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To prevent the organization's becoming a vehicle for the political advancement of any one individual, tenure of its presidency is limited to two years and no individual involved in it can run for political office and remain connected with it.Skip to next paragraph
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Consequently, leaders of COPS tend to be community members like Mrs. Badillo and Mrs. Cortez, who have started from scratch and learned as they went along. Mrs. Cortez said COPS has "given me a better education than all my years of formal schooling." Mrs. Badillo said that at first she was scared to pick up a phone to call a city official, let alone walk up City Hall steps to confront one. She and other women had been faced with threats to their lives; and the husbands of some of them had been threatened with loss of their jobs. But, she added, she had come to see you had a certain security when you were the master of each subject you tackled, when you insisted simply that the rules should apply to you, too, and when you had the community behind you.
COPS's first victory at City Hall -- over drainage -- came from its representatives presenting their case only after having fully mastered the subject. Indeed, they turned out to have more of the facts at their fingertips than had the municipal officials they were dealing with. And so it is with everything they tackle: They ensure by proper preparation against the brush-off and against having the wool pulled over their eyes.
As for timidity, Mr. Cortes had a remedy for those scared of having to stand up and make a case for the first time. At that first City Hall encounter with then Mayor Charles Becker, the lot fell to Mrs. Hector Aleman. She had admitted in advance to feeling nervous. So what did Mr. Cortes do? He had all 500 of the COPS members present rise to their feet at the same time as Mrs. Aleman and close around her in effective support.
The Chicanos of the East Los Angeles barrios have followed suit. Their COPS is called UNO, for "United Neighborhoods Organizatoin." They brought in Ernie Cortes to do the behind-the-scenes groundwork, and they were helped by the simultaneous transfer from San Antono to the Los Angeles Roman Catholic archdiocese of Bishop Juan Arzube. As in San Antonio, the organization is in some ways a federation of Catholic parishes, involving an estimated 93,000 families in East Los Angeles. The priest in one of these parishes, the Rev. Pedro Villaroya, said he saw in this a revival of the role of the Spanish missions centuries ago which gave their names to so many cities up the Californian coast. Los Angeles itself was founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de porciuncula.
As in San Antonio with COPS, so in Los Angeles with UNO: Protestants helped with the seed funding to start the organization going. But in Los Angeles, one Protestant church, the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in the Lincoln Heights barrio, has been a community member of UNO from the start.
There, the writer talked to Miss Lydia Lopez, a member of the vestry of the church and a UNO activist. In many ways, she reminds one of Mrs. Badillo and Mrs. Cortez -- handsome, conservatively dressed, radiant chestnut-colored face with little or no makeup, impressivley self-controlled, sure of herself and matter-of-fact. Miss Lopez recalled that a survey in the barrios had shown that the main concern was high automobile insurance rates, and so UNO had decided to tackle that first.
UNO did its homework and discovered that the principal reason that insurance cost so much was that East Los Angeles was zoned together with Beverly Hills, the city's plushest area. And so, Miss Lopez said, "We were incorrectly paying for the high claims made by the Rolls-Royce and Mercedes owners over there for the least scratch to their cars. We decided to get this righted by arguing for zoning according to postal ZIP codes. There followed meetings with representatives of 14 insurance companies, all Anglo, and (she said) they have changed their zoning to our proposed system." The benefit to Chicanos in the barrios? According to Miss Lopez, a cut from 20 to 40 percent in automobile insurance rates.