aiyeshia-hudson_web.jpgThe world is watching. Will President-elect Barack Obama’s “hope and change” bring better policies for our communities?

Whether the answer is yes or no, we can’t just sit back waiting. Now is the time to organize and mobilize. We all know that sitting back and waiting for change doesn’t work. We have to work to see the change we want.

We just witnessed a historic presidential election. The nation elected its first African-American president. This victory, this advance in the fight for racial justice, is built on the backs of those who rose up against slavery, on the backs of those who faced down police dogs and fire hoses, of those who in their own way, every day, worked for change. At every step of the way, people were active and mobilized, and they did not wait around for change to happen.

Obama won because millions mobilized and flocked to his campaign, seeing in him a possibility for deep change. He was able to raise unprecedented funds, and build massive coalitions of people who may not always agree but will always give him thoughtful, informed advice.

Everyone is asking, “How did he do it?’’

The answer is simple: He didn’t.  You did. His victory required everyday people to take action, to act from their hearts, to take a risk and put their faith in a system that seems so flawed.
Instead of sitting around and waiting for Obama to make good on his promise of change, we must continue to organize and mobilize. We must keep the pressure on. There is no room for apathy if we hope to make progress; there is no hope in giving over responsibility to someone else. It is we who will make change.

While the world looks to the national stage, there is plenty to do here in South Florida. Dennis Moss is the new chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.  His first priority is to redevelop the 850 affordable homes destroyed in Liberty City.  Over 1,100 Scott Carver residents were displaced when the county used a federal HOPE VI grant to tear down the homes seven years ago.

Moss wants to create a model for good housing policy and help fix Miami’s affordable housing crisis.  He also wants justice for the thousands of families stranded by the mismanaged housing agency.

But Moss’s commitment to affordable housing did not happen overnight. Although he may be a good man himself, he is responding to seven years of community pressure. Former residents asked county commissioners and the housing agency to honor commitments to one-for-one replacement of public housing, a right to return, along with a complete package of services and jobs for the neighborhoods.

Former residents understand that although the county signed an agreement nearly two years ago, agreeing to all their demands, and Commissioner Moss has verbally committed to justice for Scott families, that they must keep the pressure on to see change we can believe in.

Although victory is in sight, there is not time for sitting back and blindly trusting a system that has failed the community for so long, no matter how good, or just an elected leader may seem.

In this time of great change we must also understand that not much has changed. Just across the street from Scott Carver Homes is Poinciana Industrial Park. This land is plagued with a similar history of injustice for the black community. The industrial park was a promise of jobs after the McDuffie Rebellion showed Miami the dire circumstances of poverty and unemployment in Liberty City. But nothing was built.

A recent plan by developer Dennis Stackhouse was exposed as a sham by The Miami Herald (which was encouraged to look into the project by community residents). But before being exposed as a fraud, Stackhouse had already siphoned off millions of dollars. Last week, the developer pleaded no contest to five third-degree felonies, including charges that he bundled campaign contributions to a Miami-Dade County commissioner (Dorin Rolle), a former county judge (Shirlyon McWhorter) and a former candidate for governor (Rod Smith), according to The Miami Herald.

The plea garnered Stackhouse a sentence of one year of probation and 15 hours of community service, not a very harsh punishment for what he did.

Examples such as Stackhouse’s demonstrate that the system is still broken, and we need to work to change it.

History consistently demonstrates that we cannot solely depend on the promises of politicians to ensure that the needs of the community are met. No significant political shift toward a more just and equitable society has ever been achieved through politicians simply deciding to do what is best for people.  Change always comes from the political will of the people.

Now is the time to keep the pressure on. The time is right to organize ourselves around values of justice and freedom, and push for concrete changes locally and nationally. From  victory at Scott Carver to a new national housing policy, we can see an improvement in the lives of millions of people.

But if we fail to organize now, we just may miss our season of change.

Aiyeshia Hudson is an organizer with the Miami Workers Center, an organization that develops grassroots organizations to work for an end to poverty and racism.