College of Constructive Hell Raising

Civil Rights legend Peter Johnson addresses the 2020 class



Since 2017 Downwinders has sponsored the College of Constructive Hell-Raising, a semester-long class about how to win grassroots Change. We draw on our three decades of experience as well as the history of those DFW elders and peers who’ve taught us with their own examples.

Unlike other seminars for political activists, the College isn’t issue or skill-specific. It’s about the mechanics of how you win grassroots fights with grassroots resources, no matter the cause.  Our goal is for graduates to “think like an organizer.”

Each of the 10 sessions from January thru May are a discussion of the same principles taught to professional organizers at the nation’s oldest schools of community organizing,  combined with lessons in DFW social change history told by the people who made it.

Guest lecturers include original Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizer the Reverend Peter Johnson, as well as other well-known local legends like Changa Higgins,  Mavis Belisle, Patti Fink, and Luis Selpulveda.

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, labor, LGBT, transit rights and anti-gentrification activists. Not plugged into a cause? We welcome students who are just curious about learning an alternate DFW history, or want to explore what a commitment to real Change means.

Graduates become part of a larger network of alumni in DFW, many of whom lead their own Change-making organizations. We’re growing relationships that transcend single-issue silos and connect us to larger struggles through our philosophy of how Change happens.

Interested? Another class begins January 2023 with enrollment beginning October 20th. The cost is $150 and includes two books and lots of material that add up to your very own Community Organzing handbook. Full and half schloarships are always available, so cost is never a reason not to apply.

The application form for this coming Class of ’23  is at the bottom of this page. Fill it out and send it in. Upon acceptance to the class we’ll send you instructions on scholarships and/or payments to make it official. Thanks.

For weekly content you might find interesting as well as give you further insight into the College, please check out our FB page.

The Particulars


Class meets every other Tuesday from Mid-January to Mid-May,  7 to 9 pm in the evening, beginning Tuesday, Janaury 17th, 2023,

We also have an informal social component of the class that takes place from the end of class at 9 pm to the departure of the last student leaving that takes place at a local bar or meeting spot and involves food and drink. We invite our guest lecturers too so it’s a good opportunity for students to have one-on-one time with real life living legends. Attendance at this social portion of the class isn’t mandatory but is highly encouraged to help build community within the class, build your networks, and give you quality time with our history-making Change Makers.



The cost is $150. It includes two books, and lots of reading material. Half and full scholarships are available.

EARLY REGISTRATION DISCOUNT: Sign-up early and the cost is only $90.


ATTENDANCE POLICY:                                                                                                                                      

There are only nine content-filled sessions plus graduation each semester. Absences are costly to you and your classmates. They’re also demoralizing to the instructors and lecturers. We understand our location in central Dallas makes it harder for those living and working outside metro Dallas to attend, but that’s one of the reasons why we start at 7 pm. Make sure you allow for DFW traffic in order to arrive on time. If you miss more than three classes, you’re welcome to keep attending classes but you will NOT graduate


Class Schedule

Tuesday, January 17th

Session One: “What is Constructive Hell-Raising?” 

Introductions to the class and one another


Session Two: 

Tuesday, January 31st

Organizing Lesson: “The Four Dirty Words of Organizing”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Peter Johnson,

The SCLC Comes to Dallas and Starts the First Fair Park Fight


Session Three:

Tuesday, February 14th

Organizing Lesson: “Strategy vs. Tactics”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: TBA



Session Four: 

Tuesday, February 28th

Organizing Lesson: “Leadership”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturers: Ruben A. Arellano,  Dallas College Professor Of History

Chicano Organizing and Politics


Session Five: 

Tuesday, March 14th

Organizing Lesson: “Group Decision-Making”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Kim Batchelor, Mavis Belisle  and Sr. Patricia Ridgley

The Anti-Nuclear Movement in North Texas


Session Six:

Tuesday, March 28th

Organizing Lesson: “Critical Thinking”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Luis Sepulveda, West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice

