouraging the ability to imagine how a series of planned short-term steps can lead to larger, longer-term goals.
Besides learning the basics, a Who’s Who of veteran local community organizers fill gaps in recent DFW social justice history many students didn’t even know they had and provide successful examples in the real world of change on the ground – yes, even in Texas.
Veteran Dallas civil rights organizer Peter Johnson, local LBGT legends Don Maison and Patti Fink, environmental justice leader Luis Sepulveda, peace and anti-nuke organizer Mavis Belisle, original Bois D’arc Patriot John Fullenwider, and Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, are some of the advocates students will have access to during the course. As this list might suggest, although Downwinders at risk is dedicated to cleaner air, the College isn’t aimed just at environmentalists. Anyone interested in learning how they can use the techniques of community organizing to further their own cause is invited to attend.
A great example is Clarice Criss, Class of ’17 featured just last week on Channel 8 for her organic community garden in South Dallas that provides fresh, non-toxic fruits and veggies to families on WIC assistance. Criss, from one of Dallas most historic and distinguished Black families, has said “The College confirmed for me that I want to spend the rest of my life organizing to help people in underprivileged communities. I cried at graduation.”
This week the College began public enrollment for the Spring 2018 semester. You can apply here.
There are ten sessions in all. We meet twice a month from January to May at the Meadows Conference Center, Tuesday evenings, from 7 to 9 pm. A full schedule, the complete list of guest lecturers, and the application for the 2018 semester is online here.
Students are encouraged but not required to attend informal discussions with guest lecturers at the Bryan Street Tavern after class adjourns, over beer and pizza.
Preference will be given to existing DFW groups who want to better train volunteers or staff and help pay for enrollment with scholarships, but all are welcome. The cost is $200. It includes a book, and lots of reading material. No payment is required to apply. Scholarships are available, and applicants can indicate your interest in getting a full or half scholarship on the application.
Rikki and Marcellus know what they want to do with their College education. What would you do with yours? Join us for the 2018 class.
College of Constructive Hell-Raising
Class of 2017 Graduation Ceremony
Gulf Coast Room, Meadows Conference Center
2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas
Reception at Bryan Street Tavern beginning at 9:15 pm or so
Despite their similar backgrounds, upbringings, and generations of living in the same city, it took the established Dallas families of Michelle McAdam and Clarice Criss almost 100 years, and Downwinders at Risk, to get to know one another.
Even though the two women had the same proper white gloves-and-pearls Dallas grandmothers, the same bourgeois background, even the same debutante “dip,” their families didn’t socialize. Until January of this year, they had never met, or even heard of one another.
Which is really hard to believe when you see them together now. They behave more like sisters than recent acquaintances. At least sorority sisters. Which they kind of are – only from different chapters.
Michelle is an SMU coed from one of the most established and respected families in White Dallas. Clarice is the granddaughter of the founder of Dallas’ oldest Black-owned newspaper. They had pretty much the same upbringing. Only all the people at Michelle’s milestone events were white and all the ones at Clarice’s were black.
And so, after almost 100 years, what did it take to bring these mirror images of Dallas High Society together under one roof? Natural disaster? Lawsuits? Business dealings? No….A class on how to be bigger Pains-In-The-Butts to the Powers-That-Be: The College of Constructive Hell-Raising.
Michelle and Clarice have practically been inseparable since comparing notes at an informal after-class social hour in January. They attend events together. They’ve introduced their families to one another. They go shopping. They’re plotting local political strategy. All because these wayward granddaughters of their respective aristocracies decided to take a five-month class that promised to teach them to be more effective troublemakers.
Each was already primed. Michelle does front line refugee work as part of the International Rescue Committee. She notes: “Granny had plans for me to marry a nice Harvard graduate before becoming a housewife with 2.5 kids in Preston Hollow, but I was always more attracted to the misfits who weren’t afraid to forge their own paths, ask questions and challenge the status-quo.”
You should probably know “Granny” is 92 year-old Ruth Sharp Altshuler, who, as one of Dallas’ leading philanthropists has met a pope, and more than a couple of presidents, much less served on the SMU Board of Directors. She established the Women’s Foundation. She was hand-picked by Henry Wade to serve as Dallas County’s first female grand juror…to hear the indictment of Jack Ruby.
But she’s also the grandmother who told Michelle, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
“I think Clarice and I were drawn to the class for this reason. We believe we have been given the knowledge, experience, and connections to be a force for positive change in our community.”
Meanwhile Clarice is not exactly following the Deb path to success either. She’s up to her elbows in South Dallas urban agriculture and self-sufficiency projects. Her great uncle was the late William Blair Jr., founder of The Elite News, the oldest black-owned newspaper in North Texas. She admits her family is “Black Royalty.” She signed-up for the College because she wants her community to be taken more seriously by its elected representatives. “I won’t stand by and not hold people accountable.”
