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Evander Deocariza

Evander Deocariza, '20

Organizing alongside the 'Beloved Community': Police Accountability from the Grassroots

Evander Deocariza, '20, speaks on a microphone
Evander Deocariza facilitates a voter training with People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a grassroots organization based in San Jose, CA.

This summer I completed a Cardinal Quarter with PACT (People Acting in Community Together), a multiracial, multi-faith grassroots organization based in San Jose, CA. PACT has a small staff of about 10 organizers who empower people around Santa Clara County to fight for housing justice, immigration justice, and law enforcement transparency and accountability within their communities. Rather than speak for community members who are most directly impacted by policies, PACT teaches them how to build power and take action in the public arena for themselves.

Through PACT, I had the opportunity to learn by doing. I primarily worked with the organization's Beloved Community team, which focuses on issues of police accountability. We met with city officials and coordinated a media campaign that successfully convinced San Jose's mayor and city council to pursue an ordinance expanding the Office of the Independent Police Auditor, which independently investigates policy misconduct complaints. I also worked one-on-one with community leaders to help them develop the skills and tools to conduct their own research into policing policy reform.

Working at PACT changed my understanding of what a good organizer does. Initially, I conceived of an organizer's leadership through the lens of my military experience. After serving five years in the Marine Corps as a cryptologic linguist, I was very used to working within a hierarchical structure. In the military, there is a clearly delineated chain of command, and orders come from the top. Leaders are responsible for creating a plan, issuing orders, and supervising subordinates to ensure those orders are carried out. With this idea of leadership in mind, I thought an organizer galvanized a community and delegated tasks for others to carry out as part of a strategic plan that they formulated.

The language PACT uses to describe roles suggests how very wrong I was: paid organizers are referred to as "staff," while the community members who volunteer to work on issues are called "leaders." I learned that organizers teach leaders; leaders organize. That is, staff teach and guide leaders in developing skills like how to schedule meetings with public officials, how to chair meetings, how to publish Op-Eds, etc. Organizers work in the background to enable community members to speak and act for themselves.

Though I don't see myself as particularly well-suited for a career in organizing, I now understand how people power is generated through organizing. I appreciate its potential to create lasting, societal change from the ground up.

Evander Deocariza, '20 (Computer Science), served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2011-16, and transferred to Stanford from San Diego Mesa College in fall 2017. Evander was one of more than 500 students to complete a Cardinal Quarter in summer 2018.
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