Getting the Lead out of West Dallas


Session Seven:

Tuesday, April 11th

Organizing Lesson: “Perception is Everything”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Meghan Greene, Frisco Unleaded 

Shutting down an Outlaw Lead Smelter in Frisco


Session Eight: 

Tuesday April 25th

Organizing Lesson: “Selling Your Change”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer:  Patti Fink, Lee Daughtery 


Session Nine:

Tuesday May 9th

Organizing Lesson: “Means vs Ends”

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Changa Higgins 

Creating the Dallas Police Community Police Oversight Board


Session Ten:  

Tuesday, May  23rd

Graduation/The Qualities of a Good Organizer







Jim Schermbeck, Dean of Instruction

Jim Schermbeck has been a professional community organizer in DFW since 1989 when he opened the Dallas office of the National Toxics Campaign. He’s currently Director of Downwinders at Risk.


Downwinders At Risk, Board of Trustees

Downwinders at Risk is perhaps the most successful grassroots environmental group in Texas history. It’s certainly one of the most persistent.

Founded in 1994 to stop the burning of hazardous waste in Midlothian cement plants, it broadened its mission in 2010 to include protection of DFW air quality when it won its original fight. In 2017 it turned its focus on Particulate Matter air pollution and environmental justice.

Since its founding, Downwinders has used basic community organizing strategy to win its victories. Now we share what we’ve learned with other North Texas activists who want to increase their understanding of community organizing techniques, as well as learn about DFW social justice history.


College Alumni Include:

Rachel Albright, former Director of Tarrant Transit Alliance

Kim Aman, Program Director, Moss Haven Farms

Janie Cisneros, Chair, Singleton United/Unidos

Clarice Criss, National Democratic Party campaign consultant

Paul Dill, Dallas Peace and Justice Center

Susie Marshall, Executive Director, GROW North Texas

Evelyn Mayo, Chair, Downwinders at Risk

Misti O’Quinn, North Texas Organizer, Sierra Club Beyond Coal

Jennifer Rangel,  Planning and Community Outreach Director, Inclusive Communities Project

Cory Troiani, DFW Program Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Collin Yarbrough, Author, “Paved a Way, Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City”

Anne Lott, President & Executive Director · The Inclusive Communities Project


Student Comments :

“It made me move away from thinking of myself as an activist – someone who subscribes to a particular set of beliefs or positions, but doesn’t necessarily push forward a policy or action. Now, I think of myself as someone who has the tools to translate opinions into action. Now, I’m concerned with being effective, not just being right.”


“The information and knowledge gained from the College is invaluable for anyone at any stage of outreach, political gaming, activism, or simply in business or life.”


“The College is the best way to learn about historic progressive battles in Dallas, connect with a diverse group of committed citizens, and learn how to be a pragmatic, effective organizer.”


“I didn’t anticipate how quickly I would become informed on the history of progressive politics in Dallas; I didn’t anticipate getting to meet so many incredible organizers in the city (both lecturers and students).”


The depth of the class, as well as the opportunities to actually discuss and learn from those “in the trenches” and behind the scenes of significant events of the past couple of decades. It was invaluable seeing the different strategies and techniques used to accomplish goals.


“…the camaraderie and connections with other local activists that, despite my extensive network, I had never met before, was immeasurably important to the work I’m currently doing and plan to do in the future.”


“The level of insight that Jim has from his years of organizing was invaluable and very well organized/structured. The resources, thoughts behind each class topic, and chance to both connect with fellow aspiring organizers and meet/network with veteran difference-makers more than met what I was hoping for this course.”


“I absolutely loved your class and feel like I still touch on so many aspects of the things we learned. Now that I work at the ACLU of Texas, I feel like your class was the most valuable training I received in prep for this work.  I’ll recommend your class  because I feel like your class offers such a diverse range of experiences, resources, and lessons. I also just found out that they did not know about Peter Johnson’s work and he alone is a reason to join your class.”





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