As to why they’ve hit it off as instant companions, Michelle says “We both have a warm, friendly, humorous nature. I can also relate to her unfiltered commentary in public! She isn’t afraid to provide her opinion and neither am I.”
To watch this just-like-me-but-still-unlikely pairing joust and joke with each other on their way to becoming BFFs is just one of the great stories emerging from the first class of the College of Constructive Hell-Raising. There’re at least 13 others – one for each student who took the leap of faith and signed-up for the first semester of organizer training ever offered to DFW residents.
The class has been meeting since January, not only officially, but afterwards in the same informal confab at a local tavern where Michelle and Clarice began discovering their similar roots. In the process, the would-be community organizers have formed a very real sense of community with their peers. Some bonds seem so natural, it’s like they were there are along. Others are based on similar interests about issues or campaigns.
And all of them will be in the spotlight tomorrow when they graduate with their degrees in hell-raising in our first graduation ceremony. Instead of a single commencement speaker, we decided to have 15.
We’re going to close the door to the Meadows Conference Center Gulf Coast Room at 8 pm, travel forward in time 20 years and let this first class tell us how the lessons they learned at the College have impacted their lives since they graduated.
Don’t worry, we’re bringing everyone back for the reception at the Bryan Street Tavern starting a little after 9.
If you feel overwhelmed with the cacophony of bad and worse news. If you feel frustrated at the stifling of progress taking place. If you’re pessimistic about the future. We have a remedy. Come listen to these “First 15” talk about their plans and plots tomorrow night.
Don’t be afraid of the future – come meet it firsthand. We promise you’ll be inspired.
On Monday, Downwinders sent out acceptance letters to 15 DFW residents who'd applied to become members of our very first College of Constructive Hell-Raising. Since 15 students is all we have room for this initial year, that means we reached full capacity a whole ten days before the deadline for applications on December 1st. And there's even a small waiting list now. There might be some interest in this community organizing stuff after all.
The successful applicants range in age, experience and background. There are college students as well as retirees. There's a PhD candidate in environmental philosophy and the founder of a social justice choir. One has been deeply involved in South Dallas criminal justice issues while another is a High School teacher with no organizing experience at all. One founded a thriving regional business while another has already run for local political office. We have DREAM generation activists, urban ag advocates, prairie protectionists, and International Rescue Committee volunteers. If you want a reason to feel optimistic about the future, this class is a good place to start.
Plans were underway for the College before this election year, but there's no denying those plans seem prescient now. We're going to need better-trained activists and we're going to need better networks.
The College is just one of the ways Downwinders is trying to build more local "capacity" for DFW activists of all kinds. More resources, more opportunities to learn, more ways to sharpen your skills. Another is coming up soon: Our Root and Branch Revue from Janaury 24th thru the 28th is aimed at making you a better activist. This year's featured guests will be the women from Flint, Michigan who blew the whistle on that public health scandal by doing their own water testing and organizing around the result. The message: We all live in Flint now. Root and Branch will again feature a whole Saturday of workshops, as well as a film screening, another edition of "Get Polluted with Bar Politics," and more. Details coming soon.
If you're kicking yourself over not signing-up for the 2017 College semester in time, not to worry. We're going to be doing this again in the spring of 2018. Meanwhile, keep track of the class and the CCHR at the College's own Facebook page.
It features members of the East Dallas Tenants and Small Homeowners' Alliance, and a very influential group of activists who organized them called the Bois D'Arc Patriots.
Named after the native tree renowned for its durability and strength, the one Comanches used to carve their bows from, the Patriots were committed to representing the unrepresented in Dallas.
Specifically, they fought on behalf of East Dallas residents who were being forced out of their homes by gentrification and bad city planning. Sound familiar?
During a high-profile fight over slumlords, the Patriots released a box of cockroaches during a Dallas City Council meeting in order to bring home the conditions residents were experiencing – as well as comment on the Council's inaction.
Dallas native John Fullinwider was an original member of the Patriots. He's gone on to become an acclaimed DISD educator as well as remain a mainstay in Dallas community politics, including being an advisor to Mothers Against Police Brutality.
He's also one of nine Guest Lecturers participating in Downwinders at Risk's College of Constructive Hell-Raising, a continuing ed course on community organizing beginning in January.
This course is designed for anyone who wants to learn more about how to be an effective advocate, as well as know how others in DFW have forged productive social change despite the odds.
The College of Constructive Hell-Raising offers the first opportunity for DFW activists to receive professional-style training for organizers.
Classes start January 17th. They're from 7-9 pm and run twice a month until May. Maximum class size is 15. Applications are being accepted online now here.
The cost is only $125, not due until your application is accepted. Scholarship money is